Monday, 9 January 2012

'Tabloid' review:

"You know, you can tell a lie long enough til you believe it" says Joyce McKinney, the larger than life subject of Errol Morris' frequently hilarious and slightly creepy documentary 'Tabloid'. A former Miss America participant from the deep south, McKinney was at the centre of a major sex scandal in the late 70s, still known as "The Case of the Manacled Mormon", after being arrested in London for kidnapping and raping a Mormon missionary who she was obsessed with.

She has always maintained her three-day love affair with Kirk Anderson (who resembles Rainn Wilson), who she was accused to tying up in a Devon cottage, was consensual and that his accusing her of kidnap was the result of brainwashing from his church. Whatever the truth of the matter (which possibly lies somewhere between the two accounts), her story became the centre of a war between two tabloid newspapers: The Daily Express and The Daily Mirror, who competed to fill their pages with the most lurid accounts of her sexual escapades.

Morris builds his documentary from a mixture of archive materials (photography and footage) and talking head interviews with McKinney, the private pilot hired to fly her to England (apparently impressed by her "totally see-through" blouse), an excitable member of the Mormon church and a pair of old hacks from both newspapers at the centre of the story. Yet even with such seemingly limited scope, it's highly cinematic thanks to slick editing and imaginative use of sound and graphics. But it's McKinney herself - and her bizarre story, which takes several unexpected turns - who is the star attraction, making 'Tabloid' so ceaselessly entertaining.

Underneath the light and exploitative surface there is seemingly a story of great sadness here, with the subject either mentally disturbed or genuinely jilted by the love of her life - and either way it's clear she was the victim of the worst kind of muck-raking journalism, regardless of whether she courted a degree of celebrity throughout her extraordinary life. Yet even if it makes us complicit in her exploitation, McKinney is the best kind of unreliable narrator, seemingly convinced by her own stories (even as she admits owing a lot to high school drama classes), making for an obscenely funny and endlessly surprising 87 minutes.

'Tabloid' is on a limited release in the UK, rated '18' by the BBFC. It's released on DVD next month.

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