This amusing documentary tells of the bizarre adventures of former 1970s beauty queen Joyce McKinney. Featuring McKinney herself the film focuses on the story, from the 70s, of her supposedly kidnapping and raping her Mormon boyfriend who had fled from the States to Britain. Joyce followed the man of her dreams, tracked him down with bodyguards and apparently took him against his will. At the time the story was picked up by tabloid newspapers and a war erupted between the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror. The story became known as the ‘manacled Mormon’ scandal.
Tabloid cleverly explores the story from all angles, that of McKinney’s whose point of view is that her boyfriend Kirk Anderson, who doesn’t partake in the documentary, willingly went with her but was brainwashed by Mormons. We also hear from the points of view of the two main newspapers that reported the scandal, Peter Tory, a reporter from the Daily Express and Kent Gavin, a photographer for the Mirror. Both were directly involved in the depiction of the scandal at the time.
The film is based around a candid interview with Joyce but we do hear from others allowing us to make up our own mind about the events. What is fascinating is how Joyce became an overnight sensation because of the newspapers, long before reality television and ordinary people becoming celebrities, the tabloids had a high degree of influence and power and could in fact create a celebrity overnight. I wasn’t even born when this all occurred and it is really captivating to learn of how it all worked back then. The story is also intriguing and McKinney is a perfect eccentric character at the heart of it all. She is funny and naïve but at the same time seems incredibly calculated and intelligent. We never learn of what really happened, and perhaps even come away more baffled by it all, but that is not the point of Tabloid.
The film also focuses on the other bizarre stories from Joyce’s life including her getting her beloved dog cloned and ending up with five identical dogs, you really couldn’t make this stuff up! We hear from Dr Hong, the scientist that cloned the dogs, and this addition adds yet another dimension to the documentary. We also hear of unfortunate attacks on McKinney’s security dog, perhaps paranoia, but more than likely an example of the tragedy that comes out fame. It raises a serious issue and the tone suddenly becomes solemn, but it is only fleeting.
Director Errol Morris mixes things up with a variety of styles and visual techniques including animation, photos, old film footage, talking heads, maps and newspapers which keep the film flowing and retains the audience’s interest. There is also plenty of humour throughout, the ‘minibar’ gag that briefly flashes on the screen is genius and absolutely hilarious.
I came away really liking Joyce the self-confessed ‘incurable romantic’ and was surprised to learn of her suing Errol Morris over the film as she believes it ‘promotes vicious and malicious lies’ about her. Apparently she is deeply unhappy with how she was portrayed but in all fairness the film is pretty kind to her. There are a couple of mocking moments but overall Morris offers a balanced view.
Tabloid is essentially a film about obsession, that of McKinney’s, the tabloids’ and the people who read the papers. It speaks of a time when things were different and yet it seems completely relevant today. It is a light, engaging documentary that will make you laugh, both with and at McKinney, the tabloids and the people that consume these stories; you and me and everybody.
Director: Errol Morris
Cast: Joyce McKinney, Peter Tory, Kent Gavin
Runtime: 87 mins