On April 13, 2000, BBC2 aired the first episode of television-journalist Louis Theroux’s new series When Louis Met… featuring one of Theroux’s childhood heroes, Jimmy Savile. At the time Savile was a British icon, known for his long career in broadcasting and his estimated £40 million of contributions to charity. Savile died October 29, 2011, and it was less than a year before the real Jimmy Savile was revealed to the world: a prolific sexual predator, paedophile, and sociopath who had assaulted, abused, molested, and raped hundreds of women and children over six decades. While the British public tried to reconcile their fond memories of the children’s television presenter with this new monster, Theroux tried to figure out what he had missed in the time he had spent with him. Louis Theroux: Savile is an exploration of the dazzling power of celebrity and wealth and an opportunity to give a voice to some of those Jimmy Savile silenced for so many years.
The details of the abuses that Jimmy Savile inflicted on his victims are hard to stomach, incredibly difficult to read in print, and even harder to hear from those that suffered, but Savile is an important piece of filmmaking in that we confront these horrors and a society that hid them for so long. A large number of Savile’s victims were patients at children’s hospitals, many of whom who were disabled or even comatose. One woman speaks of falling into a fire, burning her hands, and waking up in hospital. She saw Savile jogging outside her window and upon making eye contact he turned towards her, lunged through her window, and assaulted her while she was unable to push him away due to her injuries. The confidence Savile possessed was astounding and it seems, like most predators, he was adept in finding “perfect” victims—the sick, the young; those too intimidated by who he was to say anything.
One of the most interesting parts about Savile is that it is the first of Theroux’s many documentaries where he turns the lens on himself. While he has always been a presence in his films, his reflections on bizarre American subcultures are a far cry from the questions he must ask himself in how he was duped by Savile for so long. After the filming of When Louis Met Jimmy Savile and Theroux maintained a “friendship” for several years, meeting up when their paths crossed and going out for pizza. Given what we know now about Jimmy Savile the footage shown seems to clearly depict a narcissistic predator who took joy in what his power let him get away with. A clip of Savile visiting BBC offices shows him dressed in a mesh singlet and running shorts, lavishing attention on the young women working, and making lewd comments on their appearance. At one point he says he needs to change outfits and begins to undress in front of the women while they look down and away. Theroux says at the time, though he was uncomfortable with Savile’s behavior, he and those present took it to be a part of his “public” persona—an eccentric older man with a sly tongue. Throughout the documentary Theroux struggles to deal with knowing that he contributed to this facade, having been in a position to ask much harder questions of Savile and perhaps even have found out the truth, maybe even putting a stop to the abuse. But if the film shows us anything it is that Jimmy Savile was a master manipulator, a man who lived his life on camera and knew just how to present himself to those watching.
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