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Tabloid (IFC Films, NR)

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You have to admire her gift for creating striking images as well. She likens the prospect of a woman raping a man to "putting a marshmallow in a parking meter."

 

 

Seldom has a film been more aptly titled than Tabloid, Errol Morris' take on what has become known as "The Case of the Manacled Mormon." Morris' documentary is not just about the tabloid industry, it's part of the tabloid industry, as surely as is The Weekly World News or The Jerry Springer Show. The difference is that people who would never be caught dead reading the former or watching the latter will have no problem being seen at a movie directed by the man who brought us The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War. Everyone likes a good lurid story now and then and Morris' film provides a way to indulge without having to sacrifice your feelings of cultural superiority.

It's no secret that Morris has long been fascinated by tabloid stories (if you don't believe me, read this: http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/encounter/errol-morris-2011-7/) and several of his previous films have visited this territory. The most notable among these is Vernon, Florida, which was originally titled Nub City due to the residents' habit of maiming themselves to collect insurance settlements: Morris (according to his web site) changed the film's focus after death threats from the townspeople. This time his focus is on the strange but true story of Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming who managed to become the focus of tabloid headlines not once but twice in her lifetime (and who knows, there may be yet more to come).

As a young woman McKinney fell in love with a man named Kirk Anderson. In 1977, when he left for England to do his Mormon mission she concluded that he had been kidnapped and brainwashed and required immediate rescue and counter-programming. She tracked Anderson down and spirited him away to a rural cottage where he was kept tied to a bed (McKinney is insistent that she used ropes, not chains, as if that were really a relevant issue), a circumstance that did not prevent them from engaging in sexual relations (voluntary according to her but not according to him). When she freed Anderson he reported her to the police and she was arrested but fled the country before trial, later being sentenced in absentia for indecent assault.

The story was catnip to the British tabloids, of course, and Morris includes interviews with Peter Tory of the Daily Express and Kent Gavin of the Mirror, both of whom are clearly delighted with their trade and with the opportunities that McKinney's story provided them. And who can blame them? Every time you think you've heard it all, it just gets stranger (which from the tabloid point of view is better) and McKinney, who guilelessly tells her version of events straight to Morris' Interrotron, seems to be completely unaware that her behavior would be considered by most people far outside the range of normal. When she says "I could never understand the public's fascination with my love life" she seems completely sincere if also seriously deluded, and you have to admire her gift for creating striking images as well. She likens the prospect of a woman raping a man to "putting a marshmallow in a parking meter" and claims she was so in love with Anderson that she would have "skied down Mt. Everest nude with a carnation up my nose" to get him back. Picture that one, then try to forget it. Gotcha!

McKinney's second claim to fame is that she was the first person to have a dog commercially cloned. That's kind of anti-climactic in comparison to kidnapping and sexual molestation but perhaps not entirely contradictory; apparently she loved her dog Booger (and it would be named Booger, wouldn't it?) so much she couldn't bear to be parted from him, just as she couldn't bear to be parted from Kirk Anderson so many years before. Anyway, a lab in South Korea gave her a discount price in return for publicity and McKinney soon found herself not only the proud owner of five identical pit-bull puppies but also the center of media attention once again.

Tabloid uses most of the effects we've come to expect from an Errol Morris documentary, with the exception of re-enactment (which might be overkill with a story this lurid). But there are jump-cut interviews, animations, blackouts, clips from other films, and tabloid headlines practically leaping at you from the screen along with a lively score by John Kusiak. It's an amusing 90 minutes even if the subject doesn't really merit this level of attention, and if you enjoy laughing at people who can't seem to help themselves you'll have a great time. To me it's just sleaze trying to pass itself off as highbrow fare but I seem to be in the distinct minority (Tabloid had 89 percent positive on the Tomatometer the last time I checked) and we all know that there's no accounting for taste, particularly where humor is concerned. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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