Fiction or non-fiction, narrative filmmaking is primarily judged on how effectively it tells a story, and Errol Morris' latest picture tells one of the most remarkable on-screen tales one will ever see. Tabloid follows the adventures of Joyce McKinney, an all-American beauty queen whose pursuit of her defected Mormon boyfriend became the subject of a media obsession in the British red tops.
As with most of Morris' work, the filmmaker's views are not expressed, leaving it up to
interviewees to present their wildly contrasting representations of these extraordinary events.
These inconsistencies initially surround the willingness of McKinney's lover to remain tied to a bed in a Devon cottage for a week, after being rescued/abducted from the Church of Latter Day Saints, a story that the tabloid press dubbed, The Manacled Mormon. One thing is evident from all the accounts though: Joyce McKinney was "barking mad". We are then taken on a journey that descends further into unfathomable absurdity, through the succession of her peculiar accomplices, resurfaced bondage pictures, the convenient disappearance of evidence and eventually a completely unexpected epilogue about dog cloning.
The most impressive thing about Tabloid, is the way it transforms from a quirky retelling of a stranger-than-fiction crime story into a psychological study of delusion whilst remaining hysterically funny, moving and surprisingly warm. Told with the aid of little more than press cuttings, flash frame titles and the odd animation, the pacing and editing is quick but well measured and the narrative is never less than completely engaging.
As you would expect from the veteran documentary maker, Morris tells his tale with style and confidence, but the real star of the show is McKinney herself; her utterly devout faith in her own version of events matching her former lovers devotion to the church in every way. Her stories grow more and more bizarre as the film progresses; denying her identity, refuting conclusive evidence and dismissing photos of her in her S & M days as fraudulent. Despite this, she remains a sympathetic case, with her stubborn unwillingness to accept the truth almost becoming admirable- her utterance of the films refrain, "you can tell a lie long enough until you believe it" demonstrating a staggering lack of self-awareness that makes the mind boggle.
We have seen a wealth of excellent documentaries over the last year and it will undoubtedly be one of the most hotly contested categories at the upcoming awards ceremonies, but Tabloid has a head start over the competition. It would be a hard story to mess up given its inherent ingredients: sex, deceit, gunpoint abduction, police evasion, fetish, scandal and Mormons, but in the hands of a seasoned and highly talented filmmaker like Errol Morris, the result transcends the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction, and becomes quite simply one of the best films of the year.