Tabloid tells, without a doubt, the most batshit crazy, strangest story I think I’ve ever heard told in documentary form. My jaw dropped during the first few minutes of the film, and I remained in an entertained state of shock throughout the remainder. Errol Morris, who directed Tabloid is coming off his last film, the extremely poorly received Standard Operating Procedure, and he has firmly reminded us all why he’s an Academy Award-winning director.
Morris’s focus is a woman named Joyce McKinney. She boasts an IQ of 168, and was once Ms. Wyoming. But most notably, in the 70s she hired a couple men to go with her to track down a former lover who was serving as a missionary for the Mormon church in England. When she found him, she kidnapped him, took him to a ‘love cottage,’ chained him up and raped him for three days. Allegedly. That’s fucking insane. But the story, believe it or not, gets stranger, and stranger. Ranging from maintaining her virginity while providing bondage services to men in Los Angeles, to cloning her dog in South Korea.
The film uses the ‘love cottage’ story as a jumping off point. The man McKinney is supposed to have married, Kirk Anderson, who now is married and lives in Salt Lake City, has spoken on the subject only once in testimony he gave in English courts years ago. Letters and request sent by Tabloid’s producers were never responded to. So Morris wraps the narrative around what McKinney has to say. While no one knows what really happened there, it’s clear that McKinney’s recantation of her life’s events differ wildly from everyone else’s.
In a style continued from Morris’s earlier work, Tabloid isn’t necessarily about the cold hard facts. It’s about the people involved and how they remember or fantasize their memories. You see, in McKinney’s mind, the shackling of Anderson spread eagle on a bed was a sexual exercised agreed on by both parties, to try and undo the Mormon brainwashing that was blocking him sexually and mentally.
To help understand what Anderson’s experience may have resembled, Morris interviews a gay, former Mormon who served on a Mormon mission. He tries to explain, with great success, the sort of mental and spiritual anguish Anderson would have experienced if McKinney’s account is true in any part. British tabloid journalists that covered the story and sensationalized it to no end are brought in for an even broader understanding of the story. Two battling tabloids created wildly different incarnations of McKinney in there publications, one the virgin, one the whore. Morris was interested in, and interested in showing this culture of tabloids and investigating their particular brand of twisting the truth.
Despite a growing number of interviewees to keep track of, McKinney is the star of the show and gives an incredible performance. So much so, she’s sometimes believable. Her explanation for sneaking out of the UK (she’s a fugitive to this day) by pretending to be a part of a deaf/mute troop of actors traveling to New York sounds reasonable for some reason. Her tale of hiding out with her friend, pretending to be nuns seems as innocent and lighthearted as she says it was.
Tabloid is tightly paced and brilliantly edited. Morris’s direction is assured and in top form. It’s funny, and smart and mindblowing in its fiction-is-stranger-than-reality convictions.
Errol Morris was kind enough to sit down with me and chat about Tabloid. Check out the interview.