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Greetings again from the darkness. Truth is often stranger than
fiction. But what happens when the truth is elusive? Well "Tabloid"
proves it doesn't matter ... strange is still strange! Superb
documentarian Errol Morris serves up his most 'whacked out' profile
Mr. Morris has described his work in documentary films as falling into one of two categories: 'Completely Whacked Out' and 'Politically Concerned'. The latter category includes his brilliant films "The Fog of War" and "The Thin Blue Line". The 'whacked' category includes "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control" and "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A Leuchter". I highly recommend any and all of these.
This latest subject, Joyce McKinney, may not be immediately familiar to you. In 1977, she became infamous as the key player in the British tabloid storyline named "Case of the Manacled Mormon". She was accused of following a Mormon missionary to the U.K., kidnapping him, handcuffing him to a bed, and using him as her sex slave. To really understand the story, one must realize the lack of knowledge that the British press had towards the Mormon church at the time. They truly viewed it as a cult.
Ms. McKinney has never stopped her accusations that the Mormon leaders created a cult environment, and brain washed men and women alike. Her stance is a huge part of why her story, or stories, are impossible to take seriously. Her story is that she and Kirk Anderson fell in love and the church forced them apart by shipping Anderson off on a missionary trip to England. Mr. Anderson has refused all interview requests since his release, but he claimed he requested the trip to escape the obsessive clutches of Joyce.
The amazing thing that I noticed while watching this film is that I didn't care about the truth. Even the filmmaker, Mr. Morris, doesn't seem to care about the truth. The fascination is with the personality of the enigmatic Joyce McKinney. Her direct interviews are mesmerizing. When she states "a person can tell a lie so many times that they believe it's true", we have to laugh outloud. Her stories are so convoluted, yet told with such conviction.
I certainly don't wish to spoil the entertainment value afforded by her first person story telling, so I will concentrate on the presentation by Mr. Morris. He seems to really enjoy the tabloid approach and uses graphics and imagery to add detail and structure. His use of the score is highly effective and quite unusual for a documentary. He provides the stage for this former Miss Wyoming to perform. And perform she does!
For comparison purposes, I have nothing. My first thought was a train wreck. Then a circus side show. Neither of those do justice to this unique story of a most unusual woman presented by a visionary filmmaker. All I can say is, you must see it to believe it ... or not.
Some stories are so preposterous and delightfully astonishing that they
have to be exposed to the masses. Such is the true tale of Joyce
McKinney, the former beauty queen who hired a pilot to fly her and an
accomplice, Keith May, to England to rescue her boyfriend, Kirk
Anderson, from the clutches of the Mormon church. After bringing him to
a rented cottage in Devon, where the refrigerator was stocked full of
his favorite foods, she bound and seduced him. What ensued was three
days of sex, food, and fun, to be forever known as "The Case of the
It sounds like every man's fantasy - a beautiful pageant princess waiting on you hand and foot, satisfying your every whim and fancy. However, Kirk, after reading about his own abduction in the newspaper, fled from his captors and alleged to the police a much different account of what happened. The all-American, charismatic blonde was arrested for kidnapping and raping the Mormon missionary and thrown in the slammer to await trial. The British tabloids had a field day with the bizarre incident.
The Daily Express printed Joyce's side of the story while their rival, The Daily Mirror, delved deep into Joyce's past and uncovered lurid details of her moonlighting as an S&M model and dominatrix for hire, painting her as a manipulative Jezebel that cast a spell over all of the men she met. The accusation did ring true. She often referred to Keith May as her slave and she had another admirer willing to do anything she asked. Even Peter Tory, a reporter for The Daily Express, seems to have fallen for Joyce's delusion that she was simply a girl so profoundly in love with her boyfriend, she risked life and limb in order to save and deprogram him from a cult of polygamists.
Unfortunately, Kirk Anderson declined to participate in Morris's documentary and Keith May passed away in 2004, but there is enough material to fill his absence, like Joyce's decision to travel to Seoul, South Korea to have her beloved rescue dog, Booger, cloned.
The interviews with Joyce, Jackson Shaw (the pilot), Troy Williams (a former Mormon missionary), Peter Tory, Kent Gavin (photographer for The Daily Mirror), and Dr. Hong flow smoothly, with barely any interruption by Mr. Morris. The montage of animated newspaper clippings was a visual treat and the background music fit brilliantly, which normally goes unnoticed in a documentary. The star of the show is Joyce with her animated voice and emphasized gestures. She's a breed of crazy that is sometimes unsettling, sometimes funny, and always entertaining.
Behind the adorable blonde hair and sweet, innocent-girl smile lies a
checkered and intriguing past in Joyce McKinney's life. Errol Morris's
Tabloid is one of the most mature documentaries I've ever witnessed.
The documentarian who is known for making very deep and personal
stories goes out of his way to shed light on a scandal that hasn't
gotten much talk or publicity in recent years. But maybe that is for
In 1977, a young Mormon missionary named Kirk Anderson was abducted by an unknown woman from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Ewell, Surrey. A few days later, he returned claiming he was kidnapped by a woman named Joyce McKinney, a young woman who was crowned Miss Wyoming, who attempted to seduce him and rape him while he lay bounded on a bed.
McKinney was arrested, and the case was dubbed "The Mormon sex in chains case." It was shocking and absurd for the time period as well. Keep in mind that back in the 1970's, Mormonism was thought to be more of a strange cult than a religion. Society wasn't as accepting as today, and that's why people were so quick to jump over everyone involved.
When conducting interviews with numerous people, Morris doesn't dare interrupt. It's a one-setting documentary involving Errol Morris's famous "Interrotron " method. The Interrotron is where Morris places a two way mirror in front of the camera so both parties can see each others faces. It's a way of pretending the camera doesn't exist or isn't really there. This method is used to try and get more out of the person and not have the eerie feeling of being filmed while discussing.
But I don't believe Joyce McKinney or anyone else in the film really cares that they're being filmed. I think they're so flattered that they're finally telling their side of the story. Why did I call this "on of the most mature documentaries I've ever witnessed?" Because Morris doesn't incorporate any opinion or stance within the film. He doesn't even state if he believes the characters are telling the truth or not. He just wants each person to tell their side of the story the way they feel it should be told.
It's also interesting to note that the music in the documentary is so radiant and so important to the storytelling in the film. Never do we really pay attention or notice the music in a documentary, but the tonality in Tabloid is depicted strongly throughout the background music. After all, the film doesn't move around too much. It's shot in a one-setting location against a gray backdrop with the characters talking one on one with the camera.
We see montages from older films, reenactments of certain key events, and little animated tabloid pictures compiled into a creative montage to tell certain parts of the story. The film is titled "Tabloid" because Joyce McKinney began to develop into a popular figure publicized in magazines. So many stories were published about her that the truth became distorted. She states honestly and chillingly in the documentary "a person can tell a lie so many times that they believe it's true." You will definitely leave Tabloid confused and curious. We learned so much, but how much of it is true? We may never really know. I personally believe most everything brought to the table here, but then again, the lack of evidence on McKinney's part perplexes me. It is explained at the end where all the evidence went, but the believability is highly questionable.
According to Former Missionary Troy Williams, the story of the Mormon sex in chains case has been brought to light in three scenarios. Scenario one he was chloroformed, tied up, raped, and forced to be the sex slave of McKinney. Otherwise known as Kirk's side of the story. Scenario two is Joyce McKinney's side of the story where she wanted Kirk to be "free" of the Mormon's ways. So she "rescued" him from the church and they planned to run off, have kids, and life a life of peace. Scenario three is a hybrid of the two. Where Joyce and Kirk planned a life together, but somewhere along the line he refused it and backed out.
Joyce McKinney's last time in the light before this film was when she hired a Korean doctor to clone her own dog "Booger" after his death. McKinney even states in the film that she herself believes it strange that a person could go from someone who "kidnaps a Mormon man and uses him as a sex slave" to someone who hires a person to clone her own dog.
McKinney now resides in the mountain ranges of North Carolina living a life of celibacy, solitude, and peace from the people and the press. Maybe that's for the best on both parts. Here we have a woman who has spent most of her life in the spotlight for such a shady case, maybe it's time to just let her rest.
Tabloid is one of 2011's best documentaries, but the subject matter will have a lot of potential viewers looking the other way. Ignore the subject matter, just dive into the film hoping to see a very thought-provoking, well made, serious documentary made by a filmmaker who knows how to dish out a very personal story. The film's way of style and tonality is beautifully crafted, and erects one of the most shocking yet intriguing sex scandals in history.
Starring: Joyce McKinney and Troy Williams. Directed by: Errol Morris.
Errol Morris hits a home run with "Tabloid," letting the main subject,
Joyce McKinney, pontificate for long stretches at a time; and Ms.
McKinney never disappoints. This is a sad and compelling news story
from 1977, well known in Britain as "The Manacled Mormon" case. An
American Mormon missionary claimed to be abducted and raped by Ms.
McKinney and what follows is a tragic but often funny documentary that
is truly stranger than fiction. I can't find better adjectives(used by
someone interviewed) than barking mad to describe this delusional,
obsessed, and sorry figure.
The missing element is Kirk Anderson, the alleged victim and abductee, as he refused to be interviewed. Director Morris has a field day with Mormon beliefs, from magic underwear to planets ruled by deceased true believers. The Salt Lake City elders will not be pleased with this film. I highly recommend it to everyone else.
I saw this at the Telluride film festival and thought it was truly
wonderful and to know this is a true story made it even more fun. I got
tickled about 10 minutes into the film and did not stop laughing until
the end.....actually after the end, because our group would throw
quotes from the movie back and forth between us to instigate a laugh by
all. I can't wait to see it again- and buy it so I can catch the
nuances of the cartooning.
The orchestration of this 'documentary' is done in such a brilliant manner that it was a hit with everyone I spoke to in line at the festival. Even those who do not like reality TV (like myself), thought this was just worlds of fun.
Some people are serial fantastists, or serial self-publicists: it can be hard to tell the difference. Errol Morris' entertaining film 'Tabloid: Sex in Change' will seem familiar to anyone whose seen the (altogether more serious) film 'True Lies': in both cases, someone collaborates with a contemporary film-maker to tell "their story", even though the film-maker is able to simultaneously compile a large body of evidence to suggest that this story is utter tosh. The protagonists of both films could be considered con-artists, but if so, neither of them are exactly very good: in taking part in these films, they manage not to control the narrative, but to destroy themselves (although, if self-publicity is the aim, they do succeed, albeit in a peculiar fashion). Joyce McKinney's story (both the real one, and the one that she tells) is straightforwardly bizarre; while the linked tale of the behaviour of tabloid newspapers is predictably depressing, although one can't help but wonder whether or not Morris would have done better to let sleeping dogs lie (something McKinney didn't do when she had her dead pet cloned) rather than give the whole affair another publicising blast of the oxygen. It's hard to draw many conclusions from such a weird tale about the state of our society, or even about the interior workings of McKinney's mind; yet it's also impossible not to be entertained, albeit in a prurient way, by the extraordinary details of her tale.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is definitely an Errol Morris documentary, firmly in the tradition
he began with "Gates of Heaven". People and their stories are presented
straight-ahead, with no obvious irony nor cynicism nor tongue-in-cheek.
(As in his other films, Morris's irony is so subtle it can easily be
missed completely.) The people and the story are so preposterous I
seriously doubt anybody could have made it up.
In some ways though the film is different from the early tradition. The most obvious is that the filmmaking has grown to involve several tens of people. Although the credits list isn't a huge thing that goes on for several minutes, it's long enough to clearly indicate this wasn't a "one man with a camera" type undertaking. Another difference, progressing from "Gates of Heaven" through "The Fog of War" to "Tabloid", is the loss of the feeling that the crazy people on the screen just might -if the stars lined up exactly right- have been my neighbors.
As the events are in the past, there of course isn't a whole lot of original film footage. Mr. Morris has dug up what seems like every scrap that exists, and skillfully inter-cut it with clever graphics, newspaper excerpts, photos, bits of animation and stock footage, and memories delivered by some of the people involved. The film could have relied on recreations, but it doesn't. It could have been visually boring, but it most definitely isn't.
A handful of people are present as "talking heads", each remembering the events from their own point of view. In the beginning, all the talking heads seem to expound neutrally on the same events. Only later does it become obvious there are some profound disagreements. Although I expected each person to subtly spin their story, it caught be by surprise when eventually one talking head stated flatly that another was "crazy". A couple key people are absent, one because he died and another because he refused to participate. As one would expect , Errol Morris doesn't try to guess or recreate that missing point of view, rather he simply doesn't cover it at all. Unfortunately this seems to make the film more one-sided than it otherwise would have been.
I sometimes wished Mr. Morris had pressed just a little harder on Ms. McKinney ...but that would have changed directions to be an entirely different film. I particularly wished for a firmer time-line, as there is close to a decade (from high school to "late twenties") missing. Among other things, somewhere in that overly vague period there might be an explanation of how a former Miss Wyoming had a South Carolina accent. I also wished for some understanding of how a very bright and beautiful woman could become obsessed with people who obviously were much much dumber than her and who subscribed deeply to a completely foreign religion. I wished for a better explanation of how a stray dog found homeless at the roadside could miraculously become a very clever licensed "guide dog". And I wished for some explanation of how a single older woman who hasn't published anything was able to afford huge laboratory fees.
I can't resist commenting on the story as well as on the film:
The first thing that struck me was Ms. McKinney's skewed sense of justice. When unfairness-es --even outright frauds-- were perpetrated on her, she reacted quite strongly. But when she pulled similar tricks on the people around her, as she did for example with her disguises that went well beyond necessity, that wasn't even worth mentioning.
The second thing that struck me was this is a parable about how extremely bright people (the film states Ms. McKinney's IQ is 168) often can't fit into society (or is the problem that they never become comfortable with themselves?). She could quickly and thoroughly bamboozle virtually any individual she ever interacted with in person. But she seemed to have no clue how relatively anonymous _groups_ of people ("the press", "the paparazzi", "the church", etc.) might behave, nor how much consistency irregular yet persistent contacts might expect.
By the last quarter of this turgid, unremitting virtual-monologue, I
was in fear of losing my own marbles -- Joyce having clearly lost hers
long ago. Pointing a camera at someone and letting them damn themselves
with their own deluded waffle is not my idea of effective film making.
Completely lacking in visual impact, this "film" might as well have
been done on radio.
The supporting cast of tabloid creeps interviewed herein are enough to make one's skin crawl. Exploiting a crazy lady is neither funny nor clever so quite why the guy from The Daily Mirror appeared to be so proud of his machinations is beyond me.
I'd hoped for some deeper insight. I didn't get any. Only denial and madness. On this showing the woman needed to be sectioned. Too late now though. Far too late.
Errol Morris has throughout his filmmaking career, found some
interesting subjects. From the groundbreaking The Thin Blue Line (1988)
- that actually produced evidence enough to release a man from death
row, - to The Fog of War's (2003) view of modern American political
history according to Robert McNamara (reviewed here by Tom previously).
And with Tabloid, he has yet again discovered a story that defies
Joyce McKinney was former Miss Wyoming. She became a British tabloid darling in the late 1970's when she came over to the UK and kidnapped a young man, holding him hostage. The film tells the story of McKinney's various obsessions; she became obsessed with a young Mormon missionary, but his faith was compromised and, as far as Joyce was concerned, the Mormon church stole him away from her, taking him to England to restore his faith.
The levels of obsession are exposed progressively throughout the film. Joyce's fixation on this one person who she claims to love unconditionally is actually quite sad. She states late on in the film that there is only one love, and she loves the Mormon, and will love no other. This stubborn focus on one love has seen through to her old age, as she fills this love with a dog. The obsession of one love is also propagated in her love of her dog, that once dead, she spends thousands of dollars to get it cloned in South Korea.
As with all Morris documentaries, this is a little gem, and is never outwardly judgemental of it's subject matter. It is a tragic tale, and whilst it has been Joyce's own choice, her strong morals are quite touching. However, strip all sympathy aside, and she is simply mental!!
A documentary on a former Miss Wyoming (Joyce Bernann McKinney) who is
charged with abducting and imprisoning a young Mormon Missionary (Kirk
The film becomes the story: In November of 2011, Joyce McKinney filed a lawsuit against director Errol Morris. Filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court, McKinney claims that Morris and his producer Mark Lipson told her they were filming for a TV documentary series about the paparazzi. McKinney is suing on the grounds that she was defamed as the film portrays her as "crazy, a sex offender, an S&M prostitute, and/or a rapist."
McKinney probably only helped the film with her lawsuit, if she had any effect at all. I do not feel they in any way defamed her, as they were merely reporting on the story and gave her ample time to give her version of events. A viewer is not left with any definite vision of who McKinney is or was.
Further, I am confused how she thought this was solely about the paparazzi. I understand that she talks of being hounded, but she also talks at length about the Mormon case, her cloned dog and any other thing. Even if this went on a TV program about paparazzi, they would have to explain to audiences who she was. So by cooperating -- regardless of the focus -- she was the one bringing herself back into the public light.
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