Errol Morris Talks About His Latest Doc ‘Tabloid’
Errol Morris (Photo by IFC Films/Sundance Select)
That's director Errol Morris describing his latest documentary, "Tabloid." The movie recounts the strange case of Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen who became a tabloid sensation in the late 1970s when she was arrested, and eventually convicted in absentia, for kidnapping and committing "indecent assault" on Mormon missionary Kirk Anderson. He called it rape. She called it true love. The media called it "The Case of the Manacled Mormon."
Some of his other works include "The Fog of War," his Oscar-winning portrait of Robert S. McNamara, architect of the Vietnam war; "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.," a look at a prison execution technician and Holocaust denier; and "Standard Operating Procedure," which looks at the Abu Ghraib scandal.
"Tabloid" centers on McKinney's account of events as her alleged lover Anderson didn't want to be involved in the movie. On camera, she is funny, engaging, and, on more than a few occasions, clearly lying. The result is mesmerizing. Compared to some of his recent work, this movie is definitely lighter, though Morris bristles at any notion that the movie is any less complex. On the contrary, McKinney is exactly the sort of charismatic, obsessive, unreliable character that Morris has long been drawn to. He told the New York Times that she was "one of the most extraordinary interviews I've ever done."
McKinney's reaction to "Tabloid," however, was less effusive. She's publicly called the movie a "celluloid catastrophe." She's been crashing screenings of the movie across the country in an effort to clear her name, even going so far as to arrive in disguise at a recent screening at New York's Museum of Modern Art.
This isn't the first time that a subject of a Morris documentary has balked at the end product. His breakthrough movie, the landmark documentary "The Thin Blue Line," managed to free Randall Adams from death row. Not long after his release, Adams sued Morris over the rights to the film.
I got a chance to talk with Morris last week about the case, the nature of truth, and the complex, fraught relationship between a filmmaker and his subject.
Jonathan Crow: I very much enjoyed "Tabloid." It's a bit different from some of the weightier ones you've had recently.
EM: People tell me this, but I look at -- it's all of a piece.
JC: Really? How so?
EM: Oh, I made them!
JC: [Laughs] OK. How are they similar? How is this similar to some of your heavier ones, like "The Fog of War" or "Standard Operating Procedure"?
EM: Well, it's obviously different because it's less heavy. Let's call "The Fog of War" and "Standard Operating Procedure" anvil films. Not only are they heavy, they're very heavy.
EM: I don't think that the themes [in "Tabloid"] are any less complex or any less profound. OK, if the argument is that Joyce McKinney lacks the gravitas of Robert S. McNamara talking about nuclear Armageddon, I'm not going to argue much. But that's kind of obvious, and so what?
JC: You described interviewing Joyce McKinney as one of the most extraordinary interviews you've ever done. Why?
EM: Funny, absurd, complex, convoluted, sad, and a lot of stuff going for it. Joyce is really smart. You seem surprised.