Katherine Zwick | Chicago Reader

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Re: “Movie Review: Tabloid

Thanks for your overview here, as well as the info about what is going on with Ms. McKinney, who is a real person, after all. I just came from a screening at Landmark in Chicago and was interested to read what reviewers are saying about this film.

In my opinion, this film should not be thought of as a well-rounded 'documentary' plumbing an interesting subject and a strange series of events in the '70s. Morris editorializes all along the way, openly mocking Mormonism and McKinney herself while positioning the two major tabloidists as somehow trustworthy sources of truth-seeking and the kind of guys who have, rather than a nose for a story that *sells papers* (ahem, and movies), a nose for investigative journalism with finely tuned critical thinking skills and a penchant for Pulitzer-level writing. Morris consistently uses only these two men to shed light on McKinney's outlandish behavior and her history of sexual advertising, juxtaposing their stories (from tabloid paper men, did I mention?) with McKinney's tearful rendering of her albeit crazed love for Anderson.

That Morris chose to use only these tabloidists to counter McKinney's story exposes a fundamental flaw of this film: it utterly lacks context.

McKinney's decision to chase Anderson across the world to kidnap (or rescue) him, with wedding bands already engraved and an accomplice to tie him up in a cottage for three days engaging in sexual acts that were potentially not consensual, did not erupt fully formed from within some vacuum devoid of social, familial, and psychological context. Yet Morris feeds the audience the line that it mostly did.

The context that Morris offers is lackluster and one dimensional. He lets the viewer know she was a beauty pageant queen in a flimsy attempt to suggest that her self-obsession and good looks are the major explanations for her deranged behavior. He completely leaves out the potentially relevant social context of the times. There were many fascinating things happening in the mid-70s in America that might have been related to Ms. McKinney's story. One is the sexual revolution and its aftermath, the budding confusion and glee around women's sexual liberty progressing in America, and the impact that may have had on women McKinney's age straddling the divide between their parents' more repressed generation and this new one of an albeit somewhat flawed invitation to open sexual exploration, radical public exhibitionism, and self-empowerment through sexual agency. There is an incredible amount of social context to draw on to at least partially unpack the climate in which Ms. McKinney grew up, to make no mention here of race, class, and part of the country she was raised in, all of which may have had an impact on the choices that McKinney was making as a 20-something stalker. In the film, there were no sociologists, media impact experts, psychologists or feminists remarking on an understanding of Ms. McKinney in her time, leaving the viewer to believe that this "crazy" sex-obsessed woman was an individual without community, culture, family or status to influence any of her choices.

Morris leaves out any exploration of her childhood and how she was raised. A woman as possessive and singularly obsessed and as pathologically anxiety-free about it as Ms. McKinney appeared to be did not come out of the womb that way. There was no mention of how she may have been treated in her home, what her relationship with her parents was like, and no information provided that the three primary subjects (all subjectively involved in the events in question) did not tell.

No doubt, Morris is an exceptional story teller with his editing, directing and multi-media choices, slicing in photos of times gone by, cutesy vintage photos of darling deco damsels, and clips from old films to illustrate what is essentially one woman telling her story and three guys making fun of her (the third guy is a "former missionary" or ex-Mormon whom Morris seems to use to help make fun of Mormonism).

Morris' title - Tabloid - suggested to me I might get a taste of a critical expose of tabloid culture, which includes the readership as much as it includes the tabloidists, and how it ruined one woman's life (not to mention Mr. Anderson's).

Instead, this film is itself an extension of that tabloid culture: it takes every shot it can at Ms. McKinney, at her expense. That Morris spends the last 20 minutes of the film showing us how much she loves her dog and how she had him cloned again seemed to suggest a "laughability" about her character, further dehumanizing her rather than contextualizing her. By that point in the film, I was so fed up with the sensationalist, one-dimensional style of Morris' conveyance, I felt incredible sympathy for a woman who was likely a sad character and likely had been from a very early time in her life. Women who are healthy, self-possessed, happy and believe they have viable choices in life for fulfillment generally do not kidnap Mormons in England and then gleefully create a tell-all of their entire sad and confusing lives to become one-hit celebrity wonders who are discarded just as quickly as they are clung to by the media and total strangers soliciting them for sexual favors.

Morris' other major failing in this film is the dismissive manner in which he approaches the alleged rape of Mr. Anderson. Besides a one-liner from McKinney in which she claims you cannot rape a man, Mr. Morris does not touch that incredibly painful topic with a tenfoot boom mic pole. The fact that the *possible* reality of this story (it seems we cannot know for certain) - that Ms. McKinney may be a disturbed individual, who may actually have kidnapped an unassuming man she was obsessed with, tied him to a bed, and raped him for three days - became a mere backdrop to the tabloid-esque laugh fest at Ms. McKinney's retelling that Mr. Morris chose his film to be is perhaps the gravest of missteps. In this, Mr. Morris is no better than the men at The Express and The Mirror. He is feeding his viewers the lines they want to hear to make them laugh, drop jaws, point fingers and snicker at a woman we will never know personally and about whom we know nothing deep, nuanced or intimate, because Mr. Morris chose to turn his head the other way and give his wink aside to his audience instead.

I come away from this film knowing nothing truer than before I saw it, and before I saw it I had never heard of Ms. McKinney.

4 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Katherine Zwick on 07/31/2011 at 8:45 PM

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