By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Long before Fog of War and Standard Operating Procedure and other like-minded serious fare, noted documentary Errol Morris got his start with small, quirky character studies about people on society’s fringe. His very first documentary, Gates of Heaven, was about the culture of pet veneration and one particular oddball family that ran a California pet cemetery.
Although, a bit less ‘quirky’ than that other group associated with ‘Heaven’ and ‘Gate’
With Tabloid, he returns to his roots. His muse this time around is Joyce McKinney, famous for the “Case of the Manacled Mormon.” The former beauty queen with an I.Q. of 160 was a tabloid sensation in the 70s, after being imprisoned for the accused kidnapping and virginity-thieving of a 300 lb Mormon boy she had been stalking off and on for years. As the media gets more and more entwined with her life, the story gets stranger and stranger all the way up to involving cloned puppies in Korea. Yeah, it gets weird.
Errol Morris picked a hell of a story and a hell of a woman to interview. According to one reviewer, if there was an Academy Award for best acting in a documentary, McKinney would be a shoo-in. It’s easy to see why, as she’s a captivating story-teller, and seems convinced of the truth of her tale even as other interviewees and hints at her delusions undercut it. Still, it’s hard not to root a bit for a woman who characterizes nonconcensual sex with a man as akin to “putting a marshmallow in a parking meter.”
Modern day Shakespeare, people. Modern day Shakespeare.
As always, Morris is a master of his craft, relying on interviews and stock footage to tell the story and avoiding narration altogether. He again uses The Interrotron, a teleprompter-like camera he invented where both the interviewee and Morris look at reflected images of each other as questions are asked and answered. This removes the physical proximity component of the interview while inducing surprising candor in the interviewee.
Also nightmares, probably.
He also gets a bit cutesy with the transitions and animations, producing a more tongue-in-cheek tone than the more dignified slow motion photography and scene-setting video he usually uses. While arguably that’s what he was going for, it comes off a little less than impartial with just a hint of mean-spiritedness.
Errol Morris goes back to his roots and couldn’t have picked a more interesting story or captivating protagonist.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time we get a new, weirder piece of the story
Take a Drink: every time you see a newspaper headline
Drink a Shot: when you hear ‘vaginal dentata’ and ‘Spirit Booger’