Review: Tabloid

Tabloid - Joyce McKinney
Tabloid (2010)

Tabloid poster

Director: Errol Morris

Runtime: 87 minutes

Starring: Joyce McKinney, Jackson Shaw, Peter Tory

Distributor: Antidote Films

Country: US

Rating: Highly Recommended (?)

More info

From The Thin Blue Line through to The Fog of War, documentarian Errol Morris has consistently proven that truth is a fluid thing.With Tabloid, Morris makes a departure from his more recent crop of globally relevant issues-based movies, but is once again out to prove that sometimes the truth is better than anything that can be fabricated by taking a look at the infamous case of the “Manacled Mormon”.

Manacled Mormon? Could this be the work of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone? Indeed, the only thing really missing from this film is a musical number. Based on the then-famous “Mormon sex in chains” case on the late 1970s, it follows the somewhat ‘so crazy it must be true’ story of Joyce McKinney, former Miss Wyoming, who became obsessed with the Mormon Kirk Anderson. When he left for London to continue his missionary work, McKinney follows him, allegedly kidnaps him and restrains him to a bed to have sex with him. Through interviews, archival footage and expert testimony, at least two distinct versions of the story are painted of this story of sex, obsession and canine cloning.

McKinney is the ultimate unreliable witness, clearly living in her own version of reality, and it is possible that she could casually explain away murder.  As such, when McKinney was first charged with these crimes back in the day, she was the perfect fodder for the tabloids. As The Daily Mirror and The Daily Express tried to outdo each other for scoops, all manner of nude photos and S & M stories began to surface of the former beauty queen. In a time prior to the Internet, it was exactly what the Fleet Street rags needed to sell copies, and McKinney’s own spiralling descent into lies and obfuscation. Or are they? The other witnesses Morris uses to construct his documentary are two former journalists who covered the events, a pilot who was complicit in McKinney’s deeds and who clearly had unrequited feelings for her, and a former Mormon who dissects the teachings of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Unsurprisingly, Kirk Anderson declined to be interviewed for this

As strange as it sounds, this is all just the beginning of the story, and the years that follow take McKinney’s saga in bizarre directions, from bondage dens to cloning. Morris is an ever-vigilant seeker of the truth, and quite literally ravels the globe to find every scrap of bizarre information in this tale. As Morris unpeels the onion layers of McKinney’s life, we are led to a South Korean scientist who has managed to master the art of cloning dogs. Like Catfish, released earlier this year, the story touches on the broader implications of living in an age where average people’s entire personal lives are played out in a very public forum, and the “truth” of the tale is almost secondary to these troubling trends.

Whether you believe any part of this well-documented story or not, it is undeniably entertaining, hilarious, baffling and intriguing all at once. We haven’t even told you about Booger.

Tabloid is in limited released in Australia from 6 October 2011 from Antidote Films.