Tabloid Fodder: Gossiping at MoMA after Errol Morris’ Gossip-Centric Doc

The poster for Errol Morris' Tabloid

On May 3, heralded documentary filmmaker Errol Morris sent out a tweet to his 20,000 followers (he follows a grand total of 0): “SELF-SERVING COMMENTARY BUT TRUE: People keep saying nice things about “Tabloid.” (It really is my best film.)”

And it very possibly could be. The Observer took in a screening of the screwy and ballistic film yesterday at MoMA as a part of the ten year anniversary of IFC at the museum. The film is an homage to the trashy brilliance of gossip rags, tabloids with big headlines printed in ink more red than yellow, sleazy to the  least and at the same time an indictment of them. Mr. Morris found what may be the most sensational story of its time and tracked it through the ink of British tabs famous for their guile.

So, the story? Oh, it’s just about Joyce McKinney, a pin-up all-American beauty queen who falls in love with a Mormon, follows him to England after he leaves for his mission, kidnaps him at gunpoint, blindfolds him, handcuffs him to a bed in a resort cottage, and rapes him continuously for three days.

Or that’s the gossip version of the story. In her Interrotron interviews Ms. McKinney maintains that the Tabloid tale is a love story. They were soul mates, she claims. She compares the locked-away tryst in the cabin — during which the Mormon was allegedly subdued with chloroform — to a honeymoon. All she wanted to do, she claims, is deprogram him of the brainwashing the Mormon Elders had used to frazzle his wits and libido. (The object of her desire, Kirk Anderson, refused to cooperate with Mr. Morris on the film.)

Her arrest prompted a media frenzy, with every paper in London scrambling for dirt on the blonde bombshell American. The ensuing travails of Ms. McKinney — we’ll stop here because, well, just see the thing — only caused the tabloids to dig deeper. But they’re not looking for what happened, they’re looking for something scandalous. The tension between Mr. Morris’ ostensible search for truth and the journalists’ search for “truth” makes the uproarious film that much more compelling.

But are gossip journalists the villains? We spent the reception — held in the MoMA sculpture garden, where the confectionery tops of old townhouses peek out over the stone walls — eavesdropping on conversation, looking for something sensational. The Observer did, after all, have some kinship with the tabs.

“”I saw it at Cannes — or was it Sundance?” said a famished IFC employee as he plucked at a canape that somewhat resembled a tiny red snapper taco.

“Where’s the bar?” said actor Zach Woods, who had a brief stint on The Office as Gabe (pre-recognition, our guest sized him up thusly: “He looks like he plays someone’s assistant”).

“Obviously Felicity helps a lot but…” said one glum struggling actor.

“Was that project a Weinstein?” said another.

And then there was William Mapother, who we were told was on Lost, but is perhaps better known — if known at all — for being Tom Cruise’s cousin. There’s some unflattering resemblance in the nose area.

“I’ll be on set sometimes and people will be, like, ‘relax, just relax,'” Mr. Mapother said to two young women, evidently trying to impress them. “It’s like guys telling their wives and girlfriends to calm down — it’s just fuel for the fire. Drink? Oh, I’m OK right now, what do you want? White wine? White wine? Sure thing.”

Then we approached Jonathan Sehring, the president of Tabloid‘s distribution company, Sundance Selects. He was honored before the screening. We asked about whether gossip reporters were the villains in the film, and his reluctance to speak may have provided an answer.

“You got to talk to them first!” he said, pointing to his two female publicists. “We’re in spin mode! I’ll say things I’m not supposed to, right?”

“Can you email me tomorrow?” the first publicist said.

“That would be better,” said the second.

We had her send an email to our phone, but we knew it would not be of much use. We had already finished reporting the item.

Tabloid Fodder: Gossiping at MoMA after Errol Morris’ Gossip-Centric Doc