Monday, July 11, 2011

Errol Morris Gets Scandalous: Tabloid

It was a time when sensationalistic crimes of passion were so much more innocent. Joyce McKinney steadfastly insists she always acted like a proper young woman during her English sojourn, even when evidence of her lurid past came to light. Regardless of her Clintonesque definitions of propriety, it is safe to say McKinney is kind of a nut. Her love and madness become indistinguishable in Errol Morris’s gleefully sensationalistic new documentary Tabloid (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

As the 1972 Miss World-Wyoming with a genius level IQ, McKinney should have had her pick of men. For some reason, perhaps his upright upbringing, she chose Kirk Anderson, a rather doughy looking Mormon. One would have thought the schlubby guy would have been thrilled be involved with a former beauty queen, but it seems Anderson picked up on something in McKinney so unsettling, he up and left on his British missionary trip without a word of warning. However, as a young red-blooded American woman, McKinney was not about to let a few trivialities like an ocean and unequivocal rejection stand between her and her man.

In what became the crime of the century of the 1970’s, McKinney and her loyal co-conspirator Keith May stalked and abducted Anderson, so she could chain him up and whisper sweet nothings in his ear. Apparently, Anderson was allowed to freely walk away from the bizarre captivity, but he has since shunned all publicity, including Morris’s interview requests, so many of the details remain hazy. However, the story really started getting weird once the British press dug into her case. She even sparked rivalry between tabloids, with one hyping her as-told-to story, while another dug up a treasure trove of Betty Page-esque photos that McKinney argues are not necessarily untoward (but perhaps a tad embarrassing). She even has a final epilogue of oddness that fittingly caps Morris’s epic of eccentricity.

In a wildly entertaining return to form, Morris embraces the sensationalism of McKinney’s story (how can you not?), yet it still bears all the hallmarks of his signature style of documentary filmmaking (sans the reenactment sequences, a la The Thin Blue Line). He also scored access to McKinney, the legend herself, as well as sleuthing out some truly tripped out footage of the scandal sheet heroine.

Coming across pretty much like the loon you would expect (albeit an undeniably intelligent one), McKinney is a talking head like no other. Her Pollyannish persona (whether it be genuine or affected who the heck knows?) is nicely counterbalanced by Morris’s other interview subjects, specifically the acerbic Mirror photographer Kevin Gant, who certainly fleshes out the portrait of McKinney, so to speak.

While it might be tempting to tie McKinney’s story into the recent scandals within the British tabloid press, Morris’s film does not need the apologetic justification of relevancy. Like his near-perfect Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, Tabloid is a celebration of eccentricity, even when it manifests itself in dark misguided ways, as is so obviously the case with McKinney. Devilishly clever and enormously satisfying, Tabloid is a subversive blast. Highly recommended, it opens this Friday (7/15) in New York at the IFC Center.