TabloidWith his new documentary TABLOID, documentary stalwart Erroll Morris looks to the famed, bizarre case of Joyce McKinney, the “sex-in-chains” kidnapper who, in the 1970’s, abducted a Mormon priest and proceeded to chain him to a bed in a cottage outside of London for 3 days and repeatedly raped him.

Of course, as Morris’ fantastically constructed film concludes, this is just one side of the bizarre story, a side of the story construed by tabloid newspaper The Daily Express.

With TABLOID, Morris investigates this infamous news story that had tabloid newspapers locked in a grueling headline-grabbing competition and the world transfixed on the young, blond bombshell Joyce McKinney. However, Morris investigates this case in the only way that can be completely objective, by having numerous subjects involved in the case, including Joyce herself, tell their sides of the story.

The story goes that in 1977, Kirk Anderson, a young Mormon missionary, was abducted from the steps of the Mormon church in England, and taken to a cottage outside of London where he was chained to a bed by McKinney and raped by her repeatedly over the course of the next several days. With TABLOID, McKinney finally has the opportunity to tell her side of the story, a stark contrast of the sex-crazed dominatrix that the tabloids made her out to be.

Joyce McKinney
Joyce McKinney

What McKinney reveals is nothing short of a touching, fairy-tale, ill-fated romance between two star-crossed lovers. A former Miss Wyoming and prominent model, McKinney describes herself as an innocent, idealistic virgin at the time she met Kirk. The two instantly fell in love and made plans for marriage and family, despite the disapproval of Kirk’s mother, because Joyce wasn’t a Mormon. Joyce describes how one day, Kirk simply disappeared, without any trace. Heart-broken, lovesick and determined, Joyce sets out to find out what happen to her fiancé. She enlisted the help of friend Keith May, and they hired a private investigator to track him down.

After Kirk relocated to London, having been swept up by the Mormon church as a missionary, Joyce and Keith hire a pilot and two bodyguards to accompany them to London to find Kirk and reunite him with his fiancé. What follows in the story is the point of disconnection between Morris’ subjects as they recount the incident.

In Joyce’s version, she explains that they tracked down Kirk at the Mormon church he was living at, and while Keith went in to distract the Mormons, Joyce found Kirk and claims that he “willfully” went away with her.

She then explains, in great and candid detail, how Kirk seemed “brainwashed” by the Mormons to her, and they spent the weekend in a quaint village cottage making love, lying in bed and eating lush meals. Before this point, she maintains that they were both virgins, and by the end of their romantic romp, she explains how he came back to his senses and decided they should finally get married.

They go back to London, only to discover Kirk’s face is all over the news — reportedly the Mormons alleged that Kirk was kidnapped by Joyce. He then tells Joyce that he needs to go back to the Mormon church to clear up the whole debacle. At this point, the scandalous headlines begin circulating like a wild plague, and in the public’s eye, Joyce’s story becomes less and less validated as the tabloids begin to depict her as a wild sex-maniac who abducted and raped an innocent Mormon missionary.

Mckinney and AndersonMuch like the trial of what became known as the case of the “Monacled Mormon”, Morris’ film plays out like an actual trial, offering multiple accounts with the people involved, even bringing in “expert witnesses”- pop culture experts who have studied the case closely, thus leaving us,  the viewer, as the jury.

From TABLOID, it’s clear that Morris is truly interested in this story and his subjects, yet it becomes clear that his point isn’t to set out to find the truth of what actually happened, but rather to take this particular case as an example of the true power of tabloid journalism.

Throughout the film, Morris’ interviews with different tabloid journalists who were reporting starkly different versions of Joyce’s story, is a testament to the outlandish and influential power of tabloid journalism.

Though the release of TABLOID seems serendipitously timed with the recent events of Rupert Murdoch and the News of the World scandal, Morris really does an effective job of implying just how much the media can control a story, thus how much power and influence it holds over the life of an individual.

Combined with vintage, kitschy animation and archival footage, TABLOID is not only a stylish and fascinating documentary, but a wholly objective and insightful foray into the dark reality of tabloid journalism and its devastating  influence on our society.

TABLOID is currently playing in select theaters.  To find showtimes in your area, click here.