Friday, September 24, 2010

TIFF 2010 Review: "Tabloid"

(Reel To Real)

(USA, 2010, 87 minutes)

Directed by: Errol Morris

Cast: Joyce McKinney, Keith May, Kirk Anderson

Following the grim, all-too-timely subjects of Errol Morris’ last two back-to-back documentaries The Fog Of War and Standard Operating Procedure, the simply-titled Tabloid is every bit as frothy and ultimately throwaway as the term would promise.

Still, even Morris working in “fun” mode remains an inventive and poignant chronicler of the eccentricities, foibles, and flaws that make us delightfully, and wickedly, human—while I often found myself asking “where does he FIND these people?” I couldn’t help but regard him as the modern-day equivalent of Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands—constantly unearthing a new species. His subjects are complex, contradictory, frustrating, whether a criminal on death row (who actually sued Morris after his film set him free), an execution technologist (and Holocaust denier), or the architect of the Vietnam War (and automotive CEO)—if you subscribe to the old adage that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”, then in theory, Tabloid would be about MENSA members.

Well, not exactly

One would assume that a blonde, voluptuous former Miss Wyoming back in 1977 could have any man she desired, and as it would have it, that man was Kirk Anderson, who also happened to be a member of The Church Of Latter Day Saints (they’d met when she attended Brigham Young University). When he was sent to England as a missionary, McKinney assumed it was a grand scheme on the church’s part to separate them, so, logically, she procured the services of an ex-mercenary, who just happened to have his own plane, to fly her and her friend Keith May to the UK, disguises and weaponry in tow.

May was rather easily able to locate her objet d’amour in the town of Surrey, where Anderson claimed McKinney kidnapped him at gunpoint and held him hostage in a remote farmhouse in Devon, where he was either chained or roped to a bed (his story changes) and forced to have sex.

The Fleet Street tabloids got wind of this and, of course, had a field day—the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the advent of The Sex Pistols and now this? Reporters from rival hepatitis-yellow dishrags The Mirror and The Express were sent to the U.S. to find dirt on McKinney and didn’t have to look to hard—she’d been involved in nude modeling and possibly prostitution and pornographic film production. While awaiting trial for “The Case Of The Manacled Mormon”, McKinney and May fled the country while on bail, disguised as members of a deaf-and-dumb acting troupe. The courts didn’t pursue extradition because, well, at the time there really wasn’t a law against the rape of a male.

She and May would return to England to grant interviews to the papers, disguised as East-Indians in costumes and unconvincing grease paint right out of “Team America: World Police” (of course, Morris has photos to prove it), but enough to convince England’s customs officials at the time, who would’ve found a suitcase of clippings on the case had they also bothered to inspect her luggage.

Considering Anderson now-and-then was/is a diminutive schlub only slightly less masculine than Julia Sweeney in “It’s Pat!”, why a strapping, corn-fed, blowsy babe like McKinney would travel the big pond to secure his sexual services remains a mystery. This is a woman, after all, who claims to have an IQ of 168…

Thankfully, for Morris and especially us, McKinney is alive and well and only too willing to recount her version of the tale in the first person. Recorded in three sittings, she ebulliently and breathlessly revisits 1977. Did she really rape Kirk, as the tabloids alleged? Molesting a male, according to her typically trenchant flair for simile, would "be like squeezing a marshmallow into a parking meter".

To my question “where does he find these people?”: Morris apparently came across a story, quite accidentally, in The Boston Globe about a woman who had her dog cloned, and who was also a former beauty queen. He decided to investigate, and hit the proverbial jackpot.

McKinney would continue to stalk Anderson well into the 80s, at his workplace at Salt Lake Airport cleaning the residue off of jet hulls from ejected bathroom waste (when authorities searched her car, they found handcuffs and rope). At some point, she came to her senses, and devoted herself to worthier pursuits, like attempting to recruit a teenager into burglary so she could purchase a prosthetic leg for her three-legged horse (whom she’d ride in a parade as Lady Godiva).

That arrest must’ve set her on the straight and a narrow, as the world wouldn’t hear from her again until she paid $50,000 to a South Korean genetics lab to clone her dying pitbull.


Yes, "Tabloid" climaxes with McKinney presenting her four adorable clone pups and seemingly, turning a corner, although once suspects we haven't heard the last from her...

Amazingly, despite my lifelong fascination with offbeat crime stories, I’d somehow never come across McKinney’s globe-hopping scandal despite its relatively recent history—but then again, in 1977 I was busy building TIE fighter model kits and anxiously awaiting the next episode of Saturday morning’s “Space Academy".

Morris wisely lets his eccentric subject command the stage, but has unearthed a wealth of archival material to punctuate each incredible, jaw-drawing development.

"Tabloid" has yet to secure a release date at the time of this writing but it will no doubt create quite a stir when unleashed on an unsuspecting public.

©Robert J. Lewis 2010