The latest documentary from legendarily eccentric director Errol Morris revisits a 1970s gossip-rag scandal about a woman (Joyce McKinney) and her love for a missionary—a missionary whom, some say, she visited in England and kidnapped.
We sat down with Morris to discuss Tabloid and how it fits into his career. If you're not familiar with McKinney's tale and would like to be entirely surprised about the documentary, beware: spoilers ahead.
Is it true that Tabloid was originally meant to air on Showtime?
I was supposed to do a series called Tabloid for Showtime and there would be various stories. This story was meant to be the first. I did this first interview and thought this is not a half hour for television. This is something more interesting. At least for me. And so we convinced Showtime it wasn't a series, it was a movie.
Have you intentionally kept Joyce's second tabloid story [she ends up cloning her pitbull five times] a surprise ending?
Is it a surprise? I feel it's been given away a thousand times or more! It didn't work at first, which is interesting because my interest in the story came out of the combination. Years ago I found what was essentially a tabloid story on page one of the New York Times which was the story of Fred Leuchter, electric chair repairman and holocaust denier. (Ed. note: The story inspired Morris's 1999 film Mr. Death). The story was entirely about Fred and the question of whether capital punishment can be humane. And in passing, at the very end, it was mentioned, "Oh by the way, and he denies the holocaust." It was an afterthought: "He says that poison gas was not used at Auschwitz." I liked the story because of those two elements. And I would call it a mystery, a mystery that still exists for me— what do those two stories really have in common?