Saving One Man From Mormonism or Coercion? Inside Errol Morris' New Documentary 'Tabloid'
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Because it’s her story and hers alone, McKinney objects to anything she considers a mischaracterization. Asked about her escape to Canada before her trial, McKinney snaps, “Don’t use the word ‘fled. I hate the word ‘fled.’” Instead, she “left.” Soon thereafter she appeared in Atlanta dressed “as an Indian from Calcutta,” in the words of Peter Tory, a reporter for the Daily Express, to which she sold her story for £40,000–provided they simply print a transcription of her telling the story of a poor innocent girl willing to do anything for the man she loved–including, as she famously put it, ski nude down Mount Everest with a carnation in her nose.
Meanwhile, Kent Gavin, a photographer on assignment in Los Angeles for the Daily Mirror, was told to investigate McKinney’s past. And that’s when Tabloid gets really lurid, because it turns out that McKinney had experience with kinky sex before she tied up Anderson.
Gavin comes across as sleazy, but in a Q&A following the Salt Lake City premiere, Tabloid producer Mark Lipson mentioned that Gavin is an award-winning photographer so respected and trusted that he was Princess Diana’s personal photographer. “I told Gavin that every movie has a villain, and he’s the villain here,” Lipson said, adding that Gavin shrugged it off. It seems reasonable to assume that as a photojournalist, Gavin understands something McKinney cannot: stories have lives of their own, and your part in one doesn’t entitle you to control how it’s told or received.
The film is called Tabloid because McKinney has been the focus of not one but two strange news stories: the second occurred in 2008, when she had her service dog Booger cloned in Korea and ended up with five little black Boogers. “I can’t see the connection between dog-cloning and a 32-year-old sex in chains story,” McKinney complains. Indeed she denied any connection at first, using her middle name and insisting that she was not Joyce McKinney. But here’s a connection: McKinney’s love for both Anderson and Booger involved intense loyalty, and in both cases, McKinney made sure that love never dies–even if the relationship or one creature in it does.
You need not be a starry-eyed romantic to know that you can fall in love with someone so intensely that you’ll love that person till you die–even (especially?) if things don’t work out and you split. Nor must you be a hardened cynic to know that one great love need not prevent you from loving someone else just as much. Plenty of people recover from heartbreak and go on to happy love affairs thereafter. But McKinney has never loved any man but Kirk–anyone else would be a shoddy substitute. Perhaps she also felt that simply another dog would be an unacceptable substitute for Booger–the only acceptable replacement was a version of Booger himself.
McKinney makes herself both savior and victim in her grand love story, a framing Morris seems willing to accept, even as he explores the possibility that she’s “barking mad.” But also interviewed for the film was Troy Williams, a Salt Lake City radio host and political agitator who served a Mormon mission in England in the 1980s. Williams hadn’t met McKinney when the film was made, though he had talked to her by phone. (Apparently she has a habit of phoning journalists and reporters in the hopes that someone will tell her story so definitively that it need not be told again.)
Williams explains Mormon theology and culture, functioning as an Anderson substitute of sorts: though unable to say what happened in that cottage in Devon, he understands that for Anderson this was not just a love story or a crime but a matter of life or death–not physical but spiritual. However attracted to McKinney Anderson might have been, he would have felt that his immortal soul and eternal life were jeopardized by the weekend in the cottage. Participating willingly in events might have made subsequent guilt and torment greater: he could have felt that by succumbing enthusiastically to the pleasures of the flesh, he was betraying every desire he’d had for his life, every ideal he’d ever held.