Saturday, July 16, 2016

Tickled (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


As ridiculous as it might seem tickle torture as it is known, has been reported for a long time in history.  According to online research, the torture was used in ancient Rome, where a licking goat would go at a person lightly, then to the point of pain. The Nazis tickled prisoners to the point of severe anxiety during WWII, inducing visceral panic, along with great sobbing and sweating while boxed in shackles.

Unbeknownst to me before writing, tickling is a source of BDSM domination  that has the potential to cause retching, wheezing, vomiting and involuntary urination. All the more insidious, because (as most people might think, including myself) it appears on the surface, a harmless tease.  "Tickled" is the HBO-produced documentary that examines the greasly side of such a fetish and it will quite literally have you looking over your shoulder with jolts of fear.

One day, the film's director David Farrier, a pop culture gay journalist from New Zealand and co-director Dylan Reeve are intrigued by an online solicitation for the sport of competitive endurance tickling. Indeed there is such a sport. Farrier and Reeve are entertained in the manner of watching a John Waters film, and David sends an email to the producers in the hopes of getting more information.

The two are understandably shocked when they receive a terse anti-gay email in reply from Jane O'Brien Media. When an aghast Farrier emails once more, he gets several offensive emails. Farrier's curiousity is piqued. Just who or what is Jane O'Brien Media and why did Farrier deserve such hate mail? The film details Farrier's quest which oscilates between eccentricity, curiousity and very real horror.

What at first seems something that might be used for absurdist fun, is quite far from it. There are numerous video clips of tickling that at first might be taken from a party or a bizarre YouTube clip. When one catches a glimpse of chains and wooden stocks, something sinister is aflutter. These people are in actuality, suffering in pain. And, we as the audience, experience the same disbelief in what we see along with the filmmakers.

Director David Farrier is dauntless in getting at the truth of this sordid and eerie web of people in a film that takes on the tone of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's earlier film "Catfish" about online dating deception.

Not since the early visions of David Cronenberg has there ever been something so horribly dream-like, off-putting and horrendous. The people portrayed here make the characters of  David Lynch into a Douglas Sirk romance. "Tickled" has the anxious effect that the film "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" had for singles in the 1970s.

Who is Jane O'Brien? And just what is "competitive endurance tickling" when seen online? The answers at best will astonish you. At worst, you will lose sleep and may just cancel any small parties, family-orientated or otherwise.

Write Ian at

No comments: