Wednesday, July 13, 2011

TABLOID opens in theaters, as Errol Morris discovers perhaps his juiciest subject. Yum.

How much fun is TABLOID, the new film from famed documentarian Errol Morris? A better question might be, How much fun can you stand in a single 87-minute movie before your gut bursts? Here is hilarity like few other films, and certainly fewer documentaries, ever give us -- from big belly laughs to a near-constant smile/giggle. This is due, of course, to the woman at the center of the show,  Joyce Bernann McKinney, who began her big career as Miss Wyoming and ended it as... Well, you'll see. (She's still with us, actually, so that career can yet take who knows how many more twists?!).

Tabloid should burnish Mr Morris' image (shown at left) about as much as it alternately shines and then dirties up Ms. McKinney's. And it's not really the filmmaker who's doing the dirtying. He simply lets McKinney (shown above and below) babble on -- and on -- accompanied by various visuals that may now and again take your breath away. The filmmaker does not need any staged re-enactments here, as he's used in some other of his past work. No. McKinney -- and the tabloids of the title -- supply him with more than is necessary to tell a story that, were it shown in any narrative film, might be laughed off the screen in a very different way from the laughter Tabloid induces. How unbelievable, we would declare, with a tsk, tsk. Here, we're laughing our heads off in amusement, charm. shock and delightful surprise. And then repeating it all over again, as things just grow more bizarre.

If you've reached a certain age, you may actually recall, at least fitfully or fleetingly, the Morman-sex-in-chains case that rocked England and much of the western world back in 1977. (If you don't know it, the movie should prove even more fun.) This involved a young Mormon missionary -- shades of a new Broadway musical! -- named Kirk Anderson, his "fiancee" Ms McKinney (as "sweater girl," above, and sweater-less, below), and her BFF, Keith May.

What happened in England and the media coverage (above) and judicial proceedings that followed are said to have "cheered Britain up no end." They're sure to cheer you up, too. As will McKinney' later story, which involves the likes of dog cloning (below), and about which you may have a bit more recognition -- if only because these events are a good deal more current.

As the many bizarrosities pile up, Morris never ques-tions any-thing, though it does becomes clear that McKinney is or was (or maybe always is) fabrica-ting.  Or not. Whatever, she does it all with such absolute surety and even a kind of perverse grace that we find ourselves lost in her charms, if not her arms (though we might have liked to be, back then) and even, sort of, believing her story. Well, part of it, and now and again, at least.
Tabloid is Mr Morris at the height of his powers. (I find him more successful in his lighter films than in his darker and would-be probing ones such as The Fog of War or Standard Operating Procedure.)  If you are not smiling ear to ear by the time the end credits roll, and rising from your theater seat with a feeling of enormous satisfaction, I shall be very surprised. The film, via Sundance Selects, opens this Friday in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the IFC Center.  And elsewhere around the country, I am sure (though I do wish that Sundance Selects/IFC made it easier, via their website, to learn the playdates, cities and theaters of their films).


Anonymous said...

The woman is SERIOUSLY unbalanced now as she was then. Possibly aN estrogen imbalance in the 1970's, Now just scarred emotionally from her horrible decisions in life. She really, really needs psychological treatment now as she when she kidnapped and raped Anderson.

James van Maanen, said...

And do you KNOW the woman personally, Anonymous? Not that I doubt your diagnosis (and the movie does tend to lead us in that direction), but I am just wondering if you have some first-hand experience that you'd care to share....