A tale of mystifying proportions involving a former Miss Wyoming, and the kidnap and false imprisonment of a young Mormon, this documentary by Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) is a slick re-telling of a news story that hogged the British headlines in 1978. It’s also a good snapshot of how tabloid papers operate, with some scheming paparazzi and generous gilding of the lily to sell papers.
The main protagonist, Joyce McKinney, had fallen in love and would certainly pursue that love beyond reasonable limits. The Mormon church, sensing its young recruit may lapse, sent away Kirk Anderson to the UK, as a way of ensuring the completion of his religious instruction. So the heartbroken young Joyce took matters into her own hands. The question is: how far is it reasonable to go in this situation?
Clearly McKinney went too far (you can Google ‘Mormon sex in chains case’, right?) and Morris allows the story to unfold without too much manipulative editing. What’s always key, in representations like this, is getting the audience to appreciate the material without the benefits of perspective. It’s easy to get a cheap laugh out of apparent cloudy thinking or contradiction, and that’s how TV reality shows grab their low com denom audience. Morris is more considerate with this material, as the nature of the goings on are truly eyebrow raising and could have been turned into the most tawdry exploitative film. In fact, what he is doing is re-interpreting the tabloid story that first came to public attention, and is trying to pick it apart. The dynamics of the dissemination of a tabloid story is the real interest here.
McKinney becomes a subject that barely holds together – a shifting overlay of hockey mom, recluse, animal obsessive, socialite, prom queen, businesswoman, and media manipulator. It’s almost as though the intense interest in her life blew the centre out, leaving a ball of energy, rage perhaps, in search of peace. Tabloid lays bare the worrying dynamic of how personal space can be invaded and identity can shift forever as a result of media interest.
Director: Errol Morris