“Tabloid” is a documentary about Joyce McKinney and The Manacled Mormon. You do not often hear stories about manacled Mormons. I can say with certainty I have never written the words “manacled Mormon” together. Errol Morris has made a film so absurd, so laughably unbelievable and so utterly mind-blowing it becomes better than most fiction. It’s a riot.
The thrill of “Tabloid” comes from being obsessed with its story and its characters. McKinney, a beauty queen from Wyoming in the ‘70s, became “obsessed” with Kirk Anderson. She says she fell in love and thought he was intensely attractive. Other people who knew him describe Anderson as a 6’4’’, 300 lb. missionary with a bad Mormon haircut.
From these “quaint” beginnings, we hear the story from McKinney and a handful of associates, friends and British tabloid editors who reported the Manacled Mormon story as it took place.
Let it be said that McKinney’s view doesn’t exactly match up with what everyone else is saying.
McKinney claims she picked up a cheerful and willing Anderson from his Mormon missionary in London, drove to a small English town and spent three days together filled with sex, sleep and romance.
The papers reported differently. Anderson was reported as abducted, and Morris interviews an accomplice of McKinney’s who claims she planned to use chloroform to bring her true love away from this “cult.” She then chained Anderson to the bed and repeatedly raped him with the intent of getting pregnant. After he was released, Anderson too claimed he was kidnapped against his will.
And this is just the beginning. The joy of watching “Tabloid” is in not knowing what’s going to come next or how many absurd layers will be piled on to this mess of a tabloid case.
Morris does it by creating a delicate, dainty film mixed with a flashy, voyeuristic collection of home movies. The rapid pace, jump cuts and insane tonal shifts make for a wonderfully immersive and economical form of storytelling. And nothing compares to the spontaneous subtitles depicting “Spread Eagled” as a hilarious attention grabber.
The act of simply hearing both sides of this story being told is more valuable than which story is actually true. Morris does not mock any of his subjects or agree with one story over the other. He gives us no reason to doubt McKinney, who is a bubbly, intelligent person full of spunk. Rather, you are forced to take both stories at face value, fully realizing that neither story even begins to overlap.
In a way, “Tabloid” is fiction. One story must be completely wrong. Someone is giving a marvelous performance. Look at how every subject looks right into the camera, and rarely do they stumble or struggle to tell their story in the most vivid detail.
Yet sound bites from McKinney such as “That’s like trying to put a marshmallow in a parking meter” are too quirky and fun to simply be made up. The story is too complex and utterly preposterous to have not happened or to have happened differently.
“Tabloid” is true, journalistic storytelling at its finest. I’m obsessed with this film.