Hitting U.S. theaters
this weekend, it’s a terrific account of kinks, obsession, self-delusion and
even some self-illusion. View trailer, below.
By Jonah Flicker
Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris is perhaps better known
for his more serious, political films dealing with venerable topics like
criminal justice (The Thin Blue Line), war (The Fog of War), and
the death penalty (Mr. Death). But even in these movies, his fascination
with the oddities of the human condition is evident. After all, this is the man
who started out documenting an animal graveyard in Gates of Heaven. With
his latest film, Tabloid, Morris has taken on a truly bizarre case
involving Mormonism, an ex-beauty queen, and an abduction.
In 1977, Joyce McKinney was a former beauty queen from North
Carolina living in Utah who meets the man of her dreams, Kirk Anderson – who
also happens to be a member of the Mormon Church. The two fall in love, but out
of the blue, Anderson disappears. McKinney, not one to be dissuaded, hires some
bodyguards, a pilot, and a PI, and finds out that Anderson has absconded to
England. She follows him there, and then things get really weird. Without
giving too much away, McKinney and her friend abduct Anderson and bring him to
a cottage in the countryside, where they embark upon either a few days of
loving bliss or forced sexual terror, depending on whose story you believe.
Ultimately, McKinney is arrested and the case becomes fuel for the already
sensation-hungry British tabloids.
Morris shoots the film in his usual fashion, using his
Interrotron invention to train the camera on his subjects and ask them
questions. Unlike some of his other films, there are no reenactments of the
story being told in Tabloid. Instead, Morris skillfully and humorously
weaves stock footage and old film clips into the narrative, peppering the
already bizarre story with a bit of playfulness. And the subjects seem game –
especially McKinney, who comes across as a rather delusional but happy
character with one eccentricity after another revealing itself at every turn.
Still, Morris isn’t mocking her in the film, he’s simply
telling a really strange story that really did happen. Judging from the movie’s
title, it’s reasonable to assume that it is some kind of statement on the
nature of tabloid and what that says about our society, but that doesn’t seem
to be the main point. Rather, it’s an exploration of how perception can be
affected by one’s end goals (and mental state). What actually happened in the
cottage? Was Anderson actually kidnapped and raped, or was he trying to escape
an oppressive church that controlled his life? The only two people that really
know the answer to this question are Anderson and McKinney, and only one of
them is talking. Ultimately, Tabloid is a highly entertaining excursion
into the worlds of obsession, self-illusion, and unfulfilled destiny – all
places that are nice to visit, if just for 88 minutes.