The human race seems to be on a crash course with our obsession with the cult of celebrity. Our individual desire for personal privacy and our collective voyeuristic interest in the lives of those who have achieved more fame than us exist at odds with each other – it seems like everyone wants to be famous, but at what cost? Look at the scandals currently plaguing the UK media, with phone hacking being the latest invasion of individual rights. We’re surrounding ourselves with other people’s existences just to keep busy, to have something to gossip about, to have something to worship. But what happens to the truth in the midst of all this? Do we trust the media? Do we trust those involved with the story? Errol Morris’s “Tabloid” is an examination of those questions and more.
“Tabloid” is a fast-paced, endlessly intriguing glimpse into the life of Joyce McKinney, a one-time Miss Wyoming World winner who was thrust into the limelight after she pursued her then-boyfriend, Kirk Anderson, to a Mormon meetinghouse and “liberated” him from Mormon brainwashing. Or, is that the case? Morris focuses largely on McKinney’s own anecdotal retelling of the story, stopping to get accounts from others such as one of her accomplices, Jackson Shaw, a few of the reporters who covered her case, and an ex-Mormon radio host.
While the material seems unusually light-hearted for Morris, he approaches it with a deft hand. In Tabloid, Morris uses lots of face-to-face interview footage punctuated with occasional animated transitions that are basically collages of tabloid headlines/photos/text, as well as the odd film clip from various trials/the BBC and McKinney’s own footage of her reading from her memoir, “Once Upon A Time”.
Joyce McKinney herself is quite charming as an animated presence and an admitted eccentric, and her account of the story is nothing short of riveting and slightly tragic – a tale of star-crossed lovers split apart by outside forces, destined to be together despite all odds. As far as she’s concerned, she is the hero of the story, rushing into the Mormon maelstrom to free her soulmate from their clutches. The tabloids, however, took an entirely different approach, framing it as a tale of obsession and unrequited love, perpetuated by a young woman who may or may not have been of sound mind at the time (and not much has changed, they would argue). However, McKinney seems so blasé about the whole ordeal, that you can’t help but be swept up in her story in the face of the tabloid reporting as well as the personal accounts of others and even, by association, Kirk Anderson.
As the viewer follows the story of McKinney and her cohorts’ brushes with the Church of Latter-Day Saints, bondage/nude photo shoots, cloned dogs, and kidnappings in the name of love, they might start to wonder how this entire affair would be treated in this day and age of rampant celebrity gossip and heightened media scrutiny. Rather than being seen as the innocent, lovestruck girl that the tabloids initially portrayed her as, would they show her as an eccentric? A crazy, obsessive stalker? One can only assume. Despite the media circus we all face nowadays, Morris made the right choice in letting McKinney and the media frenzy surrounding her story speak for itself. While “Tabloid” may veer from “idealistic fairy tale” to “tawdry kidnapping story”, you’ll be rapt with attention all the way to the end.