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Film Review


Errol Morris, one of the great American documentary film makers, has just turned out "Tabloid", a film that is so entertaining and fascinating, with such a bizarre subject, that it is difficult to fully describe. "Tabloid" is sui generis. Morris has become renown for his very serious films, including "The Thin Blue Line" (1988)," Mr Death" (1999), "The Fog of War" (2003), and "Standard Operating Procedure" (2008). In "The Thin Blue Line", Morris presented evidence that a man on death row in Texas for the killing of policeman was in fact innocent. Spurred by the film, the courts reviewed the case and the man was released. "The Fog of War", a brilliant look at Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson, and the Vietnam War, was constructed from 20 hours of interviews with McNamara, and won an Academy Award for best documentary. "Standard Operating Procedure" was an analysis of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and also won a number of awards. His interviewing techniques have highly influenced other film makers, and his films have had a substantial public effect. But now, in a definite shift away from gravitas, Morris looks at Joyce McKinney, who was an aspiring model from North Carolina. McKinney became famous for her arrest in 1977 in England for the kidnapping of Kirk Anderson. Anderson, a Mormon, then on a missionary tour of England, had suddenly vanished shortly after they had begun living together in Los Angeles, and McKinney was determined to get him back. And was she determined. She kidnapped him (he said), chained him to a bed, and proceeded to rape him for three days. The English tabloids went crazy: "Manacled Mormon", "Sex Slavery", and other headlines dominated the news for weeks. McKinney's story was different.

Over 40 years later, Morris interviewed McKinney. She gave him extensive home footage and clips of films that she had shot to help her career. He interviewed two English journalists, each of whom had reported the story for competing tabloids, and unearthed astonishing photographs, clippings, and much much more. Their interviews are priceless. It doesn't take long to understand why Morris was fascinated by this woman. Surprise after surprise pops out, some hilarious, some sad. It is a cinematic roller coaster, but always riveting and enormously entertaining. Morris uses tabloid headlines for his chapters and commentary, to great effect. His interview with a pilot whom McKinney had hired is wonderful. Many of her own statements during the interviews are as funny as anything ever heard in a Woody Allen film, and several will become enshrined. To say that this film is unusual greatly understates it. Although some might say that Morris exploits McKinney, I felt that his is actually a sympathetic look at the train wreck of her life. Morris stuffs so much into his 88 minute film. It is a virtual cinematic pinata. Loved every minute! And what a delicious irony that "Tabloid" is released just as Rupert Murdoch's empire is imploding because of his out of control tabloids. Just opened at the Embarcadero.

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