Movies: Tabloid

29 Jul

With all of the controversy and attention being focused on the Rupert Murdoch tabloid newspaper empire recently, it would seem an amazingly serendipitous time for a hard-hitting documentary investigating and exposing the tabloid industry to debut.

Tabloid is not that film. Which is not a bad thing. Rather, the new documentary by Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) is a portrait of Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming who made a splash in the British tabloids for a time in the late 1970s. McKinney fell in love with Kirk Anderson, a young Mormon who, in her telling, suddenly disappeared as their courtship was getting serious. She eventually hired a private investigator, who found Anderson in England. McKinney enlisted the help of a number of other men, and the ensuing escapade involved kidnapping, bondage, and accusations of rape. When the tabloids get involved, McKinney becomes notorious, and the story goes from slightly loopy to full-on insane, replete with zany costumes, turncoat ex-boyfriends, and, years later, heroic dogs.

Much of Tabloid consists of Joyce McKinney talking directly to director Morris, and therefore the viewer, thanks to a device of his invention, which results in a much more intimate interview than is common in the genre. Morris allows her to lay out her version of the story mostly unchallenged, then reveals details about her past which would seem to contradict some of McKinney’s claims. That these scandalous details are revealed much in the same fashion as they were discovered, and revealed by Kent Gavin and Peter Tory, reporters for competing tabloids that discovered them, adds to the spirit of the movie. In its last portion, the film takes a sharp veer off in another direction, but again, it feels totally organic by that point, and what we’ve seen and learned of Joyce McKinney.

Tabloid doesn’t have the heft or gravitas of some of Morris’ earlier documentaries, such as The Thin Blue Line or The Fog of War, but there’s no reason that a director has to be gravely serious every time out. Morris doesn’t choose sides, doesn’t slant the story to fit an agenda. He just allows McKinney to tell her story, and Gavin, Tory, and Jackson Shaw, one of the conspirators in the Kirk Anderson adventure, to fill in additional details. Tabloid is a fitting documentary for the summer season, thanks to the deftness of its director and the engaging nature of its subject.

My score:

by Charles

Thanks to Brad Watts at Watts Up Reviews for the press pass, and allowing us to cross-post.

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