• The Hollywood Reporter on LinkedIn
  • Follow THR on Pinterest

Tabloid: Film Review

The Bottom Line

A once lurid, now forgotten British scandal gets resurrected in this entertaining but narrowly focused doc from Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris.

Venue

Telluride Film Festival

Director

Errol Morris

With the reality TV boom, it's not surprising that a gifted documentary filmmaker like Errol Morris would take a gander at the phenomenon of real people flaunting their embarrassing secrets in public.

Telluride, Colo. -- With the reality TV boom, it's not surprising that a gifted documentary filmmaker like Errol Morris would take a gander at the phenomenon of real people flaunting their embarrassing secrets in public.

He's chosen an odd exemplar of this phenomenon in Tabloid, and one might argue whether the subject of his scrutiny really deserves a feature-length film. But the entertaining picture exhibits his customary skill, and it will definitely develop a cult following. However, it might be too narrow in its focus to break through to a larger audience.

Morris has alternated between making socially conscious documentaries including The Thin Blue Line and his Oscar-winning The Fog of War and quirkier studies of bizarre characters and subcultures such as Dr. Death and Vernon, Florida. His new film definitely falls into the latter category.

Joyce McKinney, the subject of his latest film, is a former beauty pageant winner who became tabloid fodder in England during the 1970s and is still remembered fondly by reporters and photographers for London's Daily Express and Daily Mirror. McKinney fell madly in love with a young Mormon named Kirk Anderson, and when he traveled to London on a mission for his church, she followed him, kidnapped him and kept him locked in a cottage in Devon for several days.

He claimed that she raped him, whereas she argued rather persuasively that it was impossible for a woman to rape a man. In any case, she eventually was arrested and imprisoned in England. She managed to get out of jail, fled to Canada and then back to America, where she was again arrested for stalking Anderson in Salt Lake City in 1984. As the press chronicled her exploits, some reporters dug up advertisements suggesting that she had been a call girl specializing in bondage, though McKinney denied the reports and claimed dozens of photos were doctored.

Much of the film consists of an extended interview with McKinney, who blithely defends her obsessive love for Anderson, which was later transferred to a pit bull that she had cloned by a Korean doctor. Morris also interviews some of the British reporters who reveled in her story and the pilot she hired to fly her in a private plane to England. (Although McKinney denies the charges that she was a sex worker, there's no suggestion of how else she might have earned the money to pay for such extravagances.)

To provide visual variety, Morris includes plenty of tabloid snippets as well as a few brief animated sequences that add to the movie's jaunty tone. One marvels at the lack of self-awareness that McKinney, like so many other publicity-hungry nobodies, displays. Her veracity also comes into question a number of times during the marathon interview, which raises issues about the reliability of many stars of the "reality" circus.

Morris clearly invested so much time and energy in McKinney's story because he saw her as emblematic of our crazed times. Others might wonder whether the sad saga deserves quite this much attention, but there's no denying the film's morbid fascination.

Venue: Telluride Film Festival
Director: Errol Morris
Producers: Julie Bilson Ahlberg, Mark Lipson
Executive producers: Robert Fernandez, Errol Morris, Angus Wall
Director of photography: Robert Chappell
Production Designer: Steve Hardie
Music: John Kusiak
Editor: Grant Surmi
No rating, 87 minutes