Tabloid (2010, Errol Morris)

What a thrill – Morris’s most energetic movie yet. The story of a certain litigious woman (let’s call her J) and her exploits – in her own words, and from the perspective of a couple insiders (a pilot she hired, a dog-cloning scientist) and outsiders (two tabloid journalists and an ex-mormon radio host). The result is what Morris calls a “Looney Tunes Rashomon,” in which you can never quite be sure of the true events because each side is enthusiastically, entertainingly promoting their own version.

The events in question: in 1977 J’s boyfriend/crush went away on a mission (or was kidnapped by the Mormon church). She assembled a militant team to rescue/kidnap and deprogram/rape him, depending whose story you buy. When the story came out, the tabloids hit her hard, finding and publishing supposed evidence that she’d been a sex worker. Towards the end of the movie as we’re running out of details and stories regarding the 70’s incidents, J lives alone with her dog, still pining after her now-married Mormon boy, when the dog dies – so she has him cloned in South Korea, and now lives with five perfect replicas of her former dog. The events in J’s life would be notable in themselves, but the genius of the movie is all in the telling. The editing is a little jittery and jumpcutty for my liking, but the welcome absence of the Mr. Death-style re-enactments and the wealth of valuable stock photos and the cool tabloid-headline graphics make up for that.

Morris:

I like this new film because it’s a return to a kind of absurdist version of what I do. I love the oddities of how people express themselves. Take [tabloid journalist] Peter Tory’s affection for the phrase “spread-eagled.” Every time he says “spread-eagled,” and he says it again and again and again, I ask myself, “Is he making this up? Is this tabloid journalism in its essence?” At one point, he’s talking about the “sex in chains” headline, and he says, “I think it was ropes, but chains sounds better.” Tabloid’s a story about narrative, about how stories are constructed as they’re being told. I wanted to achieve that effect in a movie, and I hope it’s there.

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