I always think I am not a huge fan of documentaries. Actually, it isn’t the documentaries themselves. Once you get me to the movie theater, or I am forced to watch one for research, or in the old days (I absolutely refuse to use the phrase ‘back in the day’ – I hate it), a class, I usually like them, but the idea of them bores me. I blame my father. I will always associate documentaries with my most hated TV show growing up on Sunday nights before 60 Minutes… Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I was forced to watch that show for years. Years. I hated every second of it. It’s not that I don’t like animals but I hate watching them kill each other. I don’t care if that’s how it is. I can know that’s how it is, I don’t have to watch it every week. Boy was I happy when that show ended.
So I avoided documentaries like the plague. I grew to appreciate French documentaries since I saw so many in graduate school but that’s where my appreciation and great knowledge ended. It was with a bit of trepidation that I went with a friend to go see Errol Morris‘ new film Tabloid last week. She suggested that or an old Dennis Hopper movie but Tabloid was shorter and I always have to take the train schedule back to Connecticut into account when doing anything past 9pm in New York City. So… Tabloid it was. As soon as the film started, I knew we’d made the right choice. I am very rarely entranced by a film from the beginning but this story was so outrageous that I was hooked in the first minute.
Tabloid recounts the 1980s media frenzy (mostly in the UK) surrounding the ‘manacled Mormon.’ Kirk Anderson, a Mormon missionary, who went to England was pursued by his girlfriend. She allegedly ‘kidnapped’ him, tied him up spread-eagled to a bed in a rented cottage and proceeded to seduce him with fried chicken and back rubs then they had sex for three days. He and the Mormons claimed rape. Joyce McKinney, the alleged perpetrator, claims she flew to England to rescue Mr. Anderson because he had been brainwashed by the Mormons. Although she may be a bit of a pathological liar, McKinney is a constant source of entertainment. She explains a woman raping a man is like someone trying to ‘stuff a marshmallow in a parking meter’. The narrative of McKinney’s exploits unfolds through several points of view: her own, tabloid reporters’ at the time including Peter Tory, a gay activist who was once a Mormon, and a number of other individuals who played roles in McKinney’s life or her schemes. These accounts are edited together with tabloid excerpts, archival news footage, cartoons, drawings – essentially any media which might enhance the story and make the audience member question the narrative unfolding.
Morris uses his signature camera/rig/setup the Interrotron to interview his subjects. The Interrotron is a device that allows for a direct first person interview, essentially with Morris as the Interviewer AND the camera instead of a traditional 60 Minutes or news style interview where the reporter/interviewer and the subject sit together and don’t necessarily face the camera. Morris believes his device allows for a more telling interview – the viewer is in the same position as the camera/interviewer, therefore, we are supposed to experience the tale as it unfolds, with our subject looking at us, the audience, in the eye, instead of the old style where they look the interviewer/reporter in the eye and we watch. Basically, this means we are one step closer to experiencing what the filmmaker experiences, in a sort of dual position, that of director and audience member at once.
Whether you believe Joyce McKinney is guilty of kidnapping and rape or not, this movie is worth seeing. It was one of the most entertaining stories I’ve ever heard and honestly, I don’t care if she’s nuts, she entertained me. And if this film and McKinney don’t entertain you, then you should get your head examined. I might even buy the DVD. I don’t think I even own a documentary on DVD that I haven’t, ummm, recorded for educational purposes.
Trailer for Tabloid:
My Vlog Review: