Monday, November 10, 2014

DOC NYC Spotlight: Enquiring Minds

I’m excited to have been able to screen a few selections from DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its fifth year in New York City from November 13th-20th.

Enquiring Minds: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer
Directed by Ric Burns
Screening November 15 at 7pm

Anyone asking would be hard pressed to find a single person in America who hadn’t heard of the National Enquirer. Locating someone who had actually purchased and read through an issue, and getting someone to admit to that, would be a considerably more difficult task. It’s a national phenomenon which is representative of a larger culture of news defined by paparazzi and sensationalism, and it’s no surprise that the story of its most notable publisher, Genereso Pope Jr., has its own elements of public interest to expose.

The approach to its subject matter that this film takes reminded me instantly of two documentaries from 2010 about two figures considered highly controversial. “Smash His Camera” was about Ron Galella, a paparazzo who considered it his job to be up and ready to get in a celebrity’s face with his chosen instrument. “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel” focused on the infamous founder of the men’s magazine. Both are detested by far more people than they are revered by anyone, and those documentaries do them justice by considering their crafts just as decent and respectable as any other. “Enquiring Minds” does the same, looking at the National Enquirer and interviewing its many employees as exemplars of journalism and breaking news over the past six decades.

What “Enquiring Minds” demonstrates is that Pope was a formidable man, one driven by the notion of unparalleled success and prone to bouts of anger that resulted in the firing of whole departments. He was a shrewd businessman, one who managed to capitalize on the supermarket industry so that other periodicals and newspapers being sold on shelves had to come through him first. He prided himself on major stories, ranging from outrageous celebrity scoops to what might more plainly be called a human interest piece. To Pope, the National Enquirer was not what many think of it today, and every story required backup and a personal review by Pope to make it to print. Seeing and understanding how tabloid journalism came to be makes perfect sense as portrayed in this film, and this eye-opening story helps to both humanize and professionalize the people working to churn out the kind of material that fills the pages of the most purchased publication at the supermarket and at the same time threatens to unravel a celebrity’s career depending on whether today’s writers and editors abide by the same standards as Pope did when he was in charge.


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