'Tabloid': Beauty Queen + Mormon = A Hoot

07/19/2011 06:04 pm ET | Updated Sep 18, 2011

Documentary-filmmaking icon Errol Morris presents the lurid, sultry tale of a former Miss Wyoming who just may have tied up a Mormon and had her way with him in the 70s. Or did she? Either way, it's timely...

Tabloid: Errol Morris

Courtesy of IFC Films

For over 30 years, director Errol Morris has been making provocative documentaries about people, ranging from the iconic ("The Fog of War," "A Brief History of Time") to the eccentric ("Gates of Heaven," "Mr. Death," "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control"). With his film "The Thin Blue Line," he even rescued an innocent man (Randall Adams) from Death Row in Texas, which likely inspired the various "innocence projects" that have sprung up in the 20 years since. So while his movies are hard to pigeonhole, one thing's for sure: anytime an Errol Morris movie hits theaters, it's an automatic must-see for serious fans of documentary.

With his latest film, Morris -- a former private investigator -- U-turns from his recent serious fare ("Standard Operating Procedure," TFF 2008) back to the absurd, and there's only one way to describe the result: "Tabloid" is a hoot.

The story centers on the decades-old escapades of one Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming with a charming Southern drawl. In the 1970s, the young beauty fell madly in love with a clean-living Mormon man she considered her Prince Charming, one Kirk Anderson. In Joyce's story, the feelings were mutual, and she and Kirk became engaged. When he suddenly disappeared one day, she did what any smitten fiancé would do: she tracked him down -- in this case, she found him in England, completing his Mormon mission. What followed is hard to pin down: either a) the two lovebirds willingly spent a weekend together in a cottage in Devon, or b) Joyce kidnapped Kirk (with the help of a henchman of sorts), tied him down and had her way with him for several days. The former, obviously, is Joyce's own account, and the latter is the way the encounter was described in the infamous British tabloid newspapers, leading to kidnapping charges against Joyce.

When we meet Joyce in the movie, she is a lovelorn woman in her 60s, and she's sticking to her story. She's also, to put it bluntly, a bit delusional, and the fun of the movie is comparing all the stories -- including those of leading tabloideers of the time -- which don't at all coincide. What a stroke of good luck, you might say, that the film's release date is coinciding with one of the biggest tabloid scandals of all time. We say this: if it helps "Tabloid" find an audience, that's quite a silver lining.

We sat down with Morris at a recent roundtable interview, where he proved to be a jovial, funny man with a twinkle in his eye, a man who is clearly well acquainted with the pleasures of irony.

Tabloid: Errol Morris

Courtesy of IFC Films

So Rupert Murdoch certainly gave you a present this week.

Errol Morris: Do I really think of it as a present per se? Perhaps not, but it is a gift of sorts, I suppose. OK, it's a gift.

I don't think that the events of the last couple of weeks, the closing of News of the World... is it about tabloids per se? Or is it about a certain kind of criminal, unscrupulous journalism that has really given up any kind of journalistic concern whatsoever? It's no longer about truth; it's no longer about the relationship between story and reality; it's just about scandal-mongering, falsification of evidence, manipulation of the media, and people who are influenced by the media -- namely, all of us.

There are elements of that tabloid story in the movie that I made, and in the story of Joyce McKinney, but it seems to have been taken to yet another level -- a criminal level. There's a kind of good cheer -- I don't know how better to describe it -- in the journalists in "Tabloid"; they know that they are making stuff up, they know they are trying to sell newspapers --there's a newspaper war going on.

Tabloid: Errol Morris

Courtesy of IFC Films

I don't quite feel that Joyce is a completely innocent victim at all -- she came to England with her gang of musclemen with the intention of kidnapping Kirk Anderson, and she may well have kidnapped Kirk Anderson -- and the tabloids sprang into action; [they] became quickly obsessed with her and her story. Different time -- this current story seems to me ... much worse than the stuff that went on [then].

How do you think things have changed over the past 35 years in that realm, with the advent of 24-hour news?

EM: So many things have changed! There's a kind of hall of mirrors, where news just gets bounced back and forth between various sources -- you no longer even know where it comes from anymore...

I tweet occasionally, so I tweeted a couple of weeks ago that Randall Adams, who was the central figure in my film "The Thin Blue Line," had died last October. And I got all these calls from journalists who think that they are telling me that he died, not knowing that they know that he died because I tweeted it! And who knows where they read it?

Courtesy of IFC Films

"Tabloid" is somewhat consciously a return to your earlier style -- to the tone and subject matter of your earlier films. Was that something you felt a desire to do for some time?

EM: In truth, if I were just simply to do political movies or movies that were really grim in tone and content, it would be a mistake. It's not that I won't return to doing things like that -- I think I will -- but yes, I did want to do something different, explicitly.

You tweeted that you think this is your best film. What are your barometers for success?

EM: I think it's certainly one of my best. It's rich, it's complicated, it's funny. I think it's a good movie.