Obsessive as Ever and Obsessive About Everything

by Jedd Beaudoin

27 November 2011

Tabloid isn't Errol Morris' greatest film, but it's awfully good and worth repeated viewings.
cover art


Director: Errol Morris
Cast: Joyce McKinney

US DVD: 1 Nov 2011

It’s hard to find fault with Errol Morris’ films. When he’s at the top of his game (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) none can compare and when he’s not (Standard Operating Procedure) he’s still one of the greatest filmmakers/storytellers alive. Tabloid isn’t a film about big ideas and it doesn’t resonate quite as deeply as either Blue Line or Fog but it’s awfully good and, for the pop culture junkie, an awful lot of fun.

Tabloid tells the story of former Miss Montana, Joyce McKinney and her relentless pursuit of Kirk Anderson. Having fallen deeply for Anderson, a man who is far from classically handsome, McKinney finds herself heartbroken when her beau drops everything and leaves the US for the UK, where he becomes a Mormon missionary. The tenacious Ms. McKinney is not having any of it, and so she concocts a plot to fly to England, kidnap Anderson, and “deprogram” him the only way she probably knoww how––through nonstop sex.

But kidnapping remains illegal, no matter the reason, and before long McKinney finds herself jailed and the subject of widespread controversy. It’s not all bad––she consorts with celebrities (late Who drummer Keith Moon was an admirer) and is able to escape England and return to the United States, where her story only becomes stranger.

Morris follows this seemingly simple love story down the back alleys of pornography and escort services into the darkened booths of the bizarre and borderline ridiculous. Along the way McKinney’s star fades, she never finds a sustaining love with Anderson (he declined to be interviewed for the film, and perhaps with good reason), and she begins work on a book detailing her life and strange love story.

McKinney and others involved with both the investigation and the crime (as well as those who reported on both) appear here and help unravel this one-of-a-kind story. It’s equal parts funny and frightening and the viewer is kept guessing as to what will happen next as the tale has more twists and turns than an English melodrama.

Morris’ great gift is to keep the viewer following these trails and to never quite let on what’s coming next, as if even he is learning the full story for the first time. To his credit, he avoids judging McKinney (for the most part) and gives her the opportunity to tell her story with all its excitement and depravity and desperate sadness.

The narrative almost falters toward the film’s final moments, as we move away from the Anderson case and into McKinney’s post-tabloid life. We learn about her attempt to live a quiet existence, a dog attack that nearly killed her, and an unusual journey she takes to demonstrate her love for a deceased pet. That story may at first seem removed from her high-profile actions a few decades earlier, but you quickly realize that she’s as obsessive as ever––and obsessive about virtually everything. 

The DVD contains no real extras, save for a trailer, but it doesn’t really need them. You’ll be busy enough repeatedly watching Tabloid and wondering if what you’re seeing can possibly be real.



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