McKinney with her kidnapping partner, Keith May.

Tabloid: Sex, Celebrity, and Mormons

After veering into politics for his previous couple of documentaries (Standard Operating Procedure, The Fog of War), Errol Morris steers back to the peculiar. The very peculiar. Forgotten today, American beauty queen/kidnapper Joyce McKinney briefly became an English tabloid sensation in 1977–78 after she (allegedly) pursued her virginal Utah fiance to the UK, abducted him at gunpoint, chained him to the bed in a rural cottage, then used sex to break his Mormon faith and secure his love. She and a cohort skipped bail, so the facts were never ascertained in court. Indeed, shouting questions off-camera at McKinney and other interviewees, Morris is less interested in facts than simulacra: how McKinney was first represented one way in the English press (notorious female rapist), then another (sympathetic cult deprogrammer), and then still another (disgraced former call girl). Yet McKinney today seems none of these things; she’s cheerful, certainly in denial, and still vehement about what she calls “a love story” and “a honeymoon.” The object of her obsessive ardor wouldn’t be interviewed, but a few chuckling Fleet Street veterans concede—after paying for her story—that there’s both truth and confabulation to her account. If she couldn’t get her man, she found fleeting fame (even meeting John Travolta and the Bee Gees). Three decades before TMZ and Gawker, McKinney was briefly a media princess perched on a throne of newspaper clips. Today, Morris renders her a pitiable if not quite ridiculous figure—a woman who sought eternal love in a trashy, ephemeral world.

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