F.I.L.M. of the Week (July 4, 2014)

4 07 2014

sTabloidOn the occasion of the United States’ 238th birthday, why not celebrate a lesser-trumpeted American fascination? (Not that freedom, liberty, and equality aren’t nice.). This is a value we share with pretty much the whole world, and we might have even invented it.

The concept to which I’m referring, if you haven’t caught on by now, is celebrity culture and our seemingly insatiable desire for every salacious detail of their lives. Incisive documentarian Errol Morris explored this predilection in his 2011 film “Tabloid,” a compulsively entertaining tale that played out in cheap, gossipy newspapers in the 1970s. It gets my pick as the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” because of the way it provides non-stop ridiculous fun even while posing some peculiarly perplexing issues to ponder.

It was described as “a story with something for everyone,” and they weren’t kidding.  Joyce McKinney’s rise to tabloid infamy had all the bizarre elements of a Hollywood movie: sex, cults, brainwashing, kidnapping … and maybe love, depending on who you ask.  After falling in love with the devoutly Mormon man Kurt, Joyce refuses to let their relationship be torn apart by the customary mission.  She organizes a team to go extract him from England, and crazy hijinks ensue that give Joyce an unusually bright-shining 15 minutes of fame.

Morris lets McKinney tell her own story on her terms, but he certainly doesn’t take it at face value.  He amasses a whole host of other subjects with their own ties to the events, be they participants or the tabloid reporters that made her and then destroyed her.  “Tabloid” provides a fascinating tussle for the truth; we’re never quite sure who to believe or trust.  Everyone has their own motive for spinning the narrative their own way.  Who can say if we’ll ever know what actually happened or why people acted in the way they did.

The film clips along thanks to Morris’ quite literally ripped-from-the-headlines aesthetic.  (Newspaper clippings abound, dispersed throughout the interviews and the archival footage.)  For people like me who weren’t alive in that era, “Tabloid” serves as a reminder that E! and the reality TV phenomenon didn’t just come out of nowhere; our culture has a rich history of using whatever the predominant news media is to elevate the average citizen to superhuman status only to bring them right back down to earth.



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