What We’re Watching – 8/24/11
When I heard a new Errol Morris documentary was coming out, I squealed, which confused my husband, because I don’t normally make that noise. I remember seeing The Thin Blue Line on PBS back in 1988 and being amazed at how different it was than anything else I had seen before. Morris had used interviews, reenactments, and a Philip Glass score to tell the story of Randall Adams, a man who claimed that he was wrongly convicted of killing a police officer. The composition of the film was so unusual I had some difficulty wrapping my mind around it—and then promptly watched it again as soon as I could. Also, in my mind, Morris’s The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara is one of the most engrossing films ever made. So yeah, I may have squealed.
Tabloid is not as important as those two movies, but it is very entertaining. The film tells the 1977 story of Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen, who kidnapped her Mormon missionary ex-boyfriend Kirk Anderson and may or may not have held him captive and raped him over several days in England. The British tabloids had a field day with this story and ran several competing views of Joyce and her story: wronged romantic and virginal prostitute being just two of them. Kirk Anderson maintained that he was abducted and raped; Joyce McKinney states that he was freed from a cult and liberated with her love.
Morris does not take a side on this one. He just lets McKinney tell her story, and interjects interviews with journalists, friends, and other participants. (Kirk Anderson did not participate in this film.) It’s fairly obvious that Joyce McKinney is a few cards shy of a full deck, but it is hard to tell what is real and not real about her story. She takes obsessive, delusional love a step too far, but not so far that the audience cannot empathize with her. It’s the rare person who hasn’t loved more than maybe they ought to have. It is her insistence in maintaining this particular narrative as real that makes her so interesting as a person. Only she and Anderson really know what happened, and he isn’t speaking.
Aside from Joyce’s story, the film focuses how the tabloids handled this situation. Morris doesn’t take a stand on the tabloids’ methods; he lets the journalists speak for themselves. It’s hard to tell who had the most accurate picture of the McKinney story, but it’s pretty obvious that veracity was never the goal. Selling the most papers was the important thing, and each tabloid created whatever version of the story they thought would achieve those sales.
In 1997 I was working on my Bachelor of Fine Arts, and one of the people we had to study was Cindy Sherman. For those of you not up on your postmodern art photography, Sherman is probably the most famous female art photographer in the United States. She rose to fame based on a series of works called Untitled Film Stills, 1977–1980. The Untitled Film Stills feature portraits of Sherman disguised and posed in a series of what appear to be film stills from imaginary film noir or suspense movies. In 1997 she released her only feature film, Office Killer, starring Carole Kane, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Molly Ringwald. When I originally watched it, I viewed it in its relationship to the Untitled Film Stills. The women in it are portrayed as office archetypes, and each actor performs within those limitations. It’s kind of annoying at first, but seems more natural in the end. Also, almost every shot is carefully staged with regard to color and composition; it’s very obvious that a photographer directed this movie. I could go on and on about how this movie fits into her body of work, but I watched the movie again recently, and was more interested in how it stood up as a horror movie. (If you are interested in the art side of this, Roberta Smith did a great article in 1997 that you can access on the New York Times website.)
Magazine copy editor Dorine Douglas (Carole Kane) seems to have nothing in her life except an obsession with her job and an annoying invalid mother to take care of. While people at work appreciate her thoroughness, they also think she is socially backward and kinda weird. Because she is. When her hours get cut and she has to work from home more, she loses it a little, and soon dead bodies from the office (and a couple of girl scouts) end up keeping her company in the basement. The first death is an accident, but she soon learns that murder might be a tidy way for her to get rid of the annoyances in her life. Jeanne Tripplehorn plays a sympathetic office manager, who may or may not be an embezzler, and Molly Ringwald is the only person in the office who seems to realize that Dorine just might have a dark side.
In some ways, this is very much an art movie: many of the performances are stilted (like I said before, most of the characters are archetypes, not fully rounded individuals) and the composition of the shots is anything but naturalistic. But, Carole Kane’s performance is pretty amazing. I’ve always thought she had a great screen presence and wished she starred in more movies. The gore factor is pretty high and there is a lot of humor to keep things rolling along. It’s not a great movie—its artiness can be annoying—but it is good gory fun.