“I wanted a special guy” – Joyce McKinney
In Errol Morris’ latest documentary Tabloid, Joyce McKinney’s various pleas of innocence for the kidnapping of Kirk Anderson provide a great deal of light relief. But the above is one of the most bittersweet – Joyce’s repeated professions of love for Anderson, a Mormom missionary to the UK, ask us to consider whether the case is as ‘lightweight’ as we perceive it.
Lightweight is certainly how the film press have perceived Tabloid – seen as Morris’ return to the style of Gates of Heaven, revelling in the absurdity of life and the people therein. The film concerns an American woman’s journey to Britain, hoping to find her first love, kidnap him and physically seduce him in an attempt to reverse his religious ‘brainwashing’. But Morris just as often casts his subjects in a serious light, which somewhat alleviates my main concern with the film, which is that Tabloid takes 90 minutes to tell a story which shouldn’t occupy more than a paragraph in The Daily Mirror (the fact that it did is immaterial).
All of Morris’ strengths are on display in this film, including his ‘confessional’ style of interviewing, as well as the emergence of his own personality from behind the camera – his own inimitable laugh provides a recurring punchline. His quickfire style of editing is well suited to this story, as increasingly lurid headlines are thrown onto the screen with the sound of clacking typewriter keys. The willingness to treat the bizarre story with equal parts good humour and anthropological fascination was also a good move.
Ultimately, Tabloid may be seen as a lesser work in Morris’ ouevre, especially for a filmmaker regarded so highly for films like The Fog of War and The Thin Blue Line – epic undertakings which have shaken the world of documentaries to their core. But one should not be deterred from Tabloid: a sub-par film from Errol Morris is worth at least two Michael Moores.