Errol Morris’ ‘Tabloid’ is More a Love Story Than a Documentary

Tabloid movie poster

“What is a lie when every man has his own truth?”

-Clark Johnson from “Homicide: Life on The Street”

 “I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.”

-Bill Pullman from “Lost Highway”

 “Facts are simple and facts are straight

Facts are lazy and facts are late

Facts all come with points of view

Facts don’t do what I want them to

Facts just twist the truth around

Facts are living turned inside out

Facts are getting the best of them.”

-from “Crosseyed and Painless” by Talking Heads

The story at the center of “Tabloid” is further proof of how truth can be much stranger than fiction. It is an endlessly entertaining documentary on an utterly bizarre incident from 1977 involving former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney. She talks about falling head over heels in love with a Mormon missionary named Kirk Anderson, and of how he disappeared without a trace after they became engaged.

Joyce spent the next couple of years searching for Kirk, eventually finding him in Ewell, Surrey where he was working at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Desperate to be reunited with him, she flew to England determined to rescue and marry him as she sees her destiny as being with him until death separates them forever. But from there the story splinters into two heavily contrasting versions. Joyce claims the Mormon religion is a cult which brainwashed and robbed Kirk of his free will, and that he went with her willingly upon finding him at the church. However, Kirk later told police he was abducted by Joyce and chained to a bed in a cottage where she seduced and raped him.

Whatever the case, this story exploded in the press and became, as one interviewee called it, “the perfect tabloid story.” With its mix of sex and religion, this case came to be known as “The Mormon Sex in Chains Case” and “The Case of the Manacled Mormon.”

You may come out of “Tabloid” frustrated as it is not made entirely clear who is honest and who is lying, but getting to the truth is not the intention of this documentary. Morris constructed it in a way which tests who and what we believe in and how our perceptions have been molded over time by the media culture more than we ever bother to realize. It almost doesn’t matter what actually happened because the story is so weirdly captivating, and viewers find themselves wanting it to go in a particular direction regardless of whether the facts match up with that direction or not.

John Patrick Shanley was dead on correct when he wrote how doubt is a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. Everyone in “Tabloid” has an inescapable shadow of doubt hovering over everything they say and what they believe to be true. It’s like those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books we all read as kids. You know, the ones which tell you to turn to this page or another to where the outcome of your journey remains truly unpredictable.

Seeing the media at work on this “Mormon in Chains” case makes one realize not much has changed in their coverage of events. Back then, the public ate all the lurid details of this absurd story as it touched on those guilty pleasures we are never quick to admit we have. People like to believe they are above “trash” like this, but unconscious minds are always quick to wander to the magazine aisle in the supermarket to peek through the latest issue of the National Enquirer among other magazines which take the truth and manipulate into something wonderfully lurid. We know it is bad for us, but we cannot always keep our morbid fascination in check.

As an interview subject, Joyce McKinney is never boring for one second. At the start of “Tabloid,” she has an endearing quality which makes you want to spend all this time in her company. You will find yourself feeling for her when the world more or less threw her under a bus, and you will not be able to stop empathizing with her even after much of what she says comes into question. You can hear Morris interviewing her in the background, and every other question he asks sounds like, “Oh my god are you kidding me?!”

Still, it does at times feel like Joyce is putting on a performance for us, one which she has rehearsed for decades. Morris said she was the star of her own movie long before he started making this one, and it is easy to see how this is the case. Regardless, you will find yourself wanting to buy her story even as others come up with proof of how she lied.

With all the various facets of her life put up onscreen, you are eager to see where Joyce will take us next as it is unpredictable for those who are not the least bit familiar with this case. Even if she is lying about everything, it’s never less than interesting.

The truth these days is such a malleable thing as everyone shapes it to fit their own needs and beliefs. Others will say we are wrong or lying, but we are quick to defend what we know to be the truth. Many will convince themselves of what is true to where we can no longer be objective about the experience they had. We replay certain moments in our lives over and over again until they seem correct to us. Even Joyce says at one point, “You know you can tell a lie long enough until you believe it.”

What is great about “Tabloid” is how on top it is a love story of the most unusual kind. There is never any doubt that Joyce still loves Kirk after all these years. Even if you feel miles away from truth after watching this documentary, it is safe to say this much is certain.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

 

100.3 The Sound Has Done Left the Building

The Sound does not validate

Many of you are probably reading this and saying, “Oh lord, is he going to talk about this radio station again?” Yes, I am.

At 1 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on November 16, 2017, 100.3 The Sound, the beloved FM radio station, ceased operations after finishing up the second side of The Beatles eleventh studio album, “Abbey Road.” Uncle Joe Benson, in an interview with CBS, said this album was chosen to close out the station because of its last set of lyrics from “The End.”

“The lyrics are, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make.’ To me, it’s very heartfelt,” says Benson. “It’s how I view the music and how I view the audience.”

Once “The End” concluded, Andy Chanley came on the air to say, “This has been KSWD Los Angeles. This is The Sound. And this dream will self-destruct in three… two…” And with that, we were greeted with silence, and The Sound was no more.

Indeed, the last line of “The End” featured the perfect lyrics to end 100.3 The Sound’s nearly 10-year-run on as this station gave out a lot of love to its listeners, and it received even more love right back from them. This was especially evident as the station has been deluged with emails and messages left on their voicemail saying how much they love The Sound and how sad they are about it going away. For many, The Sound filled the void left by KMET, “The Mighty Met,” which itself was a pioneering station of the underground progressive rock format. With The Sound, Program Director Dave Beasing and the DJs aimed to bring back the spirit of KMET for a new generation of listeners and, to hear all the comments from The Sound fans, they truly succeeded.

In addition to Chanley and Benson, the other Sound DJs, Rita Wilde, Gina Grad, Cynthia Fox and Mimi Chen were on hand to celebrate the station’s last day and play some of their favorite songs as their way of saying farewell. For Chanley, he chose Neil Young’s “Thrasher,” and Grad played Three Dog Night’s “Shambala” as it never failed in put a smile on her face. Chen played Crosby, Stills and Nash’s cover of The Beatles’ “In My Life,” and then Fox followed with The Who’s “Pure and Easy” which she said “really captures the power of music to heal, transform and inspire the community.” Wilde chose an especially upbeat song by Bruce Springsteen, “Wrecking Ball,” and she described it passionately:

“It’s not a sad song, you get to get up and dance. Just remember, be grateful, be thankful and be good to each other.”

Benson then wrapped things up with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” and he told audiences to “turn this sucker up.” It was great to hear this song played here instead of in a car commercial where it has no place.

The last 90 minutes of The Sound featured songs reflecting the emotions of this final goodbye in its staff and loyal fans. “The Sky is Crying” by Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble spoke of the inescapable sadness we all have been feeling since this station was sold, and the lyrics “can’t you see the tears running down my nose” were ones its devoted listeners could relate to now more than ever. “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads features the lyrics, “You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” These lyrics have even more meaning for me today than they did when I first listened to the song. But one song I was especially happy to hear in the closing minutes was Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” as its lyrics summed up this station’s mission as well as the feelings we have about present day music:

“Call me a relic, call me what you will.

Say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill.

Today’s music ain’t got the same soul.

I like that old-time rock and roll.”

While other stations were eager to play the next big thing in music, The Sound was more than happy to revel in rock of the past as the songs of right now can’t even compare. I fell in love with The Sound before I realized it as I never found myself changing the channel even when commercials came on as I was eager to hear what rock and roll classic they would play next. Even if there was a podcast I was desperate to listen to, the DJs always kept me listening as they were cool in ways others tried way too hard to be. During its final weeks, it dug even deeper into its catalog to give us music other stations have long since forgotten, and they handled their last moments with class even when they played William Shatner’s cover of “Rocket Man.” Even as the countdown clock kept winding down, The Sound went out at its best.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me, knowing that The Sound was on its way out. As glad as I was to tune into the station every chance I got, I couldn’t help but sigh over the fact my favorite radio station was being killed off thanks to a corporate merger and sale. And now I have to wonder if there will ever be another station like it in the near future. I am left with a heavy heart as the music was great and the DJs were so infinitely cool, and it does feel like the radio I grew up on has finally taken in its last breath.

Well, thank you 100.3 The Sound for ten great years of wonderful music and for making me and many others feel like we were part of a truly loving family. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten. Now excuse me while I deal in private with my latest case of separation anxiety…

In honor of The Sound, I want to include the late Tom Petty’s song “The Last DJ” as its lyrics encapsulate the kind of DJ this station employed ever so thoughtfully.

I also urge you to give a listen to Andy Chanley’s “The Sound Song,” a somber but thoughtful song about what we have lost and what we should be thankful for.

 

The Sound at the end

The Sound Family Forever

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Caps Off a Truly Great Trilogy

War for the Planet of the Apes poster

The summer 2017 movie season hasn’t necessarily been a bad one, but so far it has been overrun by franchise fatigue. Did we really need another “Transformers” sequel? Was the wait for the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” really worth it? Can’t Pixar do more than just give us another sequel to “Cars?” Some franchises have seriously overstayed their welcome to where it feels like we need to take a LONG break from sequels of any kind, except of course for the next ones coming from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But now we have “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the third in the rebooted “Apes” franchise which is not only the best one to date, but also one of the best movies of 2017. Unlike other sequels which essentially repeat the same story to nauseating effect, “War” is not out to give us a replica of everything which happened before. From the start, we see how far the apes have evolved, and we also see the humans going through a state of de-evolution as well. In this war, it won’t matter who wins because nothing will ever be the same for anybody.

Taking place two years after the events of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “War” finds the conflict between the apes and the humans getting bloodier and bloodier. Both sides have taken heavy casualties, and the humans have resorted to recruiting apes to betray their own in a desperate effort to gain the upper hand in an escalating conflict. Caesar (Andy Serkis) has now reached a mythic status on the planet as a strong leader, and he now speaks as well as any human. When the movie starts, he has just survived another battle which leaves many dead in its wake, but instead of killing the remaining human soldiers, he sends them back to their base with a message to their leader, leave us alone. At this point, Caesar merely wants to protect his fellow apes and everything which is rightfully theirs.

But after being reunited with his loving family, Caesar suffers an unimaginable tragedy perpetrated by a military unit led by the ruthless Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), and he heads out on a mission of revenge which, to quote a Klingon proverb, will be best served cold. Joined by several of his closest friends which include the wise and benevolent Maurice (Karin Konoval), Caesar comes not just to understand the world around him, but also about himself and of how he may be the maker of his own fate.

Whereas “Rise” dealt with evolution and how humans may not be a superior race of beings, and “Dawn” observed how humans and apes can be their own worst enemies, “War” focuses on the themes of vengeance and hate and what they do to the soul. Caesar’s quest for revenge is completely understandable, but his friends worry about what his hate for the Colonel is doing to his inner self. Caesar finds his strength from within and is as wise as he is strong, but we can see his soul is being corrupted on this mission as he is determined to exterminate his enemy with extreme prejudice.

The cost of revenge is a common theme in many stories, but “War” treats it with a great deal of intelligence. Caesar is constantly haunted by visions of Koba (Toby Kebbell) whose treacherous actions led Caesar to drop him to his death in “Dawn.” Maurice, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of these “Apes” movies, reminds Caesar of how Koba never got past his hate for humans to see the need for peace. But while Caesar convinces himself his motives are far purer than Koba’s, he comes to realize he is no different from Koba as his need to exact revenge takes precedence over everything else which holds great meaning in his life. The question is, can Caesar pull out of this moral nosedive before it’s late, or will he sink into an abyss of hatred which will rob him of all he stands for?

Not enough can be said about Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar, and his work should have netted him at least one Oscar by now. We have seen Caesar go from being a frightened young ape into a hardened warrior, and Serkis has made every emotional beat count for something deep and true. While the visual effects help to illustrate how he has paid a price for the war being fought, it is Serkis who gives these effects soul and meaning as he plumbs the depths of Caesar to give us a character who is wonderfully complex and haunted by past deeds which cannot be simply washed away.

Woody Harrelson once again reminds us how he can play just about any role given to him these days with his portrayal of Colonel McCullough. His performance draws a bit from Marlon Brando’s in “Apocalypse Now” as, like Colonel Kurtz, McCullough has become a rogue soldier as his need to wipe out the apes and save the humans comes from a place of pain and delusion instead of from a higher military authority. Part of me expected to McCullough to be the usual military antagonist movies of this kind typically employ, but Harrelson gives this character much more dimension than you might be anticipating, and he matches Serkis scene for scene as their characters come to discover how alike they really are.

In addition, Serkis and Harrelson get strong support from Karin Konoval who makes Maurice far wiser than CGI can ever convey, Steve Zahn whose character of “Bad Ape” is kind of the equivalent to “Harry Potter’s” Dobby, and Amiah Miller is a scene-stealer as the mute war orphan who comes to be known as Nova.

Matt Reeves, who directed “Dawn,” returns to helm “War” and tops what he gave us before. The third movie in a franchise usually falls back on a well-trod formula, but he instead advances the plight of the apes to another level which furthers their evolution, and of the humans’ furious attempts to eradicate them which reveals their failings and a tremendous lack of understanding about where we all came from. And while the visual effects are tremendous in how they make the apes look ever so real, they are not the point. Reeves’ focus is more on character and performance more than ever before, and it is those things which make “War” especially epic. A lot of summer blockbusters are geared towards wowing us with special effects to where the human element is lost, but Reeves and company have the special effects serving the movie and its characters in a wonderfully effective way. On top of all this, “War” is well-served by one of Michael Giacchino’s best film scores to date.

The “Apes” reboot trilogy now joins the company of great cinematic trilogies such as Episodes IV, V and VI of “Star Wars,” the Jason Bourne trilogy, and “The Lord of the Rings” among others. It’s so pleasing to see filmmakers give us the kind of summer blockbuster many don’t always expect to see, one filled with great performances and intelligence as well as characters who are very interesting and whom you want to root for. Many blockbusters are the equivalent of a fast food meal which you may have enjoyed eating but which does not leave much of an aftertaste, but this is epic filmmaking which you can’t help but be emotionally drawn into. In a summer movie season which has been lacking to say the least, “War for the Planet of the Apes” is a real winner.

I also have to say “War” kept reminded of a Talking Heads song called “(Nothing But) Flowers.” As apes and humans traverse a landscape dominated by trees, rocks and lakes to where you can’t remember the last time you saw a building, the following lyric kept playing in my head:

“If this is paradise, I wish I had a lawnmower.”

* * * * out of * * * *