Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Scandalous’, ‘Synonymes’, and ‘Crime 1978’

Scandalous: Photo: Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

When my family moved to the United States, one of the first orders of business was finding a news source that provided information on par with our paper of choice in the UK: the ultra-reactionary Daily Mail. Within a few weeks, that news source had been identified – the National Enquirer, which my mother would dutifully purchase each week along with the latest issue of TV Guide.

Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer examines the scurrilous, libelous and occasionally groundbreaking work of this infamous and hugely popular supermarket tabloid. Purchased by Gene Pope in 1954 with a loan from Mafia boss Frank Costello, the then New York Enquirer grew its circulation by putting gory pictures of accident and murder victims on the front page.

As Scandalous documents, that was enough to raise the paper’s profile, but it wasn’t until Pope hit on the magic formula — celebrity news, cute animals, psychic phenomena and diets — that the paper truly became a force to be reckoned with. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, much of its success in the 1960s and ‘70s happened after Pope imported bare-knuckle Fleet Street journalists who knew what sold British tabloids.

Directed by Mark Landsman (Thunder Soul), Scandalous suggests that, while the paper sometimes gained grudging respect from mainstream journalists, it was never very far from the gutter. Whether it was underhandedly obtaining pictures of Elvis in his coffin, blackmailing celebrities like Bob Hope and Bill Cosby, or outing the person who gave John Belushi his fatal speedball, the Enquirer had few if any scruples.


Featuring interviews with now retired Enquirer journos, and others of a more establishmentarian bent, Scandalous is good as far as it goes but misses some interesting angles. There’s nothing about the paper’s predecessors (I’m thinking Confidential), none of its competitors (surely The Weekly World News is also worthy of a feature documentary), and no mention of one of its most prestigious scoops, a shocking 1975 story about Cold War radiation experiments conducted on prisoners in Oregon.

Despite its robust endorsement of Donald Trump, the Enquirer is now a shadow of its former self, its role in the age of clickbait and the 24-hour news cycle ill-defined and uncertain. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail keeps on going – as soon as my parents returned to Britain, they immediately re-subscribed, and it still sells over 1 million copies a day.

‘Synonymes’: Absurdist comedy with a pitch black streak

Synonymes. Photo: Courtesy Kino Lorber

Synonymes (currently playing at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco) is an uneasy absurdist comedy with a pitch black streak and some Godardian cinematic flourishes. Starring Tom Mercier as Yoav, an Israeli immigrant in Paris trying to forget his past and become more French than the French, the film apparently reflects the personal experiences of writer-director, Nadav Lapid.

Synonymes has some brilliant moments – and before seeing it I had no idea how bloodthirsty the French national anthem was – but it’s hard to accept at face value. Yoav’s devotion to France verges on the pathological, while his relationships with a pair of wealthy Parisians seem forced and unbelievable.

Perhaps it succeeds more as therapy than cinema.

‘Crime 1978’: Surfacing long lost classic punk footage

‘Crime 1978’. Photo: Courtesy Steve Indig PR

Finally, some long lost classic punk footage has been exhumed, with San Francisco’s First and Only Rock ’n’ Roll Movie: Crime 1978 screening at San Francisco’s Victoria Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 14. As a veteran of the LA punk scene, I never got to see Crime in person, but the footage seen here suggests they were one red hot rock ’n’ roll combo.

In addition to Crime on stage and at San Quentin State Prison, there’s wonderful footage of the beloved and much missed Mabuhay Gardens and legendary promoter Dirk Dirksen, whose well-documented love-hate relationship with the punk community is on full display herein. Though only 34-minutes long, Crime 1978 is essential viewing for punks young and old.