Wednesday, August 17, 2011


"'Tis a Pity She's a Media-Whore"
"...Like Narcissus..."

You never know what is going to turn filmmaker Errol Morris' movie crank.  He's made films about Stephen Hawking, police malfeasance (which spawned a whole genre of programs featuring crime re-enactments), Robert McNamara, the guy who invented the electric chair, and sometimes nothing at all (except the obsession of experts in a given field).

A former private detective, Morris uses an interrogation technique of interviewing his subjects, where they talk directly to the camera as Morris' off-screen voice peppers them with questions.  Between interviews, Morris fills the screen to bursting with evidence, clippings, animations and old film clips supporting and providing ironic counterpoint to keep the story moving along through the expert testimony, a technique since amped up by the manic films of Michael Moore.

This time, the story is a lulu.  Tabloid tells the story of how, in 1977, a Mormon missionary-in-training named Kirk Anderson was abducted at gun-point from the Surrey meetinghouse of the Mormon Church and disappeared.  This is the only thing that anyone can and will agree on.  The rest is a twisted tale that unravelled over a series of years by the most disreputable means and shows no sign of abating, thanks to the blonde tornado at the center of the storm, former Miss Wyoming World Joyce McKinney.

Now, at this point is where the story skews off and (like Another Earth) takes on other dimensions.  As a former Mormon missionary explains there are three versions of the story: one is Anderson's—McKinney kidnapped him, took him to a cottage in Devon, shackled him to a bed, raped him (repeatedly) against his will in an attempt to discredit him with his Church; number 2 is Joyce's—Anderson had been seduced by "a cult" against his will, she rescued him from it and he went with her willingly to the Devon love nest, where they consummated their love (albeit with hand-cuffs) something she considered a honeymoon, serving as pre-function to their getting married; then, there's number 3—a combination of the two versions, where everybody's motives aren't altruistic and heroic, but instead are selfish, weak, and far from noble, but, sadly, all too human. 

The kernels of truth that unite all the stories is Anderson's "will" is extraordinarily subject to influence, while McKinney's isn't.

But, once the details of the stories come out—the sex, the hand-cuffs, the Mormons, McKinney's obsession, Anderson's shuttle-cock-like loyalties, the involvement of Scotland Yard AND the FBI—the British tabloids turn up the heat and that kernel explodes into something else again—the popcorn confection that the public is only too willing to greedily eat up in volumes.  Circulations of the papers soar and McKinney, in jail, becomes a zoo exhibit to be pointed and hooted at by the readers of competing rags, the Daily Express and Daily Mirror,  "It was the perfect tabloid story!" crows a proud Express reporter, Peter Tory.

But what does it have to do with reality?

Morris does two things in this doc: he explores, as all his films do, the shaky ground between truth and myth and how the two can be confused by the very people charged with determining which is which; while, at the same time, he throws a light on the slippery slope of celebrity.  Everybody wants it—everybody wants attention (unless they're on the lam)—but once it has been acquired, it can turn against you and there is a day-to-day struggle to control your own story in an endless spin-cycle of wash/rinse/repeat.  Joyce McKinney is the naked poster-child for that mania, of which we are subject every day by the likes of the Lindsays, the Britneys, and assorted Kardashians (and we'll always have Paris...or are we being had by her?). We are all the heroes in our own stories (whether we're being truthful or not), so we can rationalize all sorts of things no matter how cuckoo, depending on how good our inner defense attorney is. 

As a lawyer, McKinney's a fine painter, because her life is all white-wash—to hear her, she's completely innocent of everything, all evidence to the contrary, and she protests the attention paid to her, despite her seeking it out.*  For her, it's a fairy-tale of True Love with her as princess.  The thing is, she's the most entertaining aspect of Morris' film, despite her role as unreliable narrator.  She clearly enjoys talking about herself and having the spotlight, she's attracted to it like a moth to a flame (though she poses with a "why do you want to know about 'little-ol-me'" fawned coquettishness) but everything she says, as refracted through her inwardly-looking rose-colored glasses, should be taken with a mountain of salt.  But, then the same can be said for the snarky Brit reporters and the Friends of the Temple.  There's a lot of salt in Utah.**

Awhile back, I wrote a purely personal analysis of Hitchcock's Vertigo, in which I made a passing remark that love, given its origins in hormones and electrical impulses could be considered a form of mental depression, it's all based on brain chemistry.  I was surprised when that remark received not one howl of protest or even a comment.  But, Tabloid brought it all back, re-affirming that view, with Joyce McKinney being one more submission of evidence.

Tabloid is a Guilty Matinee.

Joyce, as she wants you to see her.

The ad she placed to recruit accomplices
for the kidnapping.

* These days, she's mad.  The appearance of the film has brought her back into the spotlight, and so to fight it, she shows up at festival screenings to try and deliver her side of things (see the videos).  But, one suspects she'd protest anything that wasn't called "Joyce McKinney—God's Princess." So wrapped up in her thoughts and fantasy, she doesn't seem to understand that this is antithetical to what she professes to want.  If she wanted it all to go away, she should simply have not cooperated with the film-makers.  But, she couldn't give up another chance to perform.  Live by the sword...

McKinney joins the Q & A for Morris at the New York Documentary Film Festival amd proceeds to crowd everyone out. It's significant that, if Paris Hilton has one of those toy whatchamacllits she carries around, Joyce would bring her pit-bull.

And here she is at the Seattle International Film Festival—this time, she's suing the director.
And the story goes on....

** If the film has a failing, it is the lack of counter-point to McKinney's claims by the abductee himself.  He refused to cooperate with the project—so , in its refreshing discreteness, it does serve as a counter-point.

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