SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | April 3, 2011
Director: Errol Morris
Former Miss Wyoming and S&M call girl with an IQ of 168 and a penchant for cinnamon massage oil, kidnaps and rapes a rotund Mormon; years later, she clones her dog…creating five new Boogers! Boy, it sure does not get much better that that. That is the stuff that tabloids — and Errol Morris’ Tabloid — are made of!
By way of Joyce McKinney (it turns out that you just need to point a camera at her and she will run and run and run with her story), the snarky and sardonic documentarian Errol Morris unearths a subject that allows his off-kilter sense of humor to run rampant. As is typically the case with Morris, Tabloid reveals that his technique is not malicious (unless you’re a Mormon, then you will certainly take offense); Morris allows his subjects to dig their own graves, as he frequently catches the various interviewees flagrantly embellishing their stories and contradicting each other.
This brings us to Morris’ favorite subject: the truth. In Tabloid, thanks to all of the contradictions and untrustworthy commentary, Morris is unable to reveal an absolute truth. Instead it seems that the truth does not really matter in the context of this documentary (though if you want it, the truth is probably located somewhere in between the interviews). Here, Morris is more interested in how truth can be mediated and distorted. It is often apparent that McKinney’s version of the story is not true, yet she appears to believe her story completely. As McKinney explains, “You can tell a lie for long enough that you believe it” (she is not talking about herself, though the statement certainly fits her as snug as her see-through blouse).
Morris is documentarian, but first and foremost he is an entertainer. No matter how serious his subject, Morris has proved time and time again that he possesses an obvious knack for comedic timing and punctuation — as with the flashes of words like “Spread-eagle!” and “Barking mad!” on screen in order to further accentuate his interviewee’s verbal flourishes. His other strong suit is his utilization of humorous archival material, which often features quirky film clips from the 1950s and 60s. In Tabloid, Morris utilizes clips from The God Makers (1982), an animated film that takes a highly critical view of the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
McKinney certainly proves that people with a sensational sense of self are engagingly entertaining, but what makes a documentary about McKinney any better than a reality show about the Jersey Shore? Is McKinney’s story strong or meaningful enough to justify a 90-minute documentary about it? Is there anything to be learned from Tabloid? (Besides the obvious “fact” that Mormon’s are incredibly silly!) Is Tabloid a vessel for Morris to comment upon gossip rags, tabloids and “reality” entertainment? Or is this all just for shits and giggles? (Admittedly, I shat and giggled simultaneously when McKinney stated that her raping a man would be like “trying to stuff a marshmallow into a parking meter.” Uh, what?!)
In case you are wondering, the infamous manacled Mormon (Kirk Anderson) declined to be interviewed for Tabloid.