Errol Morris’ Unanswerable, Spiraling Mystery

In Tabloid, both the audience and filmmaker Errol Morris, who has made a career by bringing fascinating, important and strange stories to life, are both searching for the truth about Joyce McKinney, the former Miss Wyoming who was charged in the case dubbed the “Mormon sex in chains case.”

There’s something absolutely delicious and tantalizing about the tale of McKinney and her supposed abduction and rape of her lover from “cult” Mormons while on a mission in England, making it easy to see why British tabloids picked up on the story so heavily when it hit back in the 1970’s. To save you from learning too much about the story, I won’t go far into it. Yeah, it’s a true story, but it’s such a strange and rather obscure one that if you aren’t familiar with it already, watching Tabloid is the best way to learn about it.

And really, so much of the story being told through Morris’ interviewees is the fascination the media, namely tabloids The Daily Express and The Daily Mirror, had with McKinney and her life. This isn’t just about whether McKinney kidnapped her lover or whether he came on his own will like McKinney claims he did, it’s about her relationship with paparazzi, tabloids and fame.

She tells saddening anecdotes about being swarmed by paparazzi almost to the point of suicide. While I don’t doubt that the attention and criticisms were overburdening, questions about how much of it she deserved are raised.

Morris interviews his subjects (McKinney, a few journalists and others) with such command. He doesn’t interrupt and as always, gets the most out of the very willing subjects. McKinney comes off very defensive of her own reputation, but whether you believe her side of the story or not, or whether you care to think about believing it, is up to you. There doesn’t seem to be a conclusion to her tale, and since Scotland Yard doesn’t care to extradite her, there might never be. But who cares?

What’s most interesting is Morris’ fascination with the tale. This thing is weird, twisted and layered. When he chimes in, it’s with such enthusiasm and vigor for the story he is being told and the point-of-view he is receiving it from. You can feel his passion for storytelling and it rubs off on you.

After seeing McKinney’s demeanor on camera, it didn’t shock me to be find out that in November she actually sued Morris over the documentary, claiming it damaged her reputation and that she was mislead by Morris and the film’s producer. Right.

Without the length of her interview and the amount of detail she dives into, it just doesn’t seem likely that she was tricked by Morris or the producer of the film. Her claims about the film damaging her reputation also seem unfounded because of the amount of evidence provided. Her evidence was stolen out of her truck, she tells Morris in the film.

While I wrote last week that The Interrupters is the most important American documentary you will see all year, Tabloid might be the most fascinating. It’s a story that gets stranger with every minute that ticks by. Morris’ command for the tale is impressive and the interviews are both in depth and interesting.

It doesn’t seem like Morris found the answer to this tale with his film, but it doesn’t matter. After being sued by his film’s main subject, the tale of McKinney will only continue to grow in nature, a meta event that actually might have Morris hiding a smile in the back of his mind.

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