Louis Theroux, literally…

I was going to bring this up in Pork (or “Brett’s Special Moment” as Josh and I have now renamed it) but we ran out of time…

You may remember back in episode 155 we talked about Louis Theroux, who is now (rather belatedly) playing on Channel 7. They seem to have bought an enormous package of Theroux, covering everything from his first Weird Weekends series running through to his later stand-alone pieces. Well, if you think too much Theroux is barely enough, there’s a book you can read as well…

Entitled The Call Of The Weird (with the subtitle “Travels In American Subcultures”), this 2005 publication finds Theroux embarking on a “reunion tour” as he tries to find out what happened to the people he met many years ago (or about three weeks back, if you’re watching on Channel 7). Among them are the survivalists of Almost Heaven, Idaho; aspirant porn-star JJ Michaels; “Hayley” who appeared in his brilliant piece on the Wild Horse brothel in Nevada; and Thor Templar, the man who claimed to have killed ten aliens.

He also revisits some stories we didn’t see – Ike Turner, who changed his mind half-way through the doco Theroux was making back in 2000; and a bizarre piece that reveals he was the preferred media representative for the Heaven’s Gate cult when they committed mass-suicide in 1997 (“…the documentary was supposed to be a light-hearted look at UFO belief. How we would have used footage of me stumbling on to the scene of a mass suicide was far from clear”).

In the book Theroux hopes that by returning by himself, with no camera crew, he’ll be able to get a better understanding of these people who he’s never been able to fully grasp. He also uses it as an opportunity to question his own motives – is he mocking these people? Has he presented them unfairly? Theroux has been criticised (in the UK, particularly) for using a faux-naive style to stitch people up, but from the book it seems that really is him – he’s just trying to understand these people, how they can have such beliefs.

Of course, that could all be a front too, and I shouldn’t oversell the depth of The Call Of The Weird – it is, after all, an extremely breezy read in surprisingly large type. But if you’re interested in Louis Theroux‘s work, or documentary-making in general, it’s an interesting glimpse behind the curtain.

The Call Of The Weird is available through various sources – I borrowed mine from the Fitzroy Library. Oh, I love the Library.

John

2 Comments

  1. Haven’t seen the show, but I picked out “Call of the Weird” through blind chance in a second hand bookshop in Darwin a year or two back – and absolutely agree with both John’s points.
    1) Mr Theroux really might be that naive-
    and 2) certainly the book is an afternoon’s read at it’s longest*

    *mind you, if you don’t drink in Darwin, a LOT of things can compress into a single afternoon. Just sayin’…

  2. If you’re in Melbourne and you’d like to have your very own copy, I saw Call Of The Weird marked down to $5 at Dirt Cheap Books yesterday. Other TV treasures included some Buffy script books, various Doctor Who titles, and Ronnie Corbett’s biography of The Two Ronnies (I bought that one, obviously).

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