Tabloid

12 Aug

Title: Tabloid
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Errol Morris
Writer:
Starring: 
Joyce McKinney
MPAA Rating: 
R, sexual content and nudity
Runtime: 
87 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
90%

 

And so today I finally got to see Errol Morris’ latest documentary, Tabloid. And for those of you who know how Mr. Morris is as a director of documentaries, then you will know that this is a man who has a very definite attitude and perspective, and just a very peculiar and awesome point of view, and I really thought that with all of that in mind, this was the perfect subject material for him to tackle. Because in Tabloid the subject matter is Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney, a tabloid staple before such things even existed, a beauty queen who was on a relentless quest for love and who’s story touches upon kidnapping, stints in jail and a cloning laboratory in South Korea. This is just a strange story, disturbing and amusing in equal measure, the stuff you really can’t make up, and even though it maybe isn’t the most thought-provoking Mr. Morris has ever been, it’s still very smartly executed and most certainly a very compelling documentary.

The infamous case Joyce McKinney was involved in more than three decades ago and that got her face splattered over the tabloids, was that of the “Manacled Mormon” as it was called. She was alleged to have kidnapped an American Mormon missionary in the U.K., handcuffed him to a bed and used him a sex slave, though she said that those were all lies invented about her and that she was just trying to rescue him from a cult. And that’s just one bit of Ms. McKinney’s life that seems extremely crazy, but it’s not the only one, so many things about her life seem to be a fabrication, even though many of them probably aren’t, and to be honest, I love that we have a person like Errol Morris behind Tabloid, because I don’t really think he cares what the truth is here. We get the version of the story from Ms. McKinney, we get the other possible versions by Mr. Morris, but which of them is actually true, I don’t think really matters to him, he only cares about her as a character.

And I loved that about this documentary, that Mr. Morris seemingly didn’t care about the truth, he knows that whatever truth he eventually lands on is a truth made up by himself with whatever he chooses to give us, and he’s super aware of that, and as a such has a blast just playing with what is or what isn’t the truth of the matter, this is a documentary experience in which we apparently are given all the pieces needed to assemble to the final product, but we don’t really know how to put them together. And this really is just one seriously strange and many times contradictory story we get in Tabloid, in which a variety of scenarios seem to fit the facts, and so we don’t really know what to make of them, because we have what the tabloids said and the police said, and then we have what Ms. McKinney tells us, and she seems to have an explanation for everything that actually does fit reality. And through it all we have Mr. Morris who just lets this all be, not once throwing us a lifeboat and telling us what he thinks is the truth, but instead just sitting back and enjoying our bedazzlement at the bizarre nature of all of this. But we should have been prepared for this since his films are always like this, just very intense non-judgemental looks into very personal things.

And it’s that shadow of doubt that hangs over Tabloid that really makes this film so damn addictive and engrossing, the fact that when we hear Ms. McKinney’s story we see a person that’s likable and that says things that sound totally plausible is totally contradictory with things we know for a fact that she did that make her seem like a madwoman, she talks about the nude pictures of her being photoshopped, but then again, they were published before that software was invented. Things just don’t add up here, and that’s terrific for the effect this film is going for. And what’s awesome is that Mr. Morris got Ms. McKinney and many others to speak in the first place, their accounts adding up to different stories that make Tabloid one of the most enigmatic films to have come out all year, especially because the way Mr. Morris tackles the subject matter is never exploitative or mocking, it’s just curious.

And that curiosity is what drives Tabloid, curiosity about the tabloid culture and about Ms. McKinney, and even though this film is unlike the others Mr. Morris has done, take a look and compare Ms. McKinney here and Robert McNamara from Mr. Morris’ masterful Oscar-winning documentary The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara from 2003, on the surface they are nothing alike, but look closer and you’ll see two persons battling the different shades of truth of their story, a story they try their best to have some sort of control over, only to realize that it’s a control that was lost a long time ago. And this really is a damn good look at the cult of celebrity, life on the tabloids, you get to think that if Ms. McKinney would have been born a generation or two later she would no doubt have her own hit reality show right now. Mr. Morris has simply done it again, and you’d have to be dumb not to check out Tabloid, make of it what you may.

Grade: A-

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