Tabloid Documentary Film Critique

I recently watched Errol Morris’ 2010 documentary Tabloid, and I was immediately hooked. Tabloid depicts the story of Joyce McKinney, who in 1977 was accused of kidnapping and raping her Mormon ex-lover, Kirk Anderson in the UK. McKinney was arrested, but fled the UK for the United States before she could be tried for the crime. The British tabloids were fascinated with McKinney’s story, and while one paper, the Daily Mail, interviewed McKinney to get her side of the story, another paper, the Daily Mirror, did some digging into her past and painted a completely different, negative picture of McKinney’s life. Reporters from both papers appear in Tabloid for interviews, but McKinney herself is the star of this documentary. She recounts her side of the story — that she and Anderson were in love before he was kidnapped and brainwashed by Mormon missionaries in the UK — with enthusiasm. Tabloid premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and was met with anger from McKinney, who claimed the documentary portrayed her in a defamatory way. McKinney sued Morris, but the case was found in favor of Morris. Regardless of whose story you believe, Tabloid is a visually engaging, wild ride, and I would highly recommend it.

What really drives Tabloid, asides from the gossip the story creates, is the characters and their motives. Joyce McKinney, our lead, portrays herself as a simple, all-American girl. She’s a former beauty queen who goes on a mission to save her man when he gets “kidnapped” and taken to the UK by “the Mormons,” as she refers to them. McKinney tells her side of the story with such conviction that it’s difficult to believe that she’s lying; or, that, at least, in her mind, she’s telling anything other than the truth. She asserts that Anderson left the Mormon church willingly, had sex with her willingly, and that the two were in love. The Daily Mirror’s side of the story is different: McKinney is a former prostitute who kidnapped her ex-lover, brought him to a cabin in the English countryside, chained him to the bed and raped him. You would expect that McKinney’s explanation clears up these rumors, but it doesn’t — she just comes across as delusional. Clearly, her characterization in this documentary is what McKinney took issue with and the reason she sued Morris.

Whether or not Morris fairly portrayed McKinney in Tabloid is still up for debate, but there’s no doubt that Morris succeeded in finding an interesting subject. Not only was McKinney at the center of this story, she was also the first person to get her dog cloned in 2008. Of course, this brought McKinney back into the spotlight, though she used a fake name to try and hide from the press. Creating a documentary about this tabloid magnet is a no-brainer; McKinney’s story appeals both people who remember the stories about her from the late ‘70s and those simply interested in wacky people alike. Check out Tabloid for a snappy take on an already bizarre story.

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