By GUY FLATLEY
Written and directed by Errol Morris; Moxie Pictures, Sundance Selects
Errol Morris’s “Tabloid” is a whopper of a tragicomedy—uproarious, raunchy, surreal, outrageous and, in the end, seriously heartbreaking. Not at all what you might expect from the passionate documentarian responsible for “The Fog of War,” the 2003 Oscar winner in which he probed the heart and mind of Robert McNamara, the icily cerebral, lethally stubborn Secretary of Defense who put his personal stamp on American history by bringing us the Vietnam War.
Nor is “Tabloid” nearly as somber as Morris’s 2008 “Standard Operating Procedure,” with its up-close exposure of merciless male and female U.S. soldiers gleefully torturing and sexually humiliating captives at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Nobody could deny the validity of Morris’s images, since the photos which he puts to such powerful use in the film were in fact taken by U.S. military police.
But the director’s exploration of the Abu Ghraib nightmare extends beyond the guilt of the ill-educated, doped-up soldiers, some of whom landed in another, different kind of prison. Morris is clearly suggesting that somewhere, perhaps high up the chain of command, sinister brainwashing took place. In other words, who was really in charge, and where are they in charge now?
Nobody--or almost nobody--actually gets tortured in “Tabloid.” But somebody does get manacled and seduced. And you can be sure that the somebody is not Joyce McKinney, the baby-doll blonde Beauty Pageant queen from North Carolina who moved to Utah and instantly fell obsessively, incurably in love with Kirk Anderson, a tall, dark and virginal Mormon.
It is apparent in “Tabloid” that Joyce is now a senior. But, as illustrated in her intimate chats with Morris, she is still earthily articulate, laugh-out-loud funny and blessed (sometimes cursed) with total recall. And there is plenty to recall, most of it revolving around Kirk, the professional virgin.
According to Joyce, Kirk declared his love for her on their first date and proposed to her soon after. For a while, they shared a little dream house, but not a bed. Then, one day Joyce came home and found many of Kirk’s belongings, but she didn’t find Kirk. The slippery dodger had vanished without so much as a bye-bye, baby to the shattered but preternaturally infatuated Joyce.
What to do? For Joyce, the answer was easy. Hire a private detective and a bodyguard to help her catch Kirk. (The sequence showing hunks-in-briefs auditioning for the bodyguard gig are enough to make Anthony Weiner throw in the towel.) Eventually, Joyce hires a pilot to fly her and other wannabe Kirk catchers to East Ewell, Surrey, where her runaway, wrong-way paramour is about to become a bona fide Mormon missionary.
How, you may wonder, does born-poor Joyce finance her little game of search and deflower? Don’t bother to ask unless you are eager to rummage through nasty rumors about call girls, paid escorts, and bondage models.
Kidnapping Kirk in East Ewell proved to be a breeze, and Joyce and her cohorts whisked him off to a swell cottage in Devon, where Joyce cuffed poor, pure Kirk to a king-sized bed and robbed the rogue of his precious virginity. Joyce has always claimed that for Kirk, the belated consummation was a case of goodbye chastity, hello lust. She says he even surrendered his sacred undies to her and looked on approvingly as she put a match to them (this is not a movie I’d recommend to Mitt Romney). So gung-ho was Kirk about his future with Joyce that he promised to buy a ring and finally make her an honest woman.
Which is why she was startled a few days later when they arrived in London and she was arrested by the bobbies, hauled into court, accused of rape by the-once-again-unavailable Kirk, and sent to the slammer, whereby she became the hottest, most scandalous, most photographed and written about sex goddess of London’s swinging seventies. To this day, she still boils and bubbles and bellyaches about the manner in which she feels she was smeared by the bloody, lying, cheating, blistering, thieving, conniving, vicious British tabloid reporters, a couple of whom are interviewed to colorful effect in “Tabloid” about their coverage of Joyce’s brush with fame and misfortune, British style.
Oddly enough, Morris seems to admire these reporters and has in fact always been hooked on the tabloids. But probably not as hooked as he is currently on Joyce McKinney. Which makes me wonder: Could a performer win an Oscar for playing herself on film? If so, Joyce has my vote.