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Tabloid

[Rating: 3/5]

Errol Morris has lately used his unique documentary techniques to cover some pretty heavy material in fascinating ways: his last film was about the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, and before that, he interviewed Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.   He’s also focused his camera on the death penalty in two films, one about an innocent man on death row, and another about the life of an executioner.  But “Tabloid” is a reminder that Morris isn’t always serious-minded; one of his best films, “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control,” covers several men with interesting/bizarre job, one is a lion tamer, another is a robot scientist.  Like that film, “Tabloid” takes a faux-serious look at people we can’t quite take seriously.

This is the true story, truly told of Joyce McKinney and the Manacled Mormon.  McKinney spends a great deal of time on the screen, explaining her side of the story; unfortunately, the Manacled Mormon refused to be interviewed.  Morris does interview a number of other people associated with the case, and they provide a fascinating counterpoint to Joyce McKinney’s perspective.

From the beginning, it seems like there could be no one more normal than this woman McKinney, with her southern accent, blunt mannerisms and way of confiding in the camera like it’s an old friend.  She tells a story about a young man who fell in love with her, and she with him.  His name was Kirk Anderson. They made grand plans to be married and have lots of kids.  Only problem: he was “enslaved” to the Mormon church.  They whisked him away from her, forbade him to talk to her, and sent him off to Britain on a mission.

So McKinney goes after him, as any red-blooded American woman who’s experienced true love would.  This is where it really starts to get weird; she hires some very interesting, and rather seedy, characters to go with her.  They kidnap him — according to McKinney, he was so brainwashed by the church he barely knew who he was — and take him to a cabin in a small England town, where McKinney proceeds to deprogram him– by having sex with him.

Anderson escaped during a trip to town (McKinney, of course, says he was never imprisoned, and went to buy a paper and never returned) and the thing blew up into a court case that was a tabloid writer’s dream come true.  McKinney, sure that she had done the right, loving thing and determined to expose that vast, criminal brainwashing conspiracy that was the Mormon church – told her story with confidence, humor and wit to the court, and the reporters.  She became a celebrity, hung out with rock stars, and received truckloads of fan mail.  Then she disguised herself as a deaf/mute nun and fled the country.

Morris never really tries to determine the actual truth of what happened in this case, and it’s just as well, because, really does it matter?  The entertainment value here is how bizarre the whole thing is, and it’s only made more so by the conflicting stories told by McKinney vs. the reporters, investigators, friends and accomplices involved.  The whole thing is wild and loopy and fun, regardless of who’s telling the truth.  (There’s a great epilogue, too, about a cloned chihuahua, that has nothing to do with the Manacled Mormon case.)

I won’t pass judgment on Joyce McKinney.  I don’t know if she’s telling the truth, or being smeared by the tabloids.  Probably some of both. I don’t particularly care, either.   Hearing the story was good, bizarre, loopy fun.  If that’s what you’re looking for in a movie, this is your ticket.  If you’re looking for the truth about this strange case, you might need to go elsewhere.  I hear she’s writing a book.  Maybe you could look there.

Rent or buy “Tabloid” at Amazon.com and I receive a commission!

 

 

 

 

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