Synopsis: The sensational true story of The National Enquirer, the infamous tabloid with a prescient grasp of its readers’ darkest curiosities.
Director: Mark Landsman
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Several times a week, I have something I do called “visiting my sites” and I have to confess they are indeed internet websites that specialize in celebrity/entertainment gossip. Yes, I understand I’m actively feeding a gross beast that enables a bunch of pervy photographers and annoying average citizens to become pseudo-newsmakers but part of me just enjoys the mindless detox these precious moments give me. I put little to-no-stock in what is being reported and truth be told I’m much more interested in the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing of Hollywood business than actual personalities but still, a juicy tidbit is a juicy tidbit nonetheless.
What I’ve never been that into, though, are the so-called ‘rag mags’ that proliferated in supermarkets throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, mostly because I was too young to care much about them at that time. I was a casual consumer of these tawdry tabloids that spoke of the latest celebrity love child or whatever soap star was a critical overeater, not to mention the more far out paps that told of botched plastic surgeries or bat boys born in Borneo. I never took them too seriously and it struck me odd that anyone would believe something so patently false and I definitely wouldn’t have thought in a million years there was any kind of serious journalism that was involved with these publications.
The granddaddy of all supermarket sensationalist reading, The National Enquirer, was often that last great impulse buy you succumbed to in the checkout lane and tossed in with your groceries. The new documentary, Scandalous: The True Story of the National Enquirer sheds light onto the inner workings of one of the all-time famous tabloids, and it’s an informative look at its creation, the people that helped sustain it during its rise, and what exacerbated its decline. Though candid interviews with former staff, director Mark Landsman takes audiences on a step-by-step walk through the history of how a paper that started as a local publication for New York readers became a nationally distributed water-cooler discussion fodder that was read and talked about around the world.
What began in 1926 as The New York Evening Enquirer was bought by Generoso Pope Jr., the son of a famous Italian newspaper magnate in 1952 and originally run as a salacious gross out mag featuring pictures of murders, sex, and death. (A warning. Though unrated, early in the film is a montage of pictures that are fairly grotesque and disturbing). Though circulation kept rising, it was when Pope wanted to expand into the growing suburban grocery market that he realized he had to tone down his content and center his magazine more on celebrities to appeal to housewives. Hiring a staff of ruthless journalists and giving them a healthy spending budget allowed this eager staff to go anywhere in the world to get a good story and pretty soon The National Enquirer gained a well-earned reputation for its lack of scruples.
Looking back on some of their work now, not many of the writers interviewed seem all that phased by the work they did because at the end of the day they were doing their job and often reporting the truth…as ugly as it may have been. Where celebrities were concerned, they took the stance (as many do) that once you are a celebrity there are certain privacies you give up in exchange for a life of fame and fortune. Landsman recounts Pope killing a story of Bob Hope’s extramarital affairs in exchange for one on one interviews with the entertainer in future magazines. There’s also an unpleasant section where the editors were exposed as having actively assisted in protecting the likes of Bill Cosby and Arnold Schwarzenegger when stories of their womanizing were growing while the stars were at the height of their popularity.
Where the film starts to reach an interesting peak/point is when it begins to center on the rise of Donald Trump and how he formed a symbiotic relationship early on with The National Enquirer. Often calling the magazine to give tips about his own life, the future President seemed to have some kind of special relationship with key executives and to watch evidence of this play out in clips is interesting to say the least. It’s clear Trump recognized the power of this “fake news” paper and used it to his advantage, whether The National Enquirer was aware of it fully at the time or not.
Fast moving and edited with precision, Scandalous: The True Story of the National Enquirer keeps things interesting by never staying in one place for too long. I wasn’t aware of just how many stories the paper provided some key bit of information about that went on to assist in a future criminal or civil trial, nor did I know the extent of its reach into the 2016 presidential race. Like its source subject, it’s not incredibly deep or complex but it’s involving nonetheless.