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Tabloid - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
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A 'very special love story' to say the least, Errol Morris (director of many ground-breaking documentaries such as The Fog of War [2003] and The Thin Blue Line [1988]) has a new documentary covering everything from sex, religion and kidnapping to politics, the law and the media is filtered through the story of the "32-year-old sex-in-chains girl" in Tabloid.

Joyce McKinney, former Miss Wyoming, is a young, care-free, innocent, southern beauty with a slender and sexy figure and long blonde hair that "would make any heterosexual male attracted to her." One day she meets a tall educated-looking young man named Kirk Anderson, a devout Mormon. Joyce tells us of how they met each other's eyes and fell in love instantly, so much in fact that he becomes frightened and runs away to England. She tracks him down, kidnaps him and chains him to a bed in a shack in the middle of nowhere for several days and has sex with him.

Morris' film, with heavy use of material from primary interviewee McKinney, goes on to tell the story of all that happened to her as a result, paying particular attention to the tabloid newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. Sometimes she was portrayed as a wholesome, good Christian young woman who fell in love and was betrayed, whereas others described her as a sex-crazed, manipulative prostitute. Morris offers up both arguments using surprisingly little interviewees to corroborate McKinney's side of the story – it's like her on her own with her testimony up against newspaper journalists and photographers who covered the story.

Shot with tasteful elegance and a very ironic and cleverly selective use of 16mm archive news footage, Tabloid is as tongue-in-cheek humorous as it is tragic. McKinney is obviously very passionate and emotional about the story for obvious reasons, but it seems as if Morris is telling us that while this is touching it's extremely bizarre, so bizarre that it's ridiculously funny. It beautifully jump cuts between interviews, tabloid clippings, and sudden super-imposed text that suggests the exploitative nature of not only the story itself, but the tabloid's account of the story. The mark of true strength in documentary filmmaking is being able to tell the story and remain as objective as possible while still providing the audience with a sub-textual bias and message. Morris accomplishes this solely on the strength of his sources, research and interviews and as a result it is never boring and always fascinating.

Errol Morris has a knack for weeding out obscure topics for documentaries that no-one else would touch, and despite its lack of interviewees, it is interesting in all its woes, triumphs, implications and idiosyncrasies.

**** out of *****

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Why? THE documentary of 2011
When: Check your local cinema for details
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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