Tabloid magazines these days are pretty unavoidable, assuming you’re not a shut-in. Every time I get in line at the supermarket, I can’t help but see whatever sensational headline they’ve come up with about which of the pro-choice advocates from MTV’s Teen Mom has the best beach body, what really happened to Casey’s baby, or Lindsay Lohan’s latest mugshot. I don’t care about any of these people, much less which ones had a secret wedding in Kalamazoo.
However, Errol Morris’s latest documentary, aptly named Tabloid, takes us back to the 1970’s for one of the greatest cover stories of all time: the tale of Joy McKinney and the manacled Mormon. If you’re like me, you probably have no clue who she is or what a manacled Mormon has to do with anything, and if you’re like me, you’re in for a treat. If you do know who she is, you’re just as lucky, because Errol Morris has crafted a sleek, sexy documentary that will keep you intrigued all the way through. Read on to see how much better Joyce McKinney was at making headlines than LiLo or any of the other spoiled brats we’re stuck with these days.
Tabloid tells the story, mostly in her own words, of Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen who followed her heart. Unfortunately, following her heart led to the abduction of her fiancée Kirk from a Mormon meetinghouse in Britain and giving him sweet sexings for three days in an attempt to deprogram him and bring him home so they could be wed and start their life together. Kirk, possibly in an effort to avoid Mormon excommunication (the worst kind), went to the police and Joyce was arrested. The documentary covers the story from how Joyce and Kirk met, to the kidnapping, all the way through the media hurricane, and then shines light on Joyce’s later misadventures.
From the get-go, the editing had me in a steel grip. The opening was terrific, starting with home video footage of a much-younger Joyce reading from her book (which, despite many attempts, still hasn’t come out yet) and followed by delightful tabloid-inspired titles. The movie, which was primarily talking heads, masterfully blended home videos, still photographs, animation, and news headlines that left me amused and kept me entertained throughout. The end of the film is just like the opening, with a decidedly tragic clip of the younger Joyce finishing the book of her life. Coupled with a great score and truly excellent sound design, I can’t remember the last talking head documentary I watched that was as entertaining. The only thing that threw me for a loop was the occasional (and frequent) periods of black frames on the screen. They didn’t last very long, no more than one or two seconds each, but I couldn’t help but feel like maybe there should be something there. Granted, I saw a screener, so that could be the reason. Even if they are an intentional stylistic choice, they did not diminish the rest of the movie in any real tangible sense.
Aside from Joyce, a handful of other people appear to tell the story of what happened. Peter Tory, a gossip columnist for British tabloid The Daily Express, Jackson Shaw, the fixed wing pilot who initially was involved with the plot to get Kirk back, and Kent Gavin, a photographer for The Daily Mirror, were all involved at one point or another in the initial scandal. Troy Williams, a former missionary for the Mormon church, shines light on how, even if Kirk loved her and consented to the three-day bone-fest, he may have feared excommunication enough to cry rape. Finally, Jin Han Hong, PhD, talks about cloning Joyce’s closest friend Booger. All these people are well-spoken and each contributes to the documentary nicely. Kirk Anderson refused to be interviewed, so we don’t get to hear his side of the story, which is disappointing because he was the one being kidnapped by the hot beauty queen and forced, or not, to have lots of sex with her.
This brings up another point: what really happened? Joyce is adamant about him being her true love and consenting to their three-day love-in. I honestly believe, regardless of what actually happened, that she was heartbroken. I found Joyce to be very charismatic, and the only time in the film when I waffled was when she said she didn’t believe that a woman could rape a man. That’s quite a bold statement, but it wasn’t enough to make me not feel bad when she spoke about how if she just stepped off the ledge of that hotel balcony, she’d finally be free of the tabloid parade. When she spoke about how, due to a few women at the pharmacy who didn’t like her adding an extra zero onto her guard dog’s medication, she was horrifically mauled by said dog, I was horrified. But Booger saved the day, and you could tell that she loved that dog enough to have him cloned. The though of Joyce McKinney living in the middle of nowhere with five cloned dogs leaves me with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. She claimed she’d lost her true love (Kirk, not the original Booger), but at least she’s got these five dogs, copies of her beloved best friend, to keep her company.
Tabloid is a slick, stylish documentary and one of the most refreshing ones I’ve seen in recent history. The case of the manacled Mormon is truly interesting and Joyce McKinney, the star of the show, is quite a character. Her life has obviously been one worth writing about (versus, oh, Kate Gosselin), and as a result, Tabloid is an absolutely entertaining watch from the get-go. This is one documentary you should not let pass you by.
Andres Bolivar: If you’ve ever seen a documentary, then you’re sure to know the basic formula by heart and realize how each documentary almost seemingly looks like the other, swapping subject and tone. With Tabloid, Errol Morris crafts a beautifully absurd tale of unrequited love that is rich in subject, direction and sound design on par with a fictional narrative. Errol Morris masterfully handles the subjects of religion, love, fame and privacy and manages to stay hilarious, absurd and sentimental till the very end. It is a refreshing documentary that is sure to charm you, kidnap you, and make you fall in love with it. 84 – Great.