Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Errol Morris.
Tabloid is the new film from veteran Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, who has been making important films for thirty years. His previous insightful and revealing films include The Fog Of War, about Robert McNamara, who was one of the principal architects of the Vietnam War; the true story of crime and injustice The Thin Blue Line; and Standard Operating Procedure about the notorious abuses of prisoners in the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib.
Tabloid proves once again that real life is often far more bizarre than fiction, and it offers up a story and a fascinating character that you couldn’t make up.
The film looks at Joyce McKinney a former beauty queen who, in the 70’s was obsessed with Kirk Anderson, a young Mormon missionary. When he moved to London she followed him. There she allegedly kidnapped him, whisked him away to a remote cabin where she chained him to a bed and used him for sex.
The “case of the manacled Mormon” and the subsequent court case was fodder for the British tabloids that reported every salacious detail. But the rival papers, the Daily Express and The Mirror, took opposing stances on McKinney’s guilt. One tabloid probed even further into her sordid past, revealing her former life as a nude model and high priced call girl. Tabloid weaves together a fascinatingly lurid tale of obsession, kinky sex, straight sex, prostitution, organised religion, and brainwashing.
Unlike his contemporaries Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock though, Morris prefers to remain behind the camera. However, he is still a skilled interrogator, probing for elusive truths and information and penetrating insights. In an extensive interview, McKinney appears enigmatic and unapologetic, and denies that she has done anything wrong. In fact, she claims she was intervening to rescue him from a cult. She even expresses disbelief at the way in which the press has printed lies and distortions about her and her actions.
Morris remains non-judgmental, preferring to let audiences make up their own mind as to her guilt or innocence as McKinney’s story grows more complicated. Morris uses his own invention, the Interrotron, a unique device that incorporates mirrors and monitors, and allows him and the person he is speaking with to look directly into each other’s eyes. In his typical straight forward fashion Morris also interviews a number of people connected to the case, including a couple of British tabloid reporters, including cynical Daily Express reporter Peter Tory who calls her “barking mad,.” that add further layers to this outrageous and complicated story. Most telling of all though is that her alleged victim refused to be interviewed for the film.
As usual, Morris uses a wealth of source material, including photographs, archival footage, reconstructions, graphics, bold headlines and film clips, etc, to further illustrate his themes and add rich detail to the material. His approach to this juicy subject matter is occasionally humourous, wry and ironic. Although McKinney seems sympathetic and wants to be portrayed as a hopeless romantic, she is still an unreliable narrator of her own story.
But there is an even more bizarre coda to this already strange tale as we learn how McKinney had her beloved dog Booger cloned by a Korean scientist. Morris has explored fascinating characters before, but it is doubtful that few are more colourful or fascinating than McKinney.
Tabloid is relatively lightweight and frivolous subject matter for Morris, but it is nonetheless an entertaining and amusing curiosity piece.