Aside from the occasional light lark, like a fizzy bit for the 2002 Oscars in which celebrities and plebeians yammered about favorite movies, documentarian Errol Morris has spent the last decade-plus being deathly serious. Mr. Death concerned an executioner who aided Holocaust deniers. The Fog of War chatted with Robert McNamara. Standard Operating Procedure did up Abu Ghraib. Tabloid is the equivalent of a burst dam, releasing the fun side Morris has been suppressing for too long.
Its subject is Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming who, in 1977, kidnapped Kirk Anderson, a young Mormon with whom she was smitten. In McKinney’s eyes, she chained her beloved to a bed in an English cottage and briefly freed him from his “cult,” while the two made sweet, sweet love for three days. To Anderson, he was raped and, soon as he was unchained, began repenting.
“Does he still have an erection as he’s chanting?,” Morris asks McKinney in one of a handful of times you can hear the filmmaker’s voice. That question should give you a good indication of Morris’ line of attack, which is not, alas, to delve into and underline its modern day relevance and hang the venal tabloid culture that quickly turned McKinney into a briefly burning superstar who could upstage Joan Collins at movie premieres. And that’s good. What Morris has is a killer story, the kind you’d regale to impressed strangers at a party. Did I mention that McKinney has an IQ of 168? Or that her story doesn’t end with her brief celebrity? Somehow this endlessly zigzagging story ends with dog cloning in South Korea, and continues after the credits, with reports of McKinney crashing the film’s showings and crying defamation of character.
It’s a crazy story and Morris approaches it that way, concerned only with being a golden-tongued narrator—or, more accurately, an expert traffic cop. Using his regular bag of tricks—his Interrotron interviewing device, rapid editing, a soothing score (by John Kusiak) that contrasts with the prickliness of the material, an ability to get cagey people to relax and open up—he makes the case for himself as the best person to spin this tale. And he’s probably right.
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