The 7 most awkward documentary moments | Virgin Media
The 7 most awkward documentary moments

The 7 most awkward documentary moments



It's fair to say that the most memorable scenes in confrontational documentaries are often the moments that make us feel most awkward or uncomfortable. Filmmakers like Michael Moore, Nick Broomfield and Louis Theroux have elevated that awkwardness to an art form, often placing themselves in tense, excruciating or even potentially dangerous situations in pursuit of the film's subject matter. With Louis Theroux's My Scientology Movie now available to watch on Virgin Movies, we take a look at seven of the most toe-curling documentary moments.

1. Louis Theroux meets Scientology PR Catherine Fraser – My Scientology Movie (2016)

A memorable highlight of Louis Theroux's My Scientology Movie occurs when Louis attempts to film on the public road outside Gold Base, the Church of Scientology's compound in Southern California. Told that the road is, in fact, private property, Louis returns with a document that proves otherwise, whereupon he gets into a supremely awkward confrontation with Scientology spokesperson Catherine Fraser, who refuses to listen to him. The absurdly comic, almost Pythonesque moment has an extra level of weirdness, because Fraser's apparently mute henchmen are also silently filming Louis, leading the pair into an argument about who should stop filming first.

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2. Michael Moore interviews James Nichols – Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Bowling For Columbine's most unsettling moment occurs when Moore interviews James Nichols, the brother of Terry Nichols, who was convicted of conspiring in the Oklahoma City bombing. Sitting in his kitchen, Nichols' wide-eyed and unblinking stare makes him look deeply unstable and Moore is clearly rattled. However, Nichols then takes Moore into his bedroom (the cameras have to stay outside) to prove he sleeps with a gun under his pillow and a caption reads “Nichols has cocked the gun and put it to his temple”. It ends with the pair back in the kitchen, with Nichols declaring, “There are wackos out there”.


3. Nick Broomfield interviewing Suge Knight – Biggie & Tupac (2002)

In 2002's Biggie & Tupac, Nick Broomfield investigates the unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. The highlight comes when Broomfield interviews music producer Suge Knight, the man he believes arranged the murders, in the open yard of California's Owl Creek Prison. We already know that Broomfield's regular cameraman has bailed on the interview out of “self-preservation” and his replacement cameraman is visibly nervous, initially pointing the camera in a different direction. Throughout the interview, the tension mounts while an apparently unflustered Broomfield tries to lure Knight into saying something threatening about Snoop Dogg between puffs on his giant cigar.


4.  Klaus Kinski rages on the set of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo – My Best Fiend (1999)

Actor Klaus Kinski was legendary for his bouts of on-set rage, so much so that director Werner Herzog used to deliberately goad him into a tantrum and let him burn himself out before shooting a scene. We get to witness one of Kinski's epic blow-ups in Herzog's documentary My Best Fiend, which includes footage shot during the making of Fitzcarraldo. In the voiceover, Herzog wryly notes that, for once, he wasn't the target of the rant, and that production manager Walter Salzer took the brunt of the verbal assault. Either way, it's excruciating and you can feel everyone on set tensing up as Kinski explodes. Note: NSFW if you work in a German-speaking office.


5. Morgan Spurlock throwing up – Supersize Me (2004)

Inspired by the McLibel case, in which McLawyers argued that it hadn't been proven that an exclusive McDiet was unhealthy, director Morgan Spurlock decides to eat nothing but McDonald's food for a month and film the results. Early on in the film, Spurlock cheerfully orders a double quarter pounder with cheese, super-sized fries (the box is the size of a brick) and a super-sized drink at a drive-through. Twenty-two minutes later, he vomits out of his car window and you can see him thinking that maybe this whole thing wasn't such a good idea after all.


6. Russell Brand vs Royal Bank of Scotland – The Emperor's New Clothes (2015)

In Russell Brand and Michael Winterbottom's impassioned agit-doc, the comedian takes a leaf out of Michael Moore's book when he attempts to secure an interview with Royal Bank of Scotland CEO Ross McEwan, by turning up to a central London branch and making a nuisance of himself. Brand makes his point, but the scene backfires slightly as the only person he manages to talk to is an extremely patient employee who tries to get him to leave. It gets increasingly awkward as Brand is effectively picking on the wrong person, badgering the man over whether he knew about RBS' £500 million in bonuses.


7.  Bruno attempts to seduce Ron Paul – Bruno (2009)

While not strictly documentaries, per se, Sacha Baron Cohen's hilarious comedies Borat and Bruno frequently employed documentary-style techniques in order to ambush unsuspecting suspects. One such example occurs in Bruno, when an in-character Baron Cohen attempts to seduce Texas congressman Ron Paul (who had campaigned for the Republican nomination) after tricking him into entering a hotel room next to the interview suite and then dropping his trousers. A visibly angry Paul storms out of the interview, later confirming that he was by no means in on the joke