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Lawsuit Against Filmmaker Errol Morris Raises Interesting, Bizarre Questions

Subliminal Manipulation?

If the case makes it to trial, a large part of what's presented before a jury will focus on the making of Tabloid.

Steve Tidrick, the attorney for McKinney, hopes to get an appeals court to revive the alleged defamatory nature of the published film itself, but even if he doesn't win on that point, he says that some of it will be discussed anyway.

That's because McKinney's claims of intentional misrepresentation and breach of contract -- both surviving at this point -- include allegations that the filmmakers promised her certain things.

Among them that is the "TV show would depict the fact that she was innocent of accusations that had been leveled against her in England in 1977," that it would help clear McKinney's name, that to protect her privacy no home or pets would be photographed and that no defamatory material would be used.

Morris' interviewing technique is legendary among Hollywood documentary filmmakers. He uses a device called "The Interrotron," whereby interviewer and subject look onto a projected image of the other from a two-way mirror positioned on the front of the lens of the other's camera.

It's a very psychological tactic, and naturally, the lawsuit that has been born by one of Morris' films is just as cerebral.

Even though Steele expressed his own belief that McKinney's side of the story was substantially told in the film, Tidrick has introduced some unusual evidence to poke holes -- the type of challenging material that would befit a Morris documentary, in fact.

For example, in one document, a declaration is given by Philip Wong, an associate professor of psychology at Long Island University, about how viewers process movies subconsciously.

Similar to the way the band Judas Priest was once sued for using subliminal messages in a song that allegedly caused a teenager to commit suicide, McKinney is now using Wong to push the theory that Tabloid isn't what it appears to be.

Pointing to material that flashes for very short periods of time in the documentary, Wong declares under penalty of perjury, "In the film Tabloid, manipulation of attention and perception leads to material being presented at the fringes of a viewer's awareness, which can facilitate the development of rogue beliefs."

This amazingly strange case continues.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner