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by Eric Kohn
July 12, 2011 2:21 AM
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REVIEW | Weird, Familiar and Out of Control: Errol Morris's "Tabloid"

A scene from Errol Morris's "Tabloid." Sundance Selects.

The enjoyably wacky scenario of Errol Morris's "Tabloid" is cookie-cutter material for the documentarian, but Morris wields his cookie cutter like a pro. Doing penance for the grim, sterile polemics of "Standard Operating Procedure," Morris bounces back with the sort of phenomenally surreal weird-but-true tale in which he excels. The result is not a major work, but still a wildly funny portrait that succeeds at inducing the incredulity Morris always seeks out.

[Editor's Note: This review was originally published during indieWIRE's coverage of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. "Tabloid" opens on Friday, July 15 in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Washington DC, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis.]

As usual, his subjects speak directly to the camera, which he trains on the exploits of Joyce McKinney. A seriously batty former beauty queen, McKinney allegedly kidnapped her Mormon fiance in the 1977 after he abruptly fled the relationship in favor of a mission in England. Tying him down with either chains or ropes (reports vary), then either raping or seducing him (same deal), McKinney's mad scheme turned her into a trashy media darling. The movie's primary talking head, McKinney looks back on her plight with the insane conviction that she did nothing wrong. Her innocuous southern mannerisms mask untold levels of madness, the essential ingredient that makes "Tabloid" into unabashedly sensationalistic entertainment.

Like the lovers' quarrel that resulted in the acid-in-the-face incident of Dan Klores' "Crazy Love," the kidnapping in "Tabloid" provides merely a starting point for exploring McKinney's obsessive nature. Reporters that covered her behavior reveled in her ability to relish a position in the limelight during the legal proceedings that followed her first infraction. Many more followed, including allegations of her involvement in BDSM prostitution.

Morris portrays the media interest (his own included) in McKinney in much the same light as her allowance of it. He routinely speaks up from behind the camera, sounding flabbergasted at every new twist. Attempts to distinguish between her sunny rationalizations and the reality eventually give way to an intentional blurry line. When a gossip columnist describes his dedication to tracking McKiney, Morris declares, "You became her tool," and the interviewee agrees without hesitation.

Morris, however, turns Joyce into a tool of his own by goading her into upping her on-camera provocations. Discussing the kidnapping case, he asks her whether she believes a woman can rape a man. On cue, she fires back, "That's like squeezing a marshmallow into a parking meter." Despite the comic edge, "Tabloid" does offer clues scattered throughout McKinney's mania. Speaking of her ex-husband's rejection, she says, "You can tell a lie long enough until you believe it," and you have to study her face to determine if she's talking about herself.

Alternately bonkers and perceptive, McKinney lets Morris freely exploit her story. Newspaper headlines flash across the screen; a typically enigmatic score amusingly overstates the drama. The trajectory is hard to second-guess, which results in a fragmented experience that leaves the point of it all a little too open-ended. Morris veers away from the details of her earlier adventures and focuses on her recent news-making development, when she paid top-dollar to get a Korean scientist to clone her dead dog. The big picture never becomes clear, but the fun factor stays put.

The later scenes of "Tabloid" climb to a whole new level of conceptual strangeness. McKinney, not any single one of her outlandish acts, serves as the movie's sole purpose. Just as she dismisses her "thirty-two-year-old sex-in-chains story," the director makes the case for returning to its mastermind. Her presence is vintage Morris -- great for what it is, even if it's impossible to shake the feeling that we've been on this trip before.

criticWIRE Grade: B+

TAGS: Tabloid
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1 Comment

  • truthteller | November 29, 2011 4:45 AMReply

    NOTICE OF INTENT TO SUE/CEASE AND DESIST: Eric Kohn, your unkind article slanders Joyce McKinney and defames her maliciously! Your false impression of her and your complete IGNORANCE of her TRUE story is appalling! Your twisted impression of Joyce is obviously formed by a perverted film "Tabloid", whose director, producers and distributors have already been sued for millions of dollars. You can get a copy of the Lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court. IF you do not remove YOUR false and libelous statements, Joyce McKinney intends to sue YOU, and others like you, for YOUR false comments slandering her maliciously. It is Criminal Libel to accuse a person of a crime she has NEVER COMMITTED. In fact, you infer that Joyce is "crazy" and call her "batty" when she is not. Her trip to England was a CULT RESCUE, and had you got off your lazy duff, you could have researched the Mormon cult and how it uses brainwashing and mind control tactics on its victims; and you could have got the British court records and the phone transcript where her phone conversation was illegally HACKED by the Mormons and their corrupt coppers in league with CASH PAYING tabloids! The transcript PROVES that Joyce never "kidnapped or raped" her fiancé. Her fiance tells her he loves her, and tells how the Mormon leaders have brought in PR teams to tell the gullible press that she "kidnapped and raped" him. He says he tried to tell them The Truth but no one would listen--the Mormon leaders were concerned only with their Mormon Missionary Image [which rakes in billions yearly]. In the transcript, her fiance says they are "Watching him 24 hours a day" and have his "passport and money locked in a safe" [to prevent him form leaving]. He says they "have someone with him at all times", and that he will have to pretend "to go across the street for a doughnut", to get free of them and for her to meet him at 3 pm in London. He says the cult leaders are taking him in rooms and bombarding him..and asks if the cult exit counseling group she knows of back in America [that helps Mormons exit the cult] can help them. Mr. Kohn, why did you not get this vital information before you slandered Joyce McKinney so? Too lazy? Just easier to copy the slander and hurt Joyce all over again, huh? Well, you are still responsible in a court of laws if she sues
    you! Just saying "Duh, I got it from somebody else" doesn't wash. You as a "writer" are to do INDEPENDENT RESEARCH to ascertain the facts, and you did not. Therefore, you will pay her damages. She is especially INCENSED that you called her a "prostitute". For your much needed information, Joyce was a virgin when she met her Mormon fiance, and so was he. There was nothing "crazy" or "sordid" about their love and their morals were high. Who is disgusting, is YOU, by calling her a "prostitute", or a "rapist" which constitutes Criminal Libel. She has never been arrested for Prostitution or raping a man, and that is Criminal Libel on your part and for that you can get a jail sentence! Also, you're so stupid and inaccurate you refer to her fiance as her "ex-husband". Like most journalists, you lack the ability (or the honesty) to get the FACTS straight! As Kirk himself told Joyce when he told her how the crazy reporters waiting outside were gobbling up the Mormon PR machine's cover up story, he said "They are just typing it up and blabbing it out, its just ridiculous." Oh yes, birdbrain, when Joyce says "You can tell a lie long enough until you believe it", she is NOT talking about herself-- she is talking about the nutty crazy Mormons, who told the LIE that a 112 pound former Miss Wyoming USA "kidnapped and raped" a 300 pound 6'5 inch hulking Mormon MAN, so long that they actually began to believe their own LIE. Morris just tok that sentence out and edited the film to confuse his audiences. (And it wouldn't take much to confuse you as you don't seem too intelligent Mr Kohn! You also fell for deceptive Morris gimmick wherein he took perverted SEX ADS out of trashy SEX PAPERS and flashed them by you so fast, you didn't realize the women in the ads (brunettes) weren't even Joyce (she's a blonde!) Slow the film down. And you'll see this is true. Moreover, before they took him, Kirk told her he did NOT want to go on a street recruitment mission for the cult, but they were pressuring him. He told her "I have my life, my love, and I have you". Also, Joyce is incensed by your used of the wording "obsessed" (an old Mormon press word, to make her appear deranged and to cover up the fact that they use intensified brainwashing on their victims, such as her beloved Kirk.] Your knowledge of Mormonism is appalling! Same with Errol Morris. But then again, he's going to be sued for millions of dollars in a court of law. Joyce can't wait to get his sorry tail in court and pin him down. He will think all five of her pitbulls have got hold of his testicles when her attorneys finish with him. And he will finally be forced to do the research into her story that he SHOULD should have done BEFORE he did a libelous film on her and tried to pass it off to the public as the Joyce McKinney Story. He took a serious intense heavy CULT RESCUE saga and turned it into a silly sex comedy! And it wasn't "funny" what she went through; it was a horror story for an innocent young girl. Nor is it funny that the Mormons teach their victims that they are in progression to godhood and that their cult teaches that it "will take over the US government and establish a theocracy with their leaders at the helm and establish a New World Order". Nor is it "funny" that two of them (Romney and Huntsman) are running for the US presidency next year! IF they deceive the public enough and get in, The New World Order has begun, and the whole United States will be just like UTAH with no separation of church and state and the cult,( which operated subtly for years while nitwits like you and Errol Morris breeze blissfully on without a clue as to what is going on), will take over. How scary that people like you are so easily deceived. You need to go get a copy of the film THE GOD-MAKERS and the film TICKET TO HEAVEN if you want to understand Joyce's story. Otherwise, get this crap off the internet, or you WILL be sued by her. Make NO mistake about it!