Errol Morris: Tabloid

Joyce McKinney was hot stuff in the British tabloids back in the 1970’es and the case known as the “Mormon sex in chains case” started out when McKinney allegedly kidnapped her Mormon husband-to-be and forced him to have a good time with her – if you get my drift. The story has it all; a former beauty queen challenging a cult church, sex pictures, clever escapes from the authorities, a relentless press and a shocked public. No need not to make a documentary about it.

Errol Morris is a giant in the documentary field but I quite quickly got this uneasy feeling that something was wrong. In this film he has most of the characters in a studio – including McKinney – where they all take us back to the days and each telling their side of the story. I grant that Morris has a certain skill to arrange his material in a clever way, but the whole thing just gets too clever or too arrogant even. His other visual aids are old still photos, collages/animations and archive footage from fiction films and this style very often comes across as strangely old-fashioned and tiresome, even when the intent was clearly to be comical. For instance when a character says in a talking-head shot; “…and then the phone rang”. Cut to footage of an old-style telephone which rings in some obscure fiction film. Cut back to someone talking about what that phone call implied.

At that point I began to feel that Morris was pulling my leg or even mocking us. Or worse, mocking the people IN the film. Quite often you hear Morris react sarcastically as the interviewer or he takes a word from an interview and puts it in capital letters directly on the screen. He’s not too shy to use supposedly funny sound effect either and the whole thing led me to believe he’s not really interested in this story. He’s interested in the telling of a story and that is when it could have gotten really interesting in my view. Who do we believe and why do we believe them? Can we believe the storyteller – can we believe Morris?

This could – with a different and more humble approach – have been a very clever and self-ironic piece of self-mockery which would have been quite becoming for the filmmaker. Instead, it’s a film which doesn’t seem to take its story, its characters or the audience seriously. Why would I take this film seriously then? I really can’t but I would like to be proven wrong, scolded or told off. Hit me!

Watched at Cinemateket, Copenhagen.

USA, 2010, 87 mins.

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Mikkel Stolt
Mikkel Stolt
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