The unscrupulous gall of journalists throughout the ages only serves to make any self-respecting writer dig their nails into the armrest of their cinema seat. The candid shamelessness and salacious creepery of photographers and their “cheeky” manner of procuring headlines is even more angering. It was with rolled eyes and a deeply-set disdain for the UK press and the general pity towards rags of their ilk- especially of the story’s time- that I watched Tabloid, which is everything the title assures you it might be.

I had heard that the much-lauded filmmaker Errol Morris had created a bizarre, loopy cinematic boggle in Tabloid; a tale weird from the get-go and onward ever weirder. What I saw, though, was the sad, odd tale of a clearly mentally ill woman, a man who just wants to be left alone and the scavengers in a sex scandal’s s wake.



Joyce McKinney: an intelligent (IQ: 168), beautiful Southern lass. An All-American gal. A beauty queen. When she meets young, dashing Mormon Kirk Anderson, a love and obsession grows in her that will take possession of her entire life and persona. According to Joyce- because few other people involved are actually interviewed, part of the film’s problem- a whirlwind romance ensued that was abruptly ended by Anderson’s Mormon mission work.

The story takes an unsettling turn when the reported criminal activity sets in: McKinney raises money (we later find out, from nude modelling and escort services) and hires a P.I to track Anderson down. When she finds him, she allegedly (a loaded term) kidnaps him, whisks him to a Devon cottage, ties him to the bed (Peter Tory from the Daily Express constantly says ‘chained’ because, as he puts it, “it sounds better”- groan) and rapes him over three days.



The rest of the film follows McKinney- very few other people enter the story. It is her biopic we are watching; the execution of her life during and after the scandal she was involved in. She gets about incognito in bizarre costumes, clones her beloved deceased pup, does bizarre magazine shoots and explains her story amid an occasional burst of maniacal laughter and Southern jargon, often close to tears.

My point is, I didn’t know how to come away from this film. It might have followed an account of this odd crime, but there was no real information included. The only people spoken to are McKinney, Tory, reprehensible Daily Mirror photographer Kent Gavin and the pilot that flew McKinney and her co-star in the whole shemozzle, Keith May, to the UK. Gay ex-Mormon Troy Williams is given a little airtime to shed some light on bizarre Mormon practices.



The film certainly plays out like a tabloid fiasco, visually; the entire quick-cut film is a scrapbook pastiche of eye-grabbing headlines, scandalous buzzwords and manipulated images and words (such is a favourite pastime of these types of publications.) You can take this whole story from two ways; you can assume the worst and take what the tabloid rags have fed their readers about McKinney’s obsessive, sociopathic mania and the scandal that came from her relationship with Anderson (she claims the press still haunted her many years after Anderson settled into Utah suburbia, married with children, though possibly because she was accused of stalking him) or, you can take the notion that a lonely beauty queen fell in love and lost her man to a nutty church; a man whose fear of God Almighty’s wrath caused him to fabricate a story of rape and kidnapping, a story that followed McKinney throughout her days.

We will never know, of course: Anderson refuses to be interviewed and May has been deceased since 2004. There are no real facts with which to make a conscious decision, or form a logical opinion.



The film is all it intends to be, though; simply because I didn’t get what I wanted at the end doesn’t mean Morris didn’t achieve his film-making goal. He made a movie fit to sit alongside the tabloids and magazines that are at the centre of the whole event, the gossip rags that bottom-fed off scandal and sex, muddying the waters of what should have simply been a court case. McKinney is eccentric, sure; perhaps even unhinged. But which came first: the madness or the media?



Words: Lisa Dib


Tags: america, daily express, daily mirror, gossip rag, journalism, joyce mckinney, kirk anderson, mormonism, newspapers, scandal, tabloid, UK

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