July 25, 2011

MOVIES: Tabloid (Errol Morris, 2011)

Morris's latest documentary gives us the story of Joyce McKinney, who became the center of a British tabloid scandal in the 1970s. As she tells the story, her boyfriend disappeared, and she hired a private investigator, who tracked him to London. When she arrived there, she found that he'd been kidnapped by the Mormon Church and was being brainwashed him; she rescued him and took him to the English countryside for a romantic weekend, but he was eventually re-captured by the Mormons.

As the reporters who covered the story at the time tell it -- and their grasp on reality does seem rather more firm than hers -- the young man was doing his Mormon missionary stint in London when Joyce arrived and kidnapped him. She took him off to the cottage, tied him to the bed, and forced herself on him for several days before he finally escaped. She managed to get out of the country before being charged with anything, but the story was prominently featured in the tabloids for months. Depending on the day of the week and which paper you'd picked up, Joyce was either an innocent victim or a sexual predator with a tawdry past.

Morris allows McKinney to tell most of the story herself, and she's a spectacularly entertaining figure. She is still convinced (or at least she certainly seems to be) that she is a tragic romantic heroine, robbed of her one true love by an evil cult. One could argue that Morris is exploiting a delusional woman here (and McKinney has shown up at several screenings to complain about the way she's depicted in the film), but surely after 40 years, McKinney is at least aware enough to know that most people dispute her version of events; if she chooses to put herself on display anyway, I have a hard time blaming the director for how she comes across.

Tabloid is a lively, funny movie. Recommended.

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