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By Michael Calleri

In case you were wondering why reality television has such a hold on the American public, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris has the answer. Although his new movie, "Tabloid," isn't about reality shows, per se, it gives us insights into why the public becomes fascinated with people they ordinarily wouldn't walk across the street to greet.

Morris' most famous movies are "The Thin Blue Line," about police officers, and "The Fog Of War," about the late Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the war in Vietnam, for which Morris won an Academy Award for best documentary.

"Tabloid" is a crazy-quilt look at Joyce McKinney, a beauty pageant regular (Miss Wyoming, no less), who in the 1970s became a tabloid newspaper sensation, especially in Great Britain.

Although she is an American through and through, McKinney's claim to fame lies with what she did in England. Simply put, when she was a young woman, she fell in love with a Mormon missionary in the United States. He was sent to continue his missionary work in England. McKinney followed him there, and with help, she kidnapped the guy, hid him in a small cottage, and for three days had her sexual way with him. In fact, the guy was handcuffed for the entire period. The episode become known as the Manacled Mormon Affair.

The alleged crime created a media circus about which old-timers in the newspaper game still talk. Two journalists, one a photographer, tell Morris how they were put on the McKinney assignment, even after she returned to America. They tailed her incessantly, hoping to gather new information. It's a lurid affair, deliciously tongue-in-cheek. The element that helps drive the frenzy is McKinney herself, a reality programmer's dream.

Now in her 60s, McKinney is a very strange woman. Her stories are terrific, even the ludicrous ones, and she spins them all with the same "look at me" voice and manner that screams of loopy desperation. One British journalist calls her "barking mad."

In spite of revelation after wild revelation, Morris' technique is to make the audience wonder and care about what's going to come next. What is McKinney going to say now?

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 30, 2011