Reality meets a wildly rubbery road in Tabloid, the latest documentary funfest in director Errol Morris’s remarkable filmography. Leave it to Morris, naturally drawn to quirky stories beneath the bland and boring fabric of American life, to ferret out a tale of sordidness and offbeat joy from the enticingly odd case of Joyce McKinney. She had her squalid 15 minutes of fame in the British tabloids in the late 1970s, after she “abducted” her Mormon boyfriend from the clutches of the church and had a brief sexual fling with him in a cottage before the law jailed her and the church rescued the “manacled Mormon.”
Becoming privy to the strange life and fate of this former Miss Wyoming, alleged S&M-for-hire professional, and true-love–seeking adventurer (or kidnapper, depending on whom you believe) is a bracing enough encounter in itself. But where Tabloid really shines is as an example of Morris’s skills as a nonfiction storyteller and artful re-inventor of the documentary form. We are told the sweep of the story in inside-out chronology, moving from her brush with tabloid infamy in Britain back through her previous life as a fantasy-centric sex worker in Los Angeles, and up through her later life in would-be seclusion on her family’s property. When she tells the story in which one dog attacks her and another heroically saves her, leading her to commission a Korean doctor to give her a pack of cloned boxers, our jaws drop as our funny bone goes limp.
As in earlier famous titles, such as The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War, Morris tries to get at the truth of the matter by not getting too wrapped up in corroborations or mere facts—those bugaboos of traditional doc making and journalism. Instead, Morris does due diligence in considering and exposing the evidence, but freely embellishes and ornaments the subject’s sagas with crafty visual asides and commentaries (as when he highlights missing or wrongly used words in McKinney’s hypnotically rambling testimony).
We could reasonably subtitle this one The Fog of Life, as told by a master of New Documentary magic.