MOVIE: Tabloid (2011)

This documentary is about a beauty queen, a pudgy Mormon, a kidnapping-slash-sex-scandal, and dog cloning.  Yep!  It’s an Errol Morris film, all right!

In 1977, Joyce McKinney, former beauty queen, was the subject of the infamous “Case of the Manacled Mormon,” a “sex in chains” scandal that took place in the UK and ended up being major tabloid fodder both there and in the US.  Through interviews with McKinney, a reporter who covered the story, and one of her accomplices, Morris tells us the truly mesmerizing story of a love-struck young woman who fell head-over-heels with a pasty, chubby Mormon gent named Kirk, and went to extremes (putting it lightly!) to get him back when he moved to England for a religious mission.

Convinced he’d been kidnapped by the Mormon church and was being brainwashed, or so she claims, Joyce enlisted the help of her best friend (a guy who was clearly infatuated with her), a bodyguard, and an airplane pilot, flew to England, and kidnapped Kirk at gunpoint.  She then chained him to a bed in a cottage in the countryside and spent three days having sex with him. “Just like a honeymoon,” she tell us with a blush and a tee-hee.

When caught, Joyce claimed the sex was consensual and that Kirk had fled the Mormon church willingly.  He claimed she kidnapped him and sexually assaulted him repeatedly.  SHE claimed he was only saying that because he was afraid the Mormons would excommunicate him for having premarital sex and then he wouldn’t get to be a god when he died (good lord, Mormons believe wonky things — though, of course, no wonkier than the things other religious people believe, I suppose).  HE claimed she was a crazy stalker who needed to be put in jail.

As the story unfolded, the tabloids latched onto Joyce and wouldn’t let her go.  They began tracking down information about her past, most of which was related to her pornographic photo career, and, according to McKinney, slandered her incessantly in the papers.  Eventually, the UK declined to extradite her for charges, and she was essentially set free.

And then there was that whole thing with her cloned dog Booger. . .  But, well, I’ll let you discover that bit for yourselves.

This film has Errol Morris written all over it, so to speak — his distinctive storytelling style adds a layer of ridiculousness and charm to the entire yarn, which is maybe a little unsettling since, if Kirk’s story is the truth, he was the victim of an utterly horrific crime.  But even while Morris is goofing around, he’s also being an extremely savvy documentarian.  Both sides of the story are presented with equal weight, leaving the viewer completely unsure of the truth.  There was no trial, there’s no real “evidence” Joyce is lying, and so Morris presents the tale with no real point of view.  I had no idea what he thought — he seemed to be merely telling, not judging.  And that, too, is one of Morris’s sneaky, brilliant talents (remember Gates of Heaven?  Same kinda thing.)

McKinney herself is beyond charming, and though her charisma is tinged with an edge of lunacy, she’s still somehow absolutely loveable.  By the end, I was pretty convinced she could’ve committed the crime as accused, but have been completely unaware of the reality of what she was doing.  That is, she’s just bonkers and naive enough to have convinced herself Kirk really loved her and that even though she had to chain him up to keep him there, he was totally into it.

Then again, she’s also just bonkers and naive enough for her version to have been the utter truth.  OR, she’s an incredibly practiced and talented liar.  WHO KNOWS?

Plus, DOG CLONING!  Oh, Errol.  I love you so.

This is a highly engaging, incredibly creative film, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.  I’m really looking forward to watching it again soon, and can’t wait for Morris’s next film, whatever it might be!

[Buy/Rent at Amazon (not available at Netflix: weird!)]

Genre: Documentary
Director:  Errol Morris

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One Response to “MOVIE: Tabloid (2011)”

  1. Brian Toohey Says:

    Meg, have you seen that Errol Morris is directing his first (non-doc) fiction-narrative feature??!? And it’s starring… Paul Rudd, Kristin Wiig, Owen Wilson, and Christopher Walken??!? And it’s called Freezing People Is Easy and is about a man experimenting in cryogenics in the 60’s? Whhhhaaaaaaaaaat is going on??!?

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