Prominently featured in the inaugural edition of the DOC NYC Film Festival, documentarian Errol Morris brings his TIFF-premiered title that reminds us of the filmmaker’s curiosity for the fringe characters that populate this world. Joyce McKinney is better known in England as a 1970s tabloid fixture for her bizarre involvement in kidnapping her fiancé from Mormon missionaries, and tying him to her bed to have a “proper” honeymoon. Her mixture of naiveté with a sordid past made her a juicy target for religious zealots to use her as the “devil” woman that tempts man with sin. In Tabloid, Morris looks at the strange and absurd tale of a former beauty pageant winner who broke the law all in the name of love.
Joyce McKinney had been Miss Wyoming in the 1970s, moved to Utah, and became engaged to a pleasant young man named Kirk Anderson, who was a young Mormon planning on becoming a missionary. He disappeared without a trace in 1977, and McKinney, with the help of a private detective, found out he was in England completing the orientation of his faith into missionary work. McKinney, convinced the church was brainwashing him, set up a crack team of herself, a pilot, her friend Keith May, and bodyguards to rescue Anderson. The plan was falling apart, so McKinney resorted to May kidnapping Anderson at the church, holding him against his will in Devon, and convincing herself that she was “saving” him. Anderson escaped, and McKinney and May were arrested on kidnapping charges.
McKinney is a strange and captivating individual. On one hand, she seems completely delusional that what she did was a savior gesture, and that she and Anderson had a “romantic” weekend together while he was held against his will. She doesn’t seem completely in touch with reality, and her life afterwards was hindered by agoraphobia and an inability to have a romantic relationship with someone else after Anderson. But, she is still visibly hurt by the tabloid accusations of her being called “crazy” or demeaned for her sexy appearance, and is an intelligent woman who is vulnerable to being mocked or misunderstood. She can be unintentionally funny, referring to Morris as “Mr. Filmmaker” with a sweet charm.
The title perfectly captures the chopped-up editing of the film. Names are displayed in large, L.A. Confidential-style captions, the subjects are interviewed against blank gray walls, and news clips puncture the film constantly, giving Tabloid a speedy pace of breaking news. Tabloid never demeans its subject to the point of humiliation. Rather, it gives McKinney proper respect, while remaining objective in its view of her. Whether she can be seen as an innocent victim who thought she was saving her fiancé, or a sexpot who flouted the law in pursuit of her own delusions, remains up to the audience to decide.