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Funny Papers

by Ann Morrow on October 13, 2011

Directed by Errol Morris

Those were the days: Joyce McKinney in her heyday, in England, circa 1977

Even by today’s salacious standards, the case of the Manacled Mormon is pretty racy. In 1977, Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming, flew to England with several paid companions and allegedly kidnapped a Mormon missionary. She was accused of holding him hostage in a rural cottage for three days of “fun, food and sex,” before the possibly willing abductee returned to his bizarre Mormon “family.” Fleet Street had a field day, and so did McKinney (at the height of her notoriety, she was photographed on a night on the town with Keith Moon, among other celebrities). And then the truth, or weird versions of it, came to light, and McKinney was subjected to the nasty underbelly of infamy. Acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris (The Fog of War) isn’t in Oscar-winner mode here; the film has an almost jovial tone, and Morris is heard off-screen posing questions with unguarded amusement. Yet McKinney’s story—she’s the main interviewee—veers into pathos whenever the absurdity of her situation collides with reality.

Unlike the squeaky-clean version of herself she presents to the camera, McKinney had a kinky side that provided the funds for her obsessively planned ”rescue” mission to free Kirk Anderson from his Mormon cult. Anderson refused to be interviewed for the film, which detracts from it as a news story, but adds to McKinney’s fascination as a possibly delusional nutjob. What most of the male interviewees can’t understand is why McKinney—a curvaceous blond who knew how to market herself—was so obsessed with the utterly unremarkable Anderson in the first place. A video shot of McKinney shortly after her return to the states shows her lost in a romantic fantasy, and planning a book she was going to write about her thwarted love affair. The film clip proves to be sadly prophetic.

Aside from McKinney’s personal spin-doctoring and its aura of 1970s naivety, Tabloid is most interesting for exposing the avariciousness of the press, with two rival tabloids competing for the juiciest angles on the media sensation (Anderson was handcuffed to a bed by a sexual harpy; McKinney was an innocent rescuing her love from the clutches of an insane organization). Whatever McKinney’s mental state before she became enraptured by Anderson, that she believed her own press certainly had an impact on her subsequent deterioration.