After spending all of February recommending Valentine’s Day-friendly love stories, we’ll be recommending a movie that will make you think twice about romance for each week in the month of March. This week: Errol Morris’ Tabloid, which traces the media frenzy behind a bizarre love story that went famously awry.
Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris shot to fame with serious-minded films like The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War. But his strangest and most playful film takes on a case you’d never have read about on the front pages of The New York Times or the Washington Post: The famed “Mormon sex in chains” chase, which dominated the headlines of British gossip rags in the 1970s.
Not familiar with the story? Many of the facts remain in dispute, but here’s what we know for sure: Joyce McKinney, a onetime Miss Wyoming, fell in love with a young Mormon man named Kirk Anderson. When Anderson went to England as a missionary, McKinney followed him abroad, rediscovered him outside a Mormon meetinghouse, and drove him to a cottage in Devon. When Anderson resurfaced a few days later, he claimed that McKinney had kidnapped him, tied him to the bed, and raped him.
That’s the last we hear from Kirk Anderson, who refused to be interviewed for the documentary. Instead, Tabloidgives us Joyce McKinney’s side of the story — and what a story she tells. In McKinney’s telling, she and Kirk were in the midst of a passionate love affair when the Mormon church brainwashed him and whisked him away to England. She insists that the so-called “kidnapping” was consensual, and that she and Anderson spent several joyful days in the cottage before he got cold feet and went back to the Church of Latter-Day Saints. “It was like a honeymoon,” Joyce insisted at the time.
What’s the real story? Errol’s film doesn’t choose a side. Instead, he’s content to let audiences decide for themselves, as a variety of talking heads tell their versions of the story nearly 30 years after it happened. But despite the lurid subject matter, Tabloid has a lot to say: About the slippery of nature of the truth, and the role the media plays in shaping it.
"It’s not a porno story like these crazy newspapers have tried to make it. It’s a love story," insisted McKinney in the wake of her 1977 arrest. Watch Tabloid, and decide for yourself how much you believe her.
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