If you've only been following the last decade or so of Errol Morris's documentary career, you might think of him as a buttoned-up, serious muckraker, getting Robert S. McNamara to admit to the failings of the Vietnam conflict in The Fog Of War and meticulously recreating and examining the torture that took place at Guantanamo in Standard Operating Procedure. With his trademark of style of having interview subjects speak directly into the camera, Morris managed remarkable insight into some of the uglier, more secret aspects of America's relationship with the world.
With his new film Tabloid Morris is still exploring how one American caused a stir overseas, but with comedic and hyperbolically unreal results. His subject this time is Joyce McKinney, a North Carolina woman who fell in love with a Mormon man and followed him to London when, she believes, he was "kidnapped" by members of his church. Once she got there, he says he took her to seaside cabin and forced him to have sex with her using whips and chains; she says it was a romantic getaway. And the story only gets more unbelievable from there.
I talked to Errol Morris for 20 minutes at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Tabloid played; part of that interview is available below, in which he talks about the nature of tabloid stories, his admiration for his crazy character, and why he feels OK returning to lighter subject matter now that the Bush administration is over. Tabloid is still seeking distribution, but I'm confident it'll be in theaters before too long. In the meantime read about what you have to look forward to below.
Having made so many films about so many different subjects, do you feel like you could make a film about anyone at this point?
Of course I don't feel like I could make a film about anyone. There's this naive idea that non-fiction doesn't involve casting. It's just not true. You pick people who interest you, who you think are going to be engaging in some way.
Do you have any theories on why Joyce's story didn't become big over here, and only hit in the British tabloids?
Partly I think we have a different sense of sleaze than the Brits. We're interested in a certain kind of celebrity sleaze, that has an appeal. It makes me sad, because I'm really not interested in the celebrity stuff. It doesn't do it for me.
Having been interested in tabloids this long, do you not believe people who say that tabloid and gossip culture are getting worse?
I think the world is crazy and it's always been crazy. I don't think it's any crazier than it's been in the past. Joyce is a really interesting story, because it's a self-invented person, a person who has invented this absurd biography for themselves, and lived it. I don't mean invented in the sense that none of this happened, but your life is some strange performance piece.
So you admire Joyce for having the gumption to live her life in this crazy way?
Sure, absolutely. Talk about living your dream, even though your dream may have utterly disastrous consequences. She's a true romantic. She's a romantic heroine. I'm puzzled, because I read in some of the reviews how the story seems slight or ludicrous, but it's no more ludicrous than hundreds of romantic heroines, stories that go back to the classical era of women who pursue men-- it's one of the great romance stories.
Does it feel good to be making people laugh again, after making several documentaries with very dark subjects?
Of course I do. I like being funny again. I think I've always been funny. During the Bush administration, I felt that it was important to make political films of one kind or another, because everything seemed--it didn't seem bad, it was very, very, very bad. So I tried to weigh in on stuff in the best way that I do.