'Tabloid': a meaningless, yet enjoyable, movie on the sexual exploits of a former Miss Wyoming

Joyce McKinney in 'Tabloid'

Joyce McKinney falls somewhere between "The Book of Mormon" and the Book of Merman, as in Ethel. She's a one-woman show, her life is a three-ring circus, and "Tabloid" tattles the titillating tale in 60-point type.

Director Errol Morris is better known for (and served by) piquant political documentaries on things such as the Vietnam War, Holocaust denial and Abu Ghraib torture. Evidently needing a break from the rough stuff, he turns to bizarre burlesque: Ms. McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming, moved to Utah and fell madly in love with Corvette-driving Kirk Anderson, a young missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
To get him away from her, the Mormons sent Kirk off with his white shirt, tie and nametag to proselytize in England. But Joyce -- being more Church of Latter-day Sinners -- followed in hot pursuit, kidnapped him at gunpoint, and took him to "a romantic moonlit cottage" outside London. There, she handcuffed him to a bed "spread-eagled," ripped off his "magic underwear" (a kind of Mormon chastity belt), and worked to reverse his alleged brainwashing and impotence by forcing him to have sex with her for three days.
Miss Wyoming says it was consensual ...
Aunt Thelmah says it's way too kinky for her ...
The saga gets better, or worse, depending on your view: Arrested and jailed, Ms. McKinney then jumped bail and fled home, while the British tabs had a field day, chronicling her every move and dubbing it "The Case of the Manacled Mormon!" in the great sleazebag tabloid tradition of which Rupert Murdoch's current scandal is the current epitome.
Now in dotty but handsome middle-age, Ms. McKinney boasts an IQ of 168 (MENSA, anyone?) and considers herself a victim of the press, the Mormon Church, and her own romantic naivete -- even as she hobnobbed with the stars, mugged it up for the camera and indulged in the fine art of nude bondage-modeling, a la Bettie Page. In her more candid moments, she says things like, "You can tell a lie long enough that you believe it." She is bananas, but never boring. When somebody asks if a woman really can rape a man, she replies, "That's like putting a marshmallow in a parking meter."
And then there's the bizarre second act and second love affair of her life -- with a much-adored pit bull named Booger, whom she credits with being smart enough to dial 911 and save her life. Apparently Booger also bit off one of her fingers, but she doesn't seem to hold that against him. When he died and went to doggie heaven or hell, she had his DNA taken by a Korean laboratory for cloning purposes.
At that point, I was ready to dial 911 for myself.
Director Morris' distinguished work includes "The Thin Blue Line" (1988), a landmark documentary about a Dallas policeman's murder and the wonderfully entertaining "Gates of Heaven" (1978) profile of a pet cemetery, in addition to the Oscar-winning "Fog of War" (2003), a darkly haunting portrait of Robert McNamara.
"Tabloid," by contrast, is pure freak show -- a foray into fringe Americana. Mr. Morris punctures and punctuates Ms. McKinney's comments with big funky tabloid buzzwords ("Spread-eagling!" "Impotence!"), animation, B-roll footage from TV commercials, and even ironic-idyllic clips from "Brother Sun, Sister Moon."
But the big problem is that he failed to get main-man Kirk, the alleged sex slave, in an interview. There's an ex-Mormon talking-head in the form of Troy Williams, Salt Lake City radio host and now gay rights activist (who speaks to such relevant forensic issues as that latter-day protective underwear). Otherwise, it's just British checkbook journalists -- such as smarmy Daily Mirror photographer Kent Gavin -- who are relied upon for information. Plus Joyce, of course -- a Miss Wyoming whose origins and heavy Southern accent are never explained.
It's all totally absurd and profoundly meaningless -- what Mr. Morris calls "a meditation on hysteria." Which is not to say it's unenjoyable. Delusional Ms. McKinney is the ultimate example of Warhol's 15 minutes of fame. In an 88-minute movie, that's about 73 more than she deserves, but her self-indulgent bamboozling of everyone is fascinating. "We ALL became her slaves!" says Express reporter Peter Tory.
"I can never understand the public's fascination with my lovelife," laments Miss Wyo herself -- ever so slightly disingenuous. She spent her life exploiting the media, and vice versa. My favorite of the tabloid claims is that she initially went to Salt Lake City's Mormon community with the hope of landing one of the Osmond Brothers.
Mitt Romney -- watch out.
Subscribe to BarryParis.com RSS Feed