Tuesday, May 3, 2011

SFIFF54 Day 13: Tabloid

The 54nd San Francisco International Film Festival is in its last few days. It runs through May 5th. Each day during the festival I'll be posting a recommendation and capsule review of a film in the festival.

Tabloid (USA: Errol Morris, 2010)

playing: at 9:30 PM tonight at the Kabuki, with another, final screening on Thursday afternoon.
distribution: IFC Sundance Selects is releasing it this summer, and as of now, the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley is scheduled to open it July 15th, with the Embarcadero following suit July 22nd. It's almost unheard of for a new release to play commercially in Berkeley before San Francisco, which leaves me wondering why this film is getting such treatment.

Stop. Back up. Go ahead and literally press the "←" button on your browser's toolbar, even. If you're already hoping to see Errol Morris's latest documentary, perhaps because you're a loyalist to the director, or perhaps because you've already heard something about the subject matter and are intrigued, you really must not read another word about this film. Don't click the link to the festival program description I placed under the photo above. Don't go to the imdb page or read any reviews (the Bay Guardian has made this extra easy, leaving Dennis Harvey's capsule in last week's paper out of the online edition for some reason- which I will refrain from speculating on in this space).

Whatever you do, DON'T google "Joyce McKinney", the name of the subject of Tabloid. If you've done any of this already, try to forget what you may have learned, because the less you know of McKinney's story, and of the many surprises this film has in store for you, the more likely you are to be able to appreciate it on at least two levels. 1) It's extremely entertaining. 2) The methods Morris uses to investigate the different sides to this story, and to challenge the audience's understanding of objectivity, puts into relief the similar methods Morris uses to retell an extremely (some would say very much overly) well-known story in his documentary about Abu Ghraib, Standard Operating Procedure.

You've probably already read too much. I've probably already written too much. I hope you haven't gotten this far in this article because, even though I'm trying to say nothing of substance about Tabloid's content, my vagueness might just be making you more tempted to learn the tale through some other means than Morris's cinematic techniques. If so, resist temptation until you can get yourself to a screening. Stand in the rush line wearing earplugs. And if you can't make it into the festival showings, continue wearing them until July, because people are going to be talking about this film, and you really don't want to inadvertently overhear any of its twists and turns.

SFIFF54 Day 13
Another option: My Joy (UKRAINE/GERMANY/NETHERLANDS: Sergei Loznitsa, 2011) I'm sure that Kevin Lee (no fan of Tabloid, according to his twitter feed) would recommend you see this reportedly bleaker-than-bleak film by a first-time filmmaker instead of the Morris doc. As Lee notes in a recent article speculating on the SFIFF New Directors prize (and Golden Gate Award) contenders, My Joy played on the main competition slate at last year's Cannes Film Festival. This is a rare occurrence for a first feature, which makes Loznitsa automatically a name to watch, I plan to do so tonight.

Non-SFIFF-option for today: Eadweard Muybridge: Zoopraxographer at SFMOMA. Thom Andersen's hour-long documentary on the proto-cinema pioneer is screening (on video) daily at 3PM, every day SFMOMA is open. Today, however, is the monthly "free day" at the museum, which makes today's showing of special interest to movie lovers on a limited budget. It's the last "free day" to see the Andersen piece before his latest film, Get Out Of The Car, plays with work by Paul Clipson, Gary Beydler, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and others on a program at the SF Cinematheque's Crossroads festival May 14th.


  1. Oh, do let us know what you think of My Joy! I am debating whether or not to see it in Pittsburgh on Saturday. I am leaning towards yes, but still undecided.

  2. Well, I'm sorry to say, Andy, that my reaction was of just the sort that probably won't be able to push you over the edge of indecision in either direction. The film is certainly visually arresting, and stylistically and tonally of a piece. But it was also, for me, rather uninvolving. Just the kind of thing where I can see why one cinephile might love it and another loathe it while I sit here in the middle, still making up my mind...

  3. Actually, that does help! The screening I'm now pretty sure I'm going to attend is part of a Russian Film Symposium that tends to feature lively discussions of controversial films, so even if I, too, find myself standing ambivalently in the middle, there will be people in the audience representing both ends of the spectrum of possible responses to the film, and I look forward to witnessing their clash!

  4. Now you're making me want to be in Pittsburgh and see it again, Andy!