There was a Sunday night back in mid-2010 when intermittent aphorist Errol Morris took to his Twitter account and sounded surprised, saying something like, Wow, I think I just finished a new movie, as if it had dropped fully formed in his lab. "Tabloid" was the result and it's a quirky quickie, as he turns a single-day interview with the bizarre, emphatic Joyce McKinney, into another meditation on storytelling and truth, with 1960s-tabloid style storytelling, alleged sex kidnappings, obsession, alleged Mormon conspiracies and Korean dog-cloning thrown into the mix. More recently, Morris' appearances with the film have been shadowed by McKinney, who doesn't love the giddy romp that her life's become on screen, and Morris marvels that these Q&As, with McKinney joining him on stage, are often longer than the film's taut eighty-eight-minute running time. What's on-screen is as much about Morris' mind as the swatches of the one-time model's life he selects. "I like to think of The Bible as an extended tabloid story," he gleefully told the audience at last weekend's New York premiere. The primal and the giddy, the observed and the ineffable, the cannot-be-seen, told in gorgeously composed interview medium-close-ups, pressed by a bounding musical score, about figures one side or the other of madness: that's Errol Morris. Here's what he says, knowingly, in his director's statement: "It is a meditation on how we are shaped by the media and even more powerfully, by ourselves—by the narratives we construct in our minds that may or may not have anything to do with reality. As a young woman, Joyce made a decision never to settle, to find true love at any cost, and that’s what makes her an enduring romantic heroine. In a sense, Joyce has always been living in a movie, long before she came to star in my film." In interviews, he's said he took the failure of "Standard Operating Procedure" with both critics and audiences badly, and considered walking away from his kind of documentary. This cracked fairytale-cum-lurid B-movie, made without his accustomed reenactments, but with much archive footage, seems also to have shaken something loose: to use one of his own titles, working fast, cheap and out of control seems to suit him right about now. 88m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
"Tabloid" opens Friday at Landmark Century.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.