Tabloid (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Tabloid (2011)

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Errol Morris is the most damned intriguing documentary filmmaker working today.  It's near-impossible not to have some kind of quizzical reaction watching his films.  This is the man who started off his career recounting the strange journey of a pet cemetery and it's lonely caretakers, and now films a telling of the story that is so perfectly tailored to his sensibilities I salivated at the possibilities for the film.

The result is Tabloid, pound for pound the most entertaining and intriguing movie I've seen all year.  The subject is Miss Joyce McKinney - a traditional southern belle with a 168-point IQ, a figure that won her many beauty pageants, and a taste in men that desire to be dominated.  She eventually focused her heart on a Mormon missionary named Kirk Anderson, a man whose presence is felt throughout the entire film even if he declined to participate.

This is because of an incident in 1970's that the tabloids were equally excited about, "The Case of the Manacled Mormon."  It was known by quite a few other names but the general details are that McKinney, deeply obsessed with Anderson, became worried that he was brainwashed by the Mormons and left her suddenly because of their influence.  So she plotted a unique way of winning her lover back by abducting him from church after using private investigators to track down his whereabouts, took him to a "love cabin", and shackled him to a bed where he either willingly relented to her advances or was raped.  Once he returned to the real world a warrant was put out for McKinney's arrest, much to her surprise, and she became an instant star in the tabloids.

It's hard not to see what it is about McKinney that drove men crazy, and why she felt so strongly about the one she couldn't have.

Jean-Luc Godard famously said that all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.  In this case, McKinney supplies both and Morris relishes in the chance to let her tell her side of the story.  Listening to her explain why she needed to take Anderson to the woods is strangely plausible with the energy she brings to the discussion.  She's every bit as happy as Morris is to get the story out.  Here's a girl that had true love taken away from her too soon, and spent the rest of her life trying to fill the void with sensual pleasures (nude modeling and similar ventures she vehemently denies ever doing), different companions (the men she dominated), and her loving dog that she eventually had cloned after his death.

It's not often that a movie can go from a former Mormon missionary explaining the details of guilt to a Korean doctor explaining how McKinney was able to get five cloned puppies of her beloved dog, but it's just the sort of inexplicable parallels that Morris is drawn to.

Morris does everything that he can to get us caught up in the tabloid fever surrounding the case.  His cutaways are bits of newsreel footage with McKinney in a variety of situations throughout her 30 year affair with the press, all tethered together with a cut out copies of paper planes and tabloid articles linking the journey.  The effect is dizzying and a filled with a certain wistfulness for the way news used to be delivered.  The story reached such a feverish pitch for years in part because of the details (which numerous indecency councils had their own field day with) but because everyone had to wait the next day for the papers to release whatever information they were able to uncover in the meantime.

Morris is enraptured by the old tabloid headlines where one phrase could make or break the day, instead of a website where you can click refresh for a new heading.

Above all, McKinney is the most sympathetic of Morris' protagonists.  Is she guilty of kidnapping or was she really just taking incredibly drastic measures to get her lover back?  Part of the point of Morris' film, and a theme that's been present from his work since the beginning, is that it doesn't really matter what the Truth is.  By that, the physical reality of the events as they took place is secondary to the way that everyone remembers them and Tabloid is a testament to this.  It's McKinney's story, since Anderson was offered the chance to come forward and be interviewed for the movie but declined, we just have her truth to go on.  So is any other version of the truth relevant?

To the extent that it does matter, not in the slightest.  The truth gets to be told by the strongest personalities in any situation, McKinney is the clear winner here, even if it means that she's also the loneliest in the story.  As clearly duplicitous as she is (anyone who goes undercover as a mime and a nun to avoid authorities has some issues) McKinney clearly loved Anderson and did everything that she could to try and get her life back together after it was obvious she would never get him back.  It's her truth, that lonely truth, that gets to live on in place of anything the tabloid's say.

Unless, of course, Anderson decides to come forward.  This is one story I would love to see a sequel (or a "side-telling" if you will) for.  If anything I'd love to see more of McKinney's admirers, especially the man whose smile grows threefold when asked to recall his feelings for her.  She's just that kind of woman, and this is the perfect film for that kind of memory.

Seek out Tabloid at the earliest chance, it's on the short-list to be one of the best films of the year.

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Tabloid (2011)

Directed by Errol Morris.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. NOTICE OF INTENT TO SUE. YOUR ABOVE PIECE IS LIBELOUS AND DEFAMTORY AND YOU ARE TO REMOVE IT IMMEDIATELY OR JOYCE MCKINEY HAS INSTRUCTED HER ATTORNEY TO SUE YOU FOR SLANDER AND DEFAMATION. You are to also immediately remove photos of her as they were stolen from her luggage by a man named Mark Lipson who calls himself the “producer ” of the pornographic film R RATE film “Tabloid”.Ms. McKinney has sued Likpson and Morris for millions of dollars for slander and defamation. You are instructed to call her attorney Steve Tidrick to arrange to remove this libelous material at once. His number is 510-788-5100. IF the material is not removed within 24 hours, Ms. McKinney and her attorneys will institute a slander action against you. We would also like to know how you came to be in possession of a MISS USA photo –which was stolen by Lipson out of her luggage by Lipson and Errol Morris’ other associates in September of 2009. We also will serve a subpoena on you for court for our lawsuit against him, as you are REPEATING LIBLEOUS SLANDER with him and his pornographic film as the source.

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