Errol Morris, an incredibly gifted documentary director made a beautiful documentary that pressed the field of documentary narrative forward; Standard Operating Procedure. In this film he strove to find out what the truth was behind the abuses at Abu Ghraib. It was apolitical, it was only seeking truth, and it was an engaging and beautiful story. The only problem: It was released during incredibly turbulent political times. His film was listed as being anti-war (which it WASN'T... ) but don't let a little thing like truth get int he way. Needless to say, his film was largely ignored.
Perhaps the lackluster response that Morris received from his search for truth in Standard Operating Procedure launched Morris reaction of the sensational structure and story behind his next work Tabloid. In this film through conflicting revelations and sensational conflicting accounts, truth is put through a ringer. Morris took a break from the serious to follow a tale twisted by love, and twisted even further by the tabloids. things about tabloid journalism that I love. It’s not that unscrupulous part, it’s the fascination with certain stories that are bizzare and peculiar. …a story that just might be discarded as a tabloid story and looking behind it and discovering some depth that might not have been apparent at the outset of course is what my movie is all about. (Morris)
Tabloid is a story about Joyce McKinney. McKinney seems a perfect story for Morris. She was a model and pageant winner who travelled to England, kidnapped a Mormon ex-boyfriend and sought to seduce/convert him back to her with sex. While at first the story comes from her view only, as the film progresses and more is revealed about her the more sensational
Following Morris’s style, the interview is the backbone of the story. The subject
shot continues to appear in varying locations on the screen. The interviews he chooses however further muddy the waters of truth. Though the story begins with an earnest Joyce McKinney, reading from a fairy tale book that she desperately wants her story to be... as the documentary continues, and more and more people are interviewed, including accomplices, tabloid reporters from competing newspapers, and some ex-Mormons, not only is her account weakened, but the viewer is plunged deeper and deeper into the sensationalistic world. Multiple layers of accounts assist as blockades to diffuse a clear vision of whatever the true account might be.
In his editing Morris Reenactments of travel across England are played out through a Terry Gilliam manner animation of oversized objects on paper not moving across the screen. The words and texts utilized as graphics appearing as words cut out of tabloid newspapers as the words and texts utilized closely resemble there tabloid counterparts. While some may take umbrage at his use of Mormon cartoons that explain some of the religious practices/beliefs, I think it was Morris again trying to sensationalize truth. Across some of McKinney’s retelling of the perfect love that she and her ex-boyfriend shared archaic footage of the 1950s family is seen. These images, such as a woman dancing around a new refrigerator in an evening gown, exemplify the ideal; the sensational. Not only that, but they also are a sharp contrast to images later seen of scratchy black and white images of ‘Joy’, ‘Joey’, or a variance of names McKinney used as she modeled in topless or in the nude.
In her depiction, Morris seems to honor the opinions of everyone in this circus of interviews. Though there are times where Morris knows that McKinney might be embellishing, he does not stop or question. In one interview, Morris revealed why McKinney may have intrigued him:
It’s a love story, and I think it is also an essential part of Narcissus; it’s a love story that involves one person. But a person isolated, removed, cut off, from the rest of the world. (Morris)