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Tabloid

Tabloid

Not rated, 87 min. Directed by Errol Morris.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Aug. 5, 2011

In his three decades of highly acclaimed documentary-making, Oscar winner Errol Morris (The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara) has demonstrated a real knack for ferreting out charismatic eccentrics, and Tabloid subject Joyce McKinney seems like an obvious addition to his curio cabinet. A Southern belle beauty-pageant queen, McKinney inspired a British tabloid frenzy in 1977 when she allegedly abducted a Mormon missionary, her maybe-boyfriend Kirk Anderson, chained him to a bed, and repeatedly raped him. That's one version of the story, at least, as breathlessly detailed in the scandal sheets. Another version would be McKinney's; her talking points include true love, the Mormon church as a mind-controlling cult, and consensual sex (McKinney admits she tied Anderson up, but claims it was only because a Christian marriage manual prescribed bondage to combat impotence). As in previous projects, Morris creates a heightened sense of intimacy between audience and interview subjects by using his specially designed "Interrotron" – a unique camera setup that incorporates mirrors and monitors, allowing the interviewee to look directly into the camera while simultaneously engaging with the interviewer. McKinney works that camera like it's the judging panel of a pageant (Miss Off-Her-Rocker USA?), and she's absorbing and sympathetic, even as Morris adopts a faintly smirking attitude toward her. It’s that attitude that sours this whole sad, dispiriting film; it's also a rather depthless-seeming documentary, relying as it does on only six testimonials. (Anderson wouldn't consent to an interview, and other key players have since died or gone missing.) I suppose there's a lot to chew on here – the inherent unreliability of the narrators, the hard-to-define distinction between "incurable romantic" and "obsessive," how we all cast ourselves in the role of hero – but those more philosophic concerns take a backseat to a "he said/she said" chronological roll call of hazy facts and unverified accusations. Morris has found a real character in McKinney, but to what end, I couldn't say.
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