I was offered three suggestions for Documentary Saturday this week, all from David at the office. Unfortunately none of them were available for me to watch today. Don’t worry though dude, your Rockumentary season will happen soon enough. But in the meantime, I need to watch more Errol Morris movies. I think next week might be a toss-up between Vernon, Fl and The Fog of War. But that’s next week. Today we have his latest film…
When did the truth matter?
In 1977, former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney travelled to England to “rescue” her Mormon boyfriend Kirk Anderson who was carrying out his mandated period of Mission work, while she believed him to have been kidnapped and brainwashed by the church. Joyce and her companions (accomplices is such an ugly word) took Kirk to an isolated cabin in Devon where, depending on who you’re listening to, either she tied him to the bed and repeatedly raped him or they shared a wildly romantic weekend before he returned to the church and was convinced to lie about it. Once this hit the news, things started getting really weird. In 2010, documentarian Errol Morris interviewed McKinney, as well as one of her accomplices (screw it) and two of the journalists who reported on the story for rival papers. Tabloid is the result.
I had no personal memories of this story, having not even been a twinkle in my daddy’s eye back in ’77. While I’m sure it was the scandal of the year back then, would it even register for more than a day or two in this current climate of sensationalist “journalism”? Morris’ film is as much a statement on the media itself as it is a “where are they now?” piece about Joyce and her escapades. Morris doesn’t offer any blatant opinion of his own regarding the McKinney story; the film, like his others, is told entirely through interviews with some archive footage. Of course no documentary can be entirely neutral. The director’s own interpretation comes out in the editing and juxtaposition of clips and photographs. To say McKinney does not come across as overly right in the head is maybe a bit of an understatement. Admittedly she probably didn’t do herself any favours, yet it is hard to not feel some small measure of sympathy for her over the way each new and ever-more-salacious aspect of her life was splashed all over the papers for weeks on end.
Morris presents two contrasting repesentatives of the press in his film: Peter Tory, Diary Editor (gossip columnist) of the Daily Express – which paid for Miss McKinney’s co-operation and showed her in a relatively favourable light as a fun-loving but eccentric party girl – and photographer Kent Gavin of the Daily Mirror who, instead of taking the pictures, travelled to the US and dug up hundreds from Joyce’s past as an apparent escort and soft-core S&M model. What comes across here is the oneupmanship that the papers were engaged in. Joyce herself seems almost secondary to the newsies’ desire to out-do each other either with sleaze or support. The echoes of this behaviour can be heard even louder today than ever before here in the UK with the ongoing Leveson Inquiry into press standards.
Despite what the last two paragraphs might imply, Tabloid is a very funny film (MINIBAR*) though at first glance it might seem like a bit of a wishy-washy subject for a filmmaker who once got a man’s murder conviction overturned. But just as he once did with the Texas justice system, Tabloid is Errol Morris’ laser-guided examination of what we would now call the gutter press, with the “Manacled Mormon” story as his case study. This would also make for an excellent double bill with Page One, by the way.
*If you’d seen the film already, you’d be giggling right now.