“You’re the ones who decided this is what you were going to do. You mocked us, you’ve done everything you could. You attacked us in an airport, you sidewinded us. So let me make a point here: if you want to stick our head in a blast furnace, do it.”
Suffice it to say that David Farrier is surprised at the vitriol of this threat, uttered during a meeting that you don’t see. Early in his film, Tickled, he meets with representatives of a possible documentary subject, a scene that you view through a boardroom window, shot from a sidewalk below in downtown Auckland, New Zealand.
The verbal assault confirms what Farrier has suggested previously, that “This tickling wormhole seemed to be getting deeper.” Approaching that wormhole with a mix of absurdity and determination, Farrier, a reporter, stumbles on what appears to be a “competitive endurance tickling” league. When his initial investigation leads to a series of threatening messages, Farrier decides to push further, that is, to make the documentary you’re watching now.
His pursuit takes turns he can’t anticipate, some rather dark. As Farrier reports, his efforts to find out who produces and then publishes videos featuring pretty young men tied down as they’re being tickled are met by increasingly angry resistance, in the form of explicitly homophobic emails, unsettling online intimidation from an entity called “Jane O’Brien Media”, and the boardroom meeting.
From here, layers of aggression multiply. This even as the investigation reveals money trails and investigations undertaken by other reporters. Farrier and Reeve interview several other “targets”, including young men who agreed to be tickled, then found themselves harassed, and others who serve as recruiters for the “tickle cells” that turn out to exist all over the world, many funded by the elusive “Jane O’Brien”.
The documentary is screening at Stranger Than Fiction on 21 February, where it will be followed by a Q&A with director David Farrier and film lawyer Cam Stracher, and premiering on HBO on 28 February.
See PopMatters‘ review.