Errol Morris's Tabloid recounts a story so far-fetched that a fiction writer would struggle to sell its verisimilitude. Joyce McKinney, a small-town beauty queen, becomes obsessed with a Mormon missionary, kidnaps him, and rapes him for 3 days in a small English cottage.
Or, Joyce and the Mormon fall in love, and run away to a little cottage for 3 days of passionate lovemaking, before Kirk's strict Mormon upbringing riddles him with guilt, and church officials convince him to report McKinney to the authorities.
Errol Morris doesn't take a side on the issue. He lets McKinney tell her own story, and her openness leaves us with two thoughts: here is a woman of unparalleled self-delusion, or, heaven forbid, she's actually innocent.
And yet McKinney herself luxuriates in her multiple roles: ingenue, seductress, Satan's toadie and so on. But the most mystifying is her late 90's headline-grabber; she had her dog cloned in South Korea!
At this point in Tabloid, we officially leave the world of the tawdry and enter the surreal.
To further muddy the waters, we meet a cast of McKinney's strangely enchanted henchmen, including private detectives, bodyguards, airline pilots, and, most crucially, the British press. No one tells the same story, so it's no small wonder that Britain did not press to take the case to trial (though it's clear that at least some crimes were committed. McKinney takes relish in recounting her many schemes to hide from the police).
My personal favorite, when she and her toadie dress as Indians to meet a reporter:
Much of the documentary consists of close-ups on talking heads, and yet the characters could not possibly seem further away. This could be a function of the strange wallpaper Morris has sat his characters against. It could be a function of the many different accents that seem to occupy the same space. Or it's just that everyone's batshit nuts (let's go with that).
To say much more would spoil the many surprises within the film (as they say you'll laugh! you'll cry! you'll laugh so much more!). Those who've encountered Morris's older works should be familiar with his distinctive style, and his ability to tease out the strangest of confessions in the church of his camera.
Tabloid possesses grand qualities more commonly found in great novels: a host of unreliable narrators, hints of institutional sexism, wilful blindness, and a shocking lack of self-awareness by all parties. Wait, am I talking about novels or about the media itself?
Perhaps that's Errol Morris' greatest coup: a meta-joke on media and celebrity. The more things change...