Minor Morris: Tabloid
Acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris' latest film Tabloid feels like perhaps the most Errol Morris-y of any of his work. A perfect marriage of two of the director's favorite subjects: the elusive nature of truth and outsider eccentrics who exist proudly (though often obliviously) on the fringe of normalcy. Morris reassembles what principals he can to dredge up the conflicting accounts of the "Case of the Manacled Mormon" in which southern former beauty queen Joyce McKinney assembled a team of specialists (shades of James Gunn's equally engrossing 2008 doc Man On Wire) to travel to England to reclaim her wayward fiancee from Mormon fundamentalists. Once across the pond, McKinney and her cohorts allegedly abducted her betrothed and kept him shackled to a bed in an attempt to conceive a child, ultimately leading to criminal charges and a flight from justice. Morris gets the usual talking head blow-by-blow from one of McKinney's associates and two reporters from the dueling tabloid rags that turned the case into a national and international sensation for a brief period in the late seventies, but it's the accounts from McKinney herself that prove the most compelling. An obsessive naif turned spinster recluse, McKinney projects the air of someone's kooky aunt, devastated by failed romance and content to live out her days with her five dogs, each cloned from the feisty, departed Pit Bull who supposedly saved her life from a vicious guard dog. As McKinney retells her story to Morris (who's as oblique as ever, though his boisterous prodding and cackling from behind the camera illustrate just how much fun he's having with the material) she seems alternately energized and heartbroken, squealing with joy over an amateurish ruse in one breath and mourning her disability to ever love another man in the next. The most telling moment comes midway through the film when McKinney equates Mormon "brainwashing" with intense self-delusion. The idea that telling oneself a lie so forcefully that it, for all intents and purposes, becomes the truth, may speak more to McKinney's recollection of the events than to the alleged agenda of the sect that absconded with her would be husband. Tabloid isn't as socially relevant as The Thin Blue Line (which helped to overturn a murder conviction) nor as groundbreaking as Gates Of Heaven (which ignited Morris' love/awe of oddballs) so by that measure it's minor Morris, but in the hands of such an accomplished filmmaker even a breezy effort is well worth investing one's time in.
Labels: Film Review