4 stars (out of 5)
Oh the things we do for love. Errol Morris' documentary, Tabloid, focuses on one of the weirdest love stories ever, covered in great lurid strokes by the British tabloids when it happened back in the '70s. Morris offers us the story from the mouth of the woman at the center of the craziness, along with an accomplice, an almost-accomplice, representatives from two competing tabloids, an expert on the Mormon Church and a South Korean cloning doctor.
Where does the truth lie in all this? Damned if I know. Is Joyce McKinney a thoroughly deluded obsessive? A con artist? A mixture of both? Could her accounting of her adventures - as whacked-out a tale as I've encountered in a long time - possibly be the truth? Probably not. Surely not. But maybe, just maybe...
It was "The Case of the Manacled Mormon" and it blazed on the covers of British tabloids in 1977. Kirk Anderson, a Mormon missionary from Utah, disappeared from a Devon meetinghouse. Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen from North Carolina, was accused of kidnapping Anderson, chaining him spread-eagled to a bed and raping him.
Not true, exclaimed McKinney. Anderson was the love of her life. He had been sent to England by the Mormon Church to keep him away from her. Joyce had simply rescued the love of her life from a cult. The sex was consensual. The manacles were just a method - a psychological tool, if you will - to allow the repressed man to feel safe to release himself sexually. So why was Anderson now siding with the prosecution? Because of the whole cult thing, of course. If you tell yourself a lie often enough, you start to believe it's true.
Afraid I've told you too much of the story? Don't worry, there's a lot more. The misadventures stack up all the way through - in fact, just when it seems we've reached an undeniably sad end, a new bizarre chapter of McKinney's life begins.
Morris, the man behind the documentaries The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, A Brief History of Time, The Thin Blue Line and Gates of Heaven, does what he does best: set his camera at eye level, ask his questions and shoot. He accents certain descriptions with vintage TV and movie footage and underscores certain words from the interviews by flashing them on the screen.
But mostly he just lets McKinney and the others talk. Kirk Anderson refused to participate in the film. Doesn't matter -- his version of the truth would likely have been as suspect as McKinney's, but not nearly as colorful. And she's not the only entertaining face on screen. At the time of the initial scandal, one tabloid took McKinney's side and painted her as a victim, while a competing paper looked into her past and portrayed her as an S&M-leaning quasi-prostitute. Watching a self-righteous spokesman from one paper and a smirking representative from the other is a sideshow unto itself.
Joyce McKinney objects to Tabloid, claiming it portrays her unfairly. All I can say is this: I often feel discomfort with documentaries like this, because I don't like laughing at people with emotional or psychological problems. I laughed freely during Tabloid, however, because Joyce McKinney, with all her peculiarities, reminded me of all of us. The quest for love often leads to Sillyville, and Tabloid represents a travelogue of the place.