Documentary Round-Up – February 2021

Scandalous: The Untold Story of The National Enquirer (2019)
Directed by Mark Landsman

While this documentary is clearly inspired by The National Enquirer’s connections to Donald Trump, that only comes into play in the third act. Most of the film is about telling the chronological story of the tabloid’s rise to prominence and the moment in American culture that sparked its rocket-like trajectory. At the center of the paper’s inception was Generoso Pope, Jr. His father was a New York powerbroker who used his papers to influence politics in the state. His son took over upon his father’s death but went in wildly different directions. He bought The Enquirer and turned it into a reasonably salacious rag that featured gory pictures of the aftermath of car accidents and murders. It was a lot like some of the chan boards are on the internet now, a place for people to get sick thrills.

He wanted it to be the most widely circulated paper in America, but that meant making the Enquirer family-friendly, leading to the celebrity news pivot and its placement at the checkout counter. It was the first publication to get that placement. Production was relocated to Florida in 1971, and the documentary is full of interviews with former reporters that make for excellent viewing. They seemed to live in this tension between living company account lifestyles that had them jet-setting worldwide to cowering on Fridays when Pope would inevitably start handing out pink slips. The film touches on the O.J. Simpson trial as a significant touchstone for the paper’s success and some of the lesser-known practices of celebrities paying off the paper to hide one story in exchange for a fluffy softball interview. Bob Hope got a story of his numerous infidelities covered up by doing one of these puff pieces. I honestly enjoyed seeing how proud these reporters were of work that came about through rather unscrupulous means.


A Glitch in the Matrix (2021)
Directed by Rodney Ascher

Rodney Ascher is a very infuriating director, possibly intentionally so, and this is his worst documentary thus far. I didn’t mind Room 237, his examination of conspiracy theories stemming from The Shining. His film about night terrors & sleep paralysis, The Nightmare, was pretty dumb. A Glitch in the Matrix reaches new levels of complete stupidity. From almost the very start, I knew I was in for a bumpy ride. The problem stems from his interview subjects. There are no introductions given; we’re just suddenly listening to a person that sounds like Ascher found them online talking about all the weird stuff that has happened that they chalk up to our reality being a computer simulation.

Some of the evidence given is that they were thinking of something and then saw that thing. One interviewee’s philosophy developed when he was a child and is based on his feelings of disassociation during those years. Yet another relates a story from when he was drunk in Mexico to show a series of coincidences. If anything, these testimonies reveal more about underlying mental health issues from these men than any revelation that our reality is false. Near the end, that is briefly addressed and the nihilism that comes if you follow this simulation philosophy to its natural end. I don’t think I have watched a documentary in a long time where I was made at the very documentary itself, not just a subject or interviewee—complete stupidity on display here.


The Booksellers (2020)
Directed by D.W. Young

Once upon a time, New York City was a paradise for rare book collectors. As the internet came to prominence and its online marketplaces, the brick & mortar stores fell into decline. This documentary follows some of those trying to carry on this practice despite or in fact of the changes in the world around them. This isn’t necessarily a film about a love of books but more people dealing in collectibles. As a result, it feels somewhat out of place when basic necessities are in dire need. Getting caught up in the hunt for the first edition of some hundred-year-old novel just hard to get interested in. What kept me interested in the story behind these dealers, which reveals why they are so invested in books.

For some of the sellers featured, this is a business. They understand why a book is valuable, but they don’t really care beyond the money they can make off of it. I was drawn to the people who cherished literature for its content and the history behind it. We meet a female seller who realized that literature written by and about American women from the 19th century was falling into obscurity and ruin because of a lack of preservation. She has now amassed one of the world’s largest collections and plans to leave it as something available to the public upon her death rather than having it sold at auction. She cites the number of auctions and estate sales she had to scour through to find it and how sad it would be for the material to be dispersed like that again. If you’re interested in a field of work that time is making somewhat obsolete or at least diminished. 

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