Film #261: Tickled (2016)

tickleddirectors: David Farrier & Dylan Reeve
language: English
length: 92 minutes
watched on: 8 Jan 2017

I had a lot of trouble finding a suitably safe-for-work thumbnail picture for this movie. I hope this one works well enough…

I caught this movie almost by accident when I was browsing through gay-themed stuff online, and I was so amused and slightly intrigued by the concept that I just had to watch it. It’s a documentary by a journalist from New Zealand who’s famous (we’re told in an opening montage of his previous work) for doing documentaries on slightly weird topics. He comes across the sport of “Competitive endurance tickling” online and decides that should be his next topic. First he meets resistance from the company that makes the videos because he’s also well-known in New Zealand for being gay, and that the company doesn’t want to associate itself with gay people (despite the videos being very gay themselves), which only makes him want to keep digging. He ends up going over to America and digging up a web of exploitation over at least twenty years. It’s really quite fascinating. Of course the makers are being sued for it.

The whole thing is a bit televisual, especially to begin with, but every few minutes they uncover something more outrageous than before, and the whole thing gets more and more fascinating. Basically the guy behind the whole thing, who takes on false identities, harrasses the young men who don’t want their videos to be online, or exploits the young men until to do whatever he wants. And later it’s not even just tickling, it’s also mixed martial arts. It seems it’s just this hideously rich guy playing with his money.

I was probably most surprised that one of the listed crimes was email-bombing the White House in the name of one of these young men… basically this had been a big deal, and all the way back in the 90s. They actually interview several journalists who had been investigating it at the time, and they’re all a bit surprised to find out it’s been going on again since the guy got out of prison.

It’s just such a ridiculous story it’s almost hard to believe it’s true… but truth is stranger than fiction, as they say. I think it was a fascinating journey, and an incredibly creepy underbelly of society that’s being exposed. Perhaps a little dry at times, and it dragged on a bit towards the second half.

What’s actually more interesting is when I dug into the behind-the-scenes on the web a bit, I found some interviews and articles written by people close to the movie. The guy behind the whole thing, David D’Amato, and one of his lackeys, actually showed up to a film festival somewhere in America, and to Sundance, essentially to protest the film. That’s pretty rare, so they’re definitely taking it seriously… but they seem to miss the point of the movie, which is calling them out for exploiting countless young men. They keep screaming at the filmmakers, and they seem to be trying to get the film banned on technicalities: they didn’t get permission to film this or that, or something like that.

So it’s something that I don’t think anyone else will have heard of, and it was well worth my time. I recommend it if you can come across it!


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