All the News That's Not Fit To Print
The three rings du jour in the media circus are not more egregious than usual. But Casey Anthony’s “media assassination,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s “perp walk” and double reversal of fortune, and Rupert Murdoch’s The News of the World cellphone hacking do provide a serendipitous swamp into which to plop Tabloid.
After “heavy-hitting serious award-winning works,” this ninth feature non-fiction “relocates [Errol Morris’] lighter side, back to his roots . . . his first about love [sic] since Gates of Heaven.” As offbeat as that first, 1978 film and up the alley of reality-show and scandal-rag junkies, it never rises above -- in fact, it becomes -- the absurdity it depicts. Chuckles and questions from off-screen and wry comments from some talking heads cannot disguise that the dancer cannot be differentiated from the dance while the eighty-eight minutes becomes its own tawdry subject.
The director/co-executive producer labels his works “anti-documentaries,” not about obvious visual surfaces but about what lies behind the images, less concerned with the object photographed than with what is seen in the eye of the beholder, with “elements of self-deception, but beyond that.”
Although serious issues are insinuated, that object here is sixty-one-year-old Joyce McKinney, not etched in memory over here but a media cynosure in the late ‘70s U.K. One’s feelings will depend on assessment of that small-town American beauty queen with, she maintains, an IQ of 168: self-promoting, delusional, lying, manipulative, kinky, kooky, pathetic, eccentric, or certifiable? Whatever the reaction, her nonstop patter and lack of the slightest humility are overwhelming and, like the film, wearisome.
A few interviewees reflect on the past events, with a manic McKinney given the lion’s share in explanation and self-exculpation. This present day is interspersed with “discarded media” in clippings, photos, news footage, home movies and BBC material, the whole framed by Trent Harris footage of a circa 1984 McKinney reading from her never-completed “Once Upon a Time” memoir.
That latter title indicates her fairy-story vision of, or hopes for, life. Such could have made for worthwhile Northanger Abbey rumination about a woman mistaken in romance-novel/-film expectation of the soulmate-knight on a while horse but at the same time admirable in her quixotic steadfastness to such dreams.
But treatment and technique, the personalities and the debatable facts, cheapen any possible higher purpose. Repeated television-set framing, graphics against newsprint, childlike cars and planes leaving red trails, and printed single words to satirize something just said, give an impression of near cruel voyeurism.
Other places are blips prior to McKinney’s landing in Salt Lake City and finding “Object of Desire/Kirk Anderson,” a Mormon neophyte. Wedding bells are planned, but the flabby three-hundred-pounder disappears into the church’s missionary center in Surrey. The would-be bride hires bodyguards, a private detective, pilot and plane and, accompanied by worshipful stooge-factotum Keith Joseph “KJ” May -- mistress and slave is hinted -- heads to Britain. Depending on whose version is believed, she kidnaps, coerces, convinces or converts the runaway virgin groom to be chained and consensually raped for three days in a Devonshire Love Cottage.
Her arrest captivated public and press, The Daily Express more or less on her side -- reporter Peter Tory’s words are the film’s sanest, most tolerant -- and, following her dog Millie, The Mirror splashing what she labels doctored photos of her as model/dominatrix prostitute. The “Manacled Mormon” or “Sex in Chains” was all the rage, even after McKinney and May skipped the country.
No less bizarre if almost a tag-on, she would be back in the semi-limelight thirty years afterwards, hiring a South Korean doctor to clone five puppies -- “We’re pregnant!” -- from tissue of her dearly departed pit bull Booger.
Robbed of mountains of clippings, McKinney laments, she cannot prove her true story of unflagging love. In spite of her gleeful performance-participation, she has conspicuously attended pre-release screenings to berate this film as “celluloid catastrophe.” Her cries of misrepresentation do not one way or another alter the fact that this documentary trivialization of the trivial is but a continuation of the carnival.
(Released by IFC Films and rated "R" by MPAA.)