Perhaps by dismissing my question, Morris reveals something else: that he sees no difference between the "real" Joyce McKinney and the one seen in Tabloid.
Many cineastes have had the chance to judge for themselves. As the New York Times reported last week, McKinney has shown up at a number of Tabloid's festival screenings — sometimes in disguise — to heckle the film.
Errol Morris — along with Michael Moore, Ken Burns, and Morgan Spurlock — is one of the few contemporary American documentary filmmakers whose name the general public might recognize, and the only one to have made a film that freed an innocent man from prison. Though that film, The Thin Blue Line, didn't earn Morris an Academy Award, The Fog of War — a chilling exploration of the philosophy espoused by former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara — won an Oscar in 2003. His next film, Standard Operating Procedure, concerned abuses of power at Abu Ghraib.
When Morris isn't taking on the United States justice system or the military industrial complex, he's extracting grand truths from exuberant weirdoes — not just Joyce McKinney. His first film, Gates of Heaven, was about a pet cemetery. The subject of Mr. Death is an electric-chair technician and Holocaust denier; Vernon Florida, insurance-scamming amputees. Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control oscillates between a lion tamer, a topiary gardener, a naked-mole-rat researcher, and a robotics professor.
As varied as the subjects of Morris's films are his relationships to them when the cameras stop rolling. After Morris made A Brief History of Time, he became friends with the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. He kept in touch with Robert McNamara long after he completed The Fog of War. After The Thin Blue Line helped exonerate him, Randall Dale Adams sued Morris for the rights to his own story.
"Some people you connect with and stay connected with, other people you drift away from," Morris says of his subjects. "I don't think there's any rule of thumb. Having a relationship with a person you're making a movie about isn't much different than any relationship you might have.
"Yes, it's a more public kind of deal, in the sense that you're making a movie, and the movie goes to theaters and is released on DVD [and] pay-per-view. Whatever — it's still a human relationship. Some go awry; some continue."
FRENZY Joyce McKinney is “no more crazy than the men who are following her around in this film, myself included,” says Morris of his latest documentary subject.
Morris hasn't seen Joyce McKinney since November, when they appeared onstage together after Tabloid's New York premiere. Around that time — the same time that McKinney started showing up at film festivals — someone began sending emails to and posting comments on blogs that had reviewed the film. After posting an enthusiastic review of Tabloid, a blog called twitchfilm.com received a rambling, anonymous message:
First of all, you dishonest jerk, Miss McKinney was never charged with Raping a man, or kidnapping him, thus she was never convicted of it. By accusing her of a crime she never committed, or and that she was never even charged with, you have committed CRIMINAL LIBEL. The kidnap rape yarn was concocted by Mormon PR men who were concerned about the Mormon Image and they spread this Press Hoax using their wire service contacts via newspapers which the cult owns.