Is shame the key to this series? Again and again we’ve seen Harry prove himself and then be forced to start all over, once more an outcast, a victim of his birth and even his own celebrity. Will there be no end to his humiliation? You breathe out at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 as you often do at Dickens and the work of other Brits. He has a family that loves him for who he is—and a creator who’s richer than the queen.
Despite his pointy-headed reputation, Errol Morris has a wide tabloid streak. His style in The Thin Blue Line—talking heads against fixed backdrops, busy minimalist scores, obvious reenactments—had a lasting influence on crappy reality crime shows, and his attraction for the news-of-the-weird is borderline fetishistic. His new Tabloid is goofy, perishable, and intensely pleasurable. It’s also empathy-free, which means it has more in common with its milieu than Morris intends.
At the center is Joyce McKinney, a curvy little blonde ex–beauty queen. She can’t stop performing—and Morris, as is his wont, lets her talk and talk, in medium shot against an ashy background, using two cameras with only slightly different vantage points so he can jump between them and reinforce her mania. Her claim to tabloid fame? In the seventies in Utah, she fell for a Mormon whose mother (and church) disapproved, whereupon he was shipped off to England for missionary work. The obsessed McKinney and a male friend (apparently in love with her, unrequitedly) followed and, depending on your perspective, kidnapped or liberated him. McKinney handcuffed the Mormon to her bed and spent three days having sex with him, giving birth to the tabloid legend of the “manacled Mormon.”
What a treasure trove! Along with two hilarious reporters from the warring Mirror and Express, Morris has period footage of a delectable McKinney. He has an apostate who might have stepped off the stage of The Book of Mormon to evoke the church’s peculiar rituals. Juicy headlines and key tabloid signifiers float across the screen. With each event—imprisonment, trial, escape, and recent exploits involving dog-cloning—one’s jaw drops further and further. Tabloid is candy for voyeurs. We laugh like mad at a nut whose only mistake was being born in the last century, too early to have made real money.