Tabloid

Documentarian extraordinaire, Errol Morris turns his attention to the authentic story of a former Miss Wyoming. Her obsession with her one true love compelled her to venture to Europe to find the man who mysteriously disappeared from her life. The title refers to the British tabloids that had a field day with the scandal back in 1977. “The Manacled Mormon” was how the case came to be known. “Kinky sex, religion, a beauty queen, Mormon missionaries, forcibly kidnapped. There was something in that story for everyone. It was a perfect tabloid story,” affirms a tabloid reporter. Apparently it dominated the English tabloid papers in the late 1970s, but I have yet to encounter someone in the US who was familiar with the crime before this movie came out. No matter. The account is a perfect example of how “truth is stranger than fiction”.

Errol Morris’ unbiased presentation of the facts, or at least how the principals see them, is riveting. On the one hand, there is a woman who claims she went to England to rescue her husband from the Mormons who brainwashed him. On the other hand, you have a man who alleges he was kidnapped at gunpoint, then raped while shacked to a bed. Perhaps reality is somewhere in the middle as one ex-Mormon suggests.  He recounts how the church exploited the controversy as an ominous reminder of the feminine wiles of the fairer sex. Despite the sensational and salacious details, the tone is clearly tongue in cheek. The information is presented with animations and collages that recreate scenes and old film stock that illustrates the points being made. They’re humorous and keep things interesting . However, none of that even comes close to being as affecting as the conversations with the woman at the center of the situation.

Only 6 people are questioned, but boy does Morris makes those interviews count. They each help clarify a most bewildering matter. Joyce McKinney is quite a character. At times she seems humorously charismatic, at others pathetically delusional. I suppose it’s those contrasts that make her statements so fascinating. There’s also Jackson Shaw, the pilot she hired to fly her to England, the Daily Express reporter Peter Tory who covered the exploits back then, ex-Mormon missionary Troy Williams, the photographer for the Daily Mirror Kent Gavin, and lastly Dr. Hong the scientist in Korea who cloned her beloved dog years later. None of these people can be considered a reliable narrator, but Morris isn’t really concerned with authenticating anyone’s story. They’re all presented as mere parts to a larger puzzle that the viewer must assemble and understand. Markedly absent is Kirk Anderson, the object of her desire. Sadly he is never interviewed as he (not surprisingly) declined to be interviewed for this feature. Although even his absence sheds some light on the events in question.

In the end, we really aren’t any closer to a certainty than we were in the beginning. It’s not even clear what the director thinks about his subject. But  Morris definitely shows an interest in his topic that comes through.  The drama is intriguing and worthy of his talent.  Tabloid may not have the sense of importance of his best work, but it is entertaining and well produced. It’s like a good mystery that lacks an ending that neatly explains everything. In a documentary, that’s actually kind of admirable.

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4 Responses to “Tabloid”

  1. Loved your review, Mark!

  2. You’re welcome 🙂 It’s my pleasure.

  3. When Kirk declines to be interviewed, that’s a “red flag”, of guilt, to me. Joyce, is an obsessed woman. She’s allegedly very smart, but had such a kinky past. I always say, there are 3 sides to every story, his side, her side and the truth. Could not find the truth in this story. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film, but wanted to hear his side too. Wanted closure.

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