After the sombre political critiques of STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE and THE FOG OF WAR, Errol Morris lightens up with his hilarious documentary about "Joyce McKinney and The Manacled Mormon". This was apparently a fantastically famous tabloid story in the late 1970s, and Errol Morris brings it back to life with interviews with McKinney and the key tabloid journo who blew it up.
As she tells it, Joyce McKinney was a pretty young blonde girl and former beauty queen who fell in love with a young clean-cut Mormon kid called Kirk Anderson. His parents weren't too keen on him marrying some floozy from outside of the faith, but Joyce was smitten. So, when Kirk was sent to the UK on a preaching mission, Joyce did what seemed rational in her narcissistic head - hire a pilot and a former body-builder slash body-guard - fly to England and kidnap her beloved! Now, all of these seems completely half-baked, but bear in mind that McKinney has an IQ of 168! That puts you in the top 0.001% of people in the world! Anyways, back to the story. McKinney takes Kirk to a cute little countryside B&B and basically tries to fuck him out of his religious hang-ups. As she tells it it's a romantic little quasi-honeymoon. As the press tell it, it's a female rape of an innocent man. But the truth is probably as follows: Kirk did like Joyce and did have sex with her - willingly - but when he left her to go to London felt so guilty about it, given his religious beliefs, that is was easier to consciously or sub-consciously go along with the narrative that he was forced into it. Joyce comes across as well-meaning, but deeply unboundaried, and basically in love with the Idea of being in an Against All Odds Romeo and Juliet style love affair. The story then moves to the aftermath of the tryst in the cottage. Joyce is hunted down by the police, banged up, put on trial and convicted, but skips town in a ludicrously Scooby Doo disguise with 13 suitcases of press clippings. And then, proving F Scott Fitzgerald wrong, her life has a second act almost as absurd as the first, and certainly one you'll enjoy finding out about as you watch the film.
TABLOID fizzes off the screen - it's fun, loud, colourful, and great entertainment. Morris uses animation, sound effects, and press clips to great effect. He is laughing with and at McKinney's delusions. I'm not sure I got any deep insight into how the press puffs up a story, or about the Mormon church, but Joyce McKinney - clever, delusional, ruthlessly good at PR - is fascinating enough, and prefigures the celebrity culture we live with today. And Errol Morris' technique, which is not to appear on screen asking questions, or to use voice-over, but simply to let the camera roll and the "victim" expose themselves, has never found a more willing or entertaining subject. Ultimately, though, this documentary is as bubble-gum-tastic as Joyce herself - fun while you watch it, but disposable.
TABLOID played Toronto and Telluride 2010. It will be released in the USA on July 15th.