Joyce McKinney is a woman with a lot of love to give and in 1977 she found a man to devote herself too completely. This man was Kirk Anderson and according to Joyce the two fell madly in love. The only problem was that Kirk Anderson was a Mormon and following their whirlwind romance Kirk ‘disappeared’. The circumstances surrounding Kirk’s disappearance are the first of many situations where the real story is almost impossible to discern. It later appeared to transpire that Kirk had moved to the UK for Mormon missionary work but Joyce was adamant that he had been kidnapped and taken to the UK against his will.

Hiring a private investigator, a pilot and bodyguards she traveled to find Kirk, liberate him from the Mormon church and continue their relationship. Liberate him she does and not just from the church. Hiding out in a cottage in Devon Joyce seduces/rapes Kirk (what actually occurred is less than clear) and tying him up with rope (the reporter for The Mirror points out that ‘chains’ sounds better) in the process. These three days of sex in the countryside led to confusion in the media over what actually happened, Joyce’s subsequent arrest and tabloid papers going crazy with phrases such as ‘The Manacled Mormon’ and ‘Mormon Sex in Chains’.

Following her arrest and release on bail the tabloid’s helped make her a star as she was photographed kissing Keith Moon and even upstaging Joan Collins at the premiere of The Stud. Joyce clearly didn’t need much help to capture the public’s attention though with comments in court about Kirk such as “I love him so much that I would ski naked down Mount Everest with a carnation up my nose if he asked me to”. Joyce is an eccentric and incredibly engaging character and it is her somewhat unhinged behavior mixed with wit and intelligence that is at the center of the story.

The story of Tabloid goes off in a variety of strange directions though with developments in Joyce’s life that defy belief. The final act in particular comes almost out of nowhere and Joyce’s most recent tabloid notoriety is for a reason almost impossible to guess. Even this strange twist in the tale though, which might on the surface appear inconsequential, is important in unraveling Joyce’s unique world view. There is also a highly revealing sequence in which Morris presents footage filmed by Joyce in which she films the same thing multiple times, subtlety shifting the meaning each time. As Joyce perhaps significantly comments, if you keep repeating a lie you begin to believe it’s the truth.

Despite the lightweight nature of Tabloid, all of Morris’ obsessions are here and the tone feels perfectly pitched to the subject matter. The intense investigation and almost clinical study on show in  Standard Operating Procedure, for instance, may seem far from the fun of Tabloid but many of the same themes are explored and the films have a lot more in common than one would first imagine. One example of a similar key theme is the ‘truth’ of images and the way in which Morris explores the way journalists report on ‘facts’ they uncover is at the heart of both films.

There is a particularly amusing moment when The Mirror journalist (Kent Gavin), who covered the story, describes Kirk as being chained up and “Spread-Eagled”. He repeats this phrase a number of times and to add further emphasis (in part for comic effect) and to highlight the way Gavin relishes the phrase, Morris flashes the text “Spread-Eagled” on screen. The moment gets a big laugh but this laugh has a lot to do with the audience understanding the way the journalist is deliberately sensationalizing the story and the way in which Morris is mocking him by taking this even further. This technique returns throughout the film and Morris uses text and images to compare and contrast with what his interviewees are saying.

The interviews themselves are also clearly heavily edited. This has a lot to do with pacing, the film is beautifully paced,  but in this editing Morris is also constantly manipulating the footage to convey precisely the message he wants to convey. The ‘joke’ inherent here though is that this kind of manipulation of the truth is exactly what the film is so often a commentary on. Unlike Kent Gavin though Morris is not a slave (Gavin admits this is what he was) to Joyce and the story she wants to present. Presenting Joyce early on as intelligent (with an IQ of 168) and not the ditzy beauty queen that a lot of journalists may have taken her for, it becomes clear that control of the story is in the hands of Morris this time around.

Tabloid is without doubt the funniest of Morris’ documentaries but the light hearted surface level belies a film that is as complex and fascinating as any of his previous films.