I've had a full weekend of DOCNYC and and MoMA's To Save and Project, both of which I will go into more detail later, but I first have to mention tonight's screening of Errol Morris' new film, Tabloid because it's so fresh in my mind. As much as Tabloid examines the idea of truth and people's relationship with the media, the post discussion examined the idea of exploitation. Tabloid is a bizarrely interesting film about Joyce McKinney, an American woman and former Ms. Wyoming, who made London's headlines during the 70's after an alleged kidnapping of her former boyfriend. Her boyfriend had left her to go to England and complete a mission within the Mormon church. As the story unfolds, Joyce as well as a handful of other characters, all offer various versions of 'the truth'. In some ways the story becomes a modern-day Rashomon.
Joyce has a colorful personality with lots of charisma. She knows how to paint a vivid picture. She appears to be both tortured by the abundance of mainly negative press and addicted to its attention and fascination with her.
I won't go into details of the film and be a spoiler. I will just say, it addresses some interesting big questions through Joyce's story and in an entertaining way. In pretty funny ways actually and sometimes at the expense of Joyce.
After the initial question and answer period with the filmmaker and Thom Powers (Creative Director of DOCNYC) following the screening, where Errol Morris mostly steered his own conversation (which was also pretty entertaining and funny), it was announced that Joyce was in the audience. She had sat in the back during the film. There were a couple of different times I heard someone yell during the movie. Once the shout was "lies" but the other times I couldn't make out what someone was saying. Guess what? It was Joyce.
She came to the stage with her dog. It was a surprise appearance (frankly the filmmaker seemed a bit dumbfounded but he recovered quick enough) and when she was handed a microphone she told the audience that her life was not a comedy and there was a lot of her story that wasn't in this film. Again she appeared to be tortured and addicted to this attention. She didn't want to stop talking but she clearly was not happy with the documentary. She took the stage to defend herself, but she also appeared to take the stage to prolong the attention. She complained about what the film was, yet toward the end she boasted that Errol Morris had tweeted that she was his favorite protagonist. I don't think Joyce is really all that different than many of us in regard to attention. We love and hate it, regardless of it's form.
I walked away from Tabloid with mixed feelings. I thought about whether she was exploited by Errol Morris. Then I thought about how she seemed to have worked hard to exploit herself and then I thought about what all that makes me as an audience member. I also gave a lot of thought to the responsibilities of storytellers and mine to those I edit. I'm certainly not accusing Errol Morris of irresponsibility, after all he literally freed an imprisoned man in The Thin Blue Line. That's really taking responsibility for a subject of your film. I'm just posing the question and thinking about it in regard to how I approach editing. It's not like I hadn't thought about and taken seriously the idea of accountability toward subjects, but Tabloid put it in a whole new light. I'd never witnessed a film's subject confront her audience like that. Ms. McKenney looked out to us and said it hurt when we laughed during the screening.
And laugh I did at certain moments in the film. And a couple of times I laughed at Joyce. Sometimes I laughed because she's eccentric and tells a good story and sometimes I laughed because the film was cut in a way that intensified certain absurdities in her, and other characters, that were funny. I have to say though, when Joyce walked down the aisle and up to the stage, I felt guilt. The real person was in front of the spectators and it changed my experience.
Taboid is very entertaining and as is typical of Errol Morris, it is creatively constructed and fascinating and obviously thought provoking. His films are always so well crafted. As so many others do, I greatly admire his talent. Seeing Joyce in person, however, was an even more interesting experience than even the In Conversation with Errol Morris that I attended earlier that day. Her post screening appearance definitely added a certain depth to processing the film for me. What is my relationship with a character as an audience member and what is my own relationship with film, media and for this blog for that matter? How am I a participant in all this? I'm consuming the film, thinking about it, writing about it, I've participated. How do I feel about that? I'm not sure yet. Are we all some sort of tabloid?
This evening's screening had a bit of scandal quality, which seemed fitting and everyone stayed to watch, in what felt like a good amount of discomfort, which I suppose is part of modern media consumption as well. I wonder if tonight's surprise guest makes the news tomorrow.
This film was dedicated to the memory of the immensely talented editor, Karen Schmeer. Ms. Schmeer was a long time collaborator of Errol Morris'. She passed away earlier this year.