The Best of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends Vol. 2 Review

Getting his first shot at TV as a rambling reporter for Michael Moore's TV Nation, Louis Theroux then secured his very own BBC show which aimed to delve into the rich vein of (mostly) US subcultures. The resulting product, Weird Weekends, was fresh and quirky thanks to Louis' apt handling of his interviewees and dry sense of humour. Unlike Sacha Baron-Cohen (aka Ali G), Louis seemed to have a genuine interest in the people he was covering and, despite the slightly ironic voice-over (the relentless " I liked X but ..."), contempt seemed to be rare. Instead he used his uncanny ability to fit perfectly into most situations (like Woody Allen in Zelig) to get away with murder and get deeply involved (maybe too much so) in some groups. His take on the extreme right (in the episodes Survivalists and South Africa) was decried in some circles as too moderate but he did at least avoid the easy knee-jerk reaction of demonising them and managed to infuriate most of his South-African subjects with his niggling questions.

Sadly it seems that he finally ran out of subcultures to cover and Weird Weekends was replaced with "Louis meets..." in which Louis tried to emulate the success of his infamous "Louis meets Jimmy" (Saville). UK celebrities however proved to be a less fertile ground for Louis and, with the notable exception of the Hamiltons, the program fared quite poorly in comparison to Weird Weekends... Since then, he has been keeping himself busy by acting as co-executive producer of BBC2's, The Entertainers and is planning a different series from WW which will be based in the US...

Like his father's books, Louis seemed to facilely blur the line between fact, fiction and satire. Did he really set out to document objectively or did his on screen presence personalise it irremediably (à la Nick Broomfield)? Was he satirising or simply reporting on his topics? Was he really that naïve or did he use it as a way of conning his subjects? Whatever the answers are to these questions, the fact remains that Weird Weekends is well worth investigating or re-investigating remaining just as engrossing as it was upon release...

The DVD:Featured on this DVD, we get four episodes of Weird Weekends and the Hamiltons episode from "Louis Meets". They are:

Swingers:Louis meets Gary and Margaret a middle aged, blue collar couple from Southern California who's home twice a month becomes a hot spot for the "lifestyle" more commonly known as wife-swapping; however, Louis won't be allowed to attend without a female companion. Eager to learn more, Louis sets out to find one... Although at times verging on the limits of good taste and voyeurism, the episodes has become one of the most famous of the series - sex always sells well but this seems to be quite a trying one for Louis as it is at times for the viewer (well for me at least!) but provides a unique insight into a truely alternative scene.

South Africa:A rare break from the American circuit brings Louis to South Africa where he meets Peter DuToit and his wife who have started a whites-only town. Louis gets an earful of their ludicrous theology (whether or not they've realised that Jesus wasn't an Aryan is anyone's guess) but cannot fail to be surprised to find the likes of Lionel Ritchie in their record collection. He later manages to secure an interview with the aptly named Eugene Terreblanche the day before he was due in court for the attempted murder of a black employee but none of Louis' interactions with him or other Afrikaners prove to be easy or relaxed... A highly interesting insight into the aftermath of Apartheid although it's debatable whether Louis is giving them an undeserved platform for their outrageous views. At least he doesn't shy off from most of the confrontations and demonstrates that there still is an ounce of humanity and even crazy logic to people who hold these views. On the other hand, Terreblanche seems to be, to paraphrase Ike in Manhattan, a person you can reason with only with bricks and baseball bats...

Wrestling:the number one non-sport sport in the US it seems - fascinated by this hardman's pantomime, Louis sets out to get some behind the scenes info on it but he's faced by a bizarre omerta - no one is ready to confess that the fights are staged. A wrestling trainer dubbed the Sarge takes great offence to Louis' relatively innocuous question and sets out to prove to Louis that he ain't seem nothing yet... One of the lighter WW but one of the most punishing and humiliating for Louis. At times it resembles, Adam and Joe's BaaaadDad sequences although BaaaadDad would have probably fared better than Louis in the wrestling school!

Hypnosis:Louis travels to Vegas to meet some of the leader's in the field of hypnotic self-improvement. He signs up for a course with Marshall Sylver a hypnotist who seems to have a great deal in common with the likes of Jimmy Swaggart - he claims he can make you into a millionaire but when Louis asks to meet his successful clients things take a different turn. Louis also hooks up with Ross Jeffries who's almost a clone of T. J. Mackey from Magnolia only creepier. He uses hypnosis to make members of the opposite sex feel more attracted to him but for some unknown reason Louis also starts to find him strangely attractive... Another eye-opening inside look at an industry that seems determinedly unattractive after Louis has finished with it but also features some of the Louis' most cringe-worthy moments of the entire series...

When Louis met the Hamiltons:Probably Louis' finest hour - what starts out as a quite dull documentary soon gets caught up in a whirlwind of events beyond Louis' or the Hamilton's control. According to the Hamiltons, the documentary changed people's perception of them for the better and regardless of their past, it's hard not to feel any sympathy for the couple. Strangely enough the program is maybe more effective as a damning indictment of media obsession and cheque book journalism than a portrait of the Hamiltons but however you classify it, it will undisputedly be seen as a milestone in Neil Hamilton's campaign to clear his name... Just don't mention money stuffed envelopes!

The Image: All the episodes are presented in anamorphic 16/9 - I'm unsure whether this is the original format (given that the first DVD set was transferred in full screen) but bar one shot that seems to have been squashed (in the Swingers episode) nothing seems to have been abnormally cropped. The image quality is quite good throughout although you have to make allowances for the quality of the source materials - it was all filmed on DV or video, so when certain scenes are low-lit things tend to get messy and unclear. Still there are no scenes that are unwatchable and it all seems to be of at least the same quality as the original broadcast if not better.

The Sound: We get a stereo mix which really is only effective for the music - still given the monaural nature of the program this is more than sufficient. Again some scenes are not very clear (particularly in the Hamilton episode) but this is also due to the source material - no real quibbles here at all...

The Menus: In a similar vein to volume 1, they mimic the opening sequence to Louis' programme and have musical transitions between them. Each episode has a menu page for themselves with chapter stops listed on the same page. The transitions could have been a little shorter but they work quite effectively playing the theme tune as they change... A very well thought out set of menus...

The Extras: The episode of "Louis Meets the Hamiltons" is deemed to be an extra as it's not featured on the VHS release. Bar that we get the same style of video-commentary we had on the first DVD only this time we get the Hamiltons discussing the episodes with Louis. Depending on the episodes they have more or less to say but they are remarkably funny or interesting and are accessible by pressing enter when you see the text Hamilton's appear on the program. Given that they're not an audio length commentary, you can probably watch them on first viewing as they don't really give away the plot nor cover the audio... Although we're left wishing that there'd be more of them, it's a very good bonus and a brainwave from Louis to have done these. Overall it fares a fair bit better than Jimmy's links and is an interesting alternative to a commentary track that is filled with silences...

Conclusions:Again Louis gives us another excellent set of DVDs but still leaves us with the sole regret that they haven't (or will not?) release the complete weird weekends series on DVD. Regardless this is a must buy DVD with the added bonus of some "saucy" comments from the dynamic duo and Neil Hamilton.

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