September 6, 2010 [Tabloid]

To write that, with Tabloid, Errol Morris is like a kid in a candy shop is to permanently warp the definition of both. But Morris' sweet tooth will not be denied, so he digs in to the story of the "Manacled Mormon" with all the zeal of a British tabloid—and that's all the zeal there is. This may be his most "cinematic" movie, filled with camera-tricks and tricky editing—but most of all it's his most "graphic"—as in "graphic design." I was reminded of Ang Lee's Hulk: He, too, accepted his source as not only a narrative but an aesthetic imperative, and visualized, paced, and structured his movie as though it were a comic book. Morris, of course, turns to the tabloid newspaper, and the story is just far enough in the past to provide some real fun: the look of old-school tabloids, back when The National Enquirer knew that the connection between sex, UFOs, and fame was intimate, as private as a true confession—and as eagerly made public. Morris sher-shays la fem, Joyce McKinney, still rabid for attention—and oh, how often rabies (as well as it's hungry cousin, cannibalism) lay at the heart of the old tabloids, all blended in like Rocky Road with young men chained to radiators and hidden cabins where who-knows-what goes on.

—Oh, you-know-what, you rascals! It's already there in your head, before it happens—jeez, you make it happen, you will it into being. Joyce is amazing at this: She perfects the story so that she is innocent and guilty all at once, a dutiful sex kitten, a good girl who's good at being bad. Morris makes a movie, not about making movies, but about narratives, and the ways print journalism verbally and even physically arranges them on the page. There's a central moment when a British tabloid journalist talks about the use of the word "spread-eagled" in the stories; he repeats the word. He pauses; he says it again, leaning on it just a little bit—and Morris flashes it on the screen, one of many screaming—OK: spread-eagled—headlines in his movie.

Eventually, he gives us an interrogation of tabloid truth as well as a—not "celebration" as much as vindication of its aesthetic: He lets us see how well it works, how we get to laugh at it as we keep watching/reading. The very act of critiquing the tabloid demands that we understand it—and once we do, we're the reading public, which is all they wanted—all Morris desires, he who pays the bills with promotional films and ads—and I don't want to misrepresent myself here, or Morris: Those ads are a blast, like his Miller High Life Real Men ads, satirical and straightforward, winking as broadly as any tabloid that calmly (all exclamation points implied) informs us that Hillary Clinton has an alien baby. We laugh—it's as silly as a crazy sexy lady cloning her dogs—but holy crap she did it, Joyce McKinney broke the tabloid barrier and lives not just on the page but in her home, with cloned pups and a story she'll stick to the rest of her life.


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