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Lawsuit Against Filmmaker Errol Morris Raises Interesting, Bizarre Questions

Is a woman famous for a 1970s abduction case still a public figure? Is a release form valid if signed under threat of dog-killing? Can subliminal messages in documentary films be defamatory?


In such films as The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War and Mr. Death, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris has won acclaim for his attention to detail in challenging conventional wisdom on historical subjects.

Then last year, Morris was sued by Joyce McKinney, the central figure in his documentary, Tabloid, for allegedly tricking her into appearing in the film.

PHOTOS: Top 10 Legal Disclaimers in Hollywood

Since first being filed, the lawsuit has taken some twists and turns, with some parts being dismissed and others being allowed to continue. If the dispute gets to trial, the case could test some novel legal issues and present a fascinating case study on a reporter's relationship with his subject.

McKinney became famous in the 1970s after British tabloids presented the tale of the so-called "Manacled Mormon." McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming, was featured in the press as going to England and abducting Kirk Anderson, a Mormon missionary, and then raping him.

Throughout the years, McKinney has maintained that it was all a hoax, that the tabloids had "concocted" the story based on false information "that Mormons disseminated when McKinney tried to rescue her fiance from the Mormons."

More than three decades later, McKinney says she was approached to give an interview that would help "clear [her] name" in a Showtime television series about the paparazzi.

STORY: Hollywood Docket: Errol Morris Sued; Fox News Settles; TV Academy Re-Ups General Counsel

McKinney did talk -- to Morris, who used the interview in Tabloid, described in a press release as a work that "pushes the boundaries of documentary film."

A lawsuit ensued that's either boundary-pushing itself or crazy as hell. Read on...