Documentaries, or at least feature length ones perhaps, have never received the full consideration that they should. It is a shame as each year filmmakers produce great documentary films like Black Fish, Searching for Sugar Man and The Imposter. There are also big names in documentary filmmaking, auteurs in the truest sense such as Louis Theroux and Michael Moore. Documentaries still only attract a niche audience. However one of the most talked about films of the year is a documentary produced in New Zealand by David Farrier, an entertainment reporter, Tickled may have an innocent sounding title, but underneath its light and poppy mood lies something darker and stranger that it couldn’t possibly have been made up.
Tickled follows the journey that Farrier takes after discovering videos on Facebook in which young men tickle each other in sports clothes, in a game called “competitive endurance tickling”. Interested in doing a brief news segment on the videos Farrier emails the producers of the videos, a company called Jane O’Brien Media. However what Farrier receives is a barrage of homophobic emails. Farrier and his co-director, Dylan Reeve, try to find out more about Jane O’Brien Media and they discover stories of abuse, bullying and blackmail, all the while dodging legal threats and abusive members of the shadowy Jane O’Brien Media.
The easiest comparison to make is that Ticked reads very much like a documentary produced by Louis Theroux. Indeed it could be seen that there are similarities in their background as explorers of the bizarre, if one can remember Louis Theroux first mainstream television series Louis Theroux’ Weird Weekends, where Theroux would enter and examine a strange subculture in America. Farrier takes the same subtle confrontational style that Theroux developed and applies it here to achieve a similarly acerbic and humorous outcome. Farrier seems to balance the absurd and the serious incredibly well. The best examples are; a weird slow-motion montage of a more “reputable” purveyor of tickling videos were the camera captures the silliness and the eroticism of the act, and an interview with an ex-caster for another tickling site Terri DiSisto (an alter ego of a strange, rich and twisted man by the name of David D’Amato,) who laughs about the letters and emails he was sent by Terri/David for daring to disagree.
What Tickled does very well is that it uses a bizarre example to examine wider trends within American capitalist society. The film itself is about more than just some shady website and the people running it. Tickled deals with power relations, cyber bullying and the permanence of the internet, i.e. what goes up online may never come down. Much like the way the tickler has power over the ticklee, Jane O’Brien Media has an uncomfortable amount of power over their ‘sport’s models’, being able to both provide for their every need and have the ability to assassinate their characters if necessary. In an interview with Farrier, The Independent’s Clarrisse Loughrey asserts that the film is a metaphor for America itself, an opinion that Farrier shares. Farrier states that “This movie ends up being about money and power and control, based around a lot of manipulation. And I think it’s similar to a lot of things we see in the United States”.
It feels only right to talk about the fall out of the documentary. While we get a glimpse of the legal battle that rages around Farrier and Reeve in the film, its full scale is revealed outside of the actual movie. Jane O’Brien Media representatives have been turning up to Q&As, press events and screenings of the films in order to assert their victimhood at the hands of immoral “homosexual” journalists. There has even been a website produced called Tickledmovie.info managed by Kevin Clarke, a producer at Jane O’Brien Media, with the intent of disproving the film, arguing that Farrier and Reeve are liars, unethical and slanderous. Whether this is true or not is impossible to determine, but it does provide an interesting read. The saga still continues, it is almost as if the film came pre-packaged with a sequel.
One slight criticism I have with the documentary is that its conclusion seems a bit rushed and maybe a bit premature. This problem stems from the structure of the documentary which covers both the expose on Jane O’Brien Media as well as the legal issues that the filmmakers faced while making the film; in dealing with both these issues, the film gets a bit split between what would have made two feature length films by themselves. It also means that there is less time devoted to the original premise of the documentary, an examination of Jane O’Brien Media and a man who apparently runs it all, David D’Amato. The problem I have with the film may be a result from the legal threats levelled at Farrier and Reeve preventing them from properly finishing the film and reaching a more satisfying and robust conclusion.Tickled is entertaining and thought
Tickled is entertaining and thought provoking regardless of this minor fault. It provides by way of an eccentric example a microcosm of the modern capitalist America, and now with the election of a wealthy real estate mogul to the highest office in the country, it causes us to pause and consider the structure of the social and economic systems we find ourselves unable to extricate ourselves from.