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Tabloid (Review)

Tabloid (Review)

The truth is stranger than fiction...but what is the truth?
Oct 4, 2011
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Genre: Documentary Release Date: 22/9/2011 Runtime: 87 minutes Country: USA


Director:  Errol Morris Cast: Dr. Hong, Jackson Shaw, Joyce Bernann McKinney, Joyce McKinney, Kent Gavin, Peter Tory
Tabloid (Review), reviewed by Tom Clift on 2011-10-04T11:51:50+00:00 rating 4.0 out of5

Kinky sex, a Southern beauty queen, kidnapped Mormon missionaries, brainwashing, a high-profile media trial and cloned puppies. In the words of one interview subject in Tabloid, the gob smacking story of Joyce McKinney really does have something for everybody. A former Miss Wyoming contestant, McKinney became the obsession of the notorious British tabloid papers in the late nineteen seventies after she was arrested and put on trial for kidnapping, imprisoning and sexually assaulting a Mormon missionary named Kirk Anderson. Or at least, that’s one version of what happened. With plenty of wit and self-aware showmanship, acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) throws us headfirst into the world of tabloid scandals; a place where the truth is never as important as a juicy headline, and the story changes with each new person who tells it.

Although Tabloid shares the same fascination with “the truth”, it is by comparison to the rest of Morris’ acclaimed filmography a much breezier and more irreverent affair. Unlike in The Thin Blue Line, where it is the ultimate quest for answers that grips us, Tabloid is satisfied to simply recount the story – or stories – and let the audience make of it what they will. In this way, it is the journey, not the destination, which keeps you so enraptured. Well, the journey and Joyce McKinney.

The film’s primary interviewee (Anderson refused to be be interviewed), McKinney is an absolutely outrageous character, every bit as gregarious, theatrical and unrepentant now as she was in 1977. At one point she makes reference to having taken drama classes in high school, and it’s patently obvious that the lessons stuck. One never fully believes the sanitized version of events as she paints them (conveniently glossing over accusations that she worked as a call girl), but there’s no denying she makes for a captivating talking head.

joyce mckinney Tabloid (Review)

Morris also shamelessly plays up through editing and graphics all the attention-grabbing elements that made the “Mormon sex in chains” story so attractive to the tabloids in the first place. Headlines and animations flash rapidly across the screen accompanied by John Kusiak’s waltz-like score, while classic film excerpts and clips from Mormon cartoons reflect the fantastical nature of the tales that are playing in our ears. It’s quite cheeky, really; Morris’ recreation of the style and language of sensationalist reporting is meant to be tongue in cheek, but at the same time he reaps all of their benefits. Indeed, Tabloid often seems less like a film about the practices of tabloid journalism and more like a showy piece of tabloid journalism itself.

Yet while under any other circumstances that would be a criticism, Tabloid is such a mirthful, fascinating and fantastically entertaining documentary that you can’t help but get caught up in all the sordid fun. There is also a gleeful ambiguity to the film that makes it that much more intriguing. No matter how honest, dishonest or over the top they might seem, no one in this film can prove a thing. Rarely does a movie, let alone a documentary, end without answers and still manage to satisfy. Tabloid is definitely an exception.

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