Documentary Releases: Tickled

Andrew reviews the investigative journalism documentary Tickled.

New Zealand television journalist and documentary filmmaker David Farrier stumbled upon the bizarre and discomfiting underworld of what became known as 'Competitive Endurance Tickling', where one man is held down or strapped to a bed before two or three other men proceed to torture him with tickling, almost by accident through a US company called Jane O'Brien Media.  Upon inquiring about possibly doing a news story on the company's peculiar activities, Farrier was met with hostile and homophobic responses that flooded his email account for weeks on end.  Unsure of what he inadvertently provoked and why it engendered such a feverishly indignant reaction, the 33 year old novice documentarian walking in Michael Moore's footsteps found his interest in the bizarre "sport" piqued into an obsession.  Less interested in the fetish itself than finding out why this secret organization single-handedly managed to trump the paranoid bullying of the Church of Scientology, Farrier and co-director Dylan Reeve dig deep and unveil a multimillion dollar empire built on bullying, humiliation and defamation.  After two years of sleuthing under the veil of constant threats of litigation attempting to censor and block the film from being exhibited, the aptly named Tickled with the truly strange, heartbreaking and infuriating story finally hits the theater screens today whether the subjects seen in the film like it or not.

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Watching Tickled with an audience felt like something out of a horror comedy where laughter, shock and awe are abundant.  I lost track of the amount of times my eyebrows raised themselves at both the peculiar videos and the sheer amount of criminal harassment inflicted by the perpetrators to ensure these videos were seen at the expense of their participants.  At first it seems like a simple fetish porn thing but very quickly we and Farrier realize we're in far over our heads.  Such an empire of course could not exist without the advent of the internet where identities are falsified, backdoors are sneakily covered up and harassment ensues in the extreme.  The stories of young lads lured into doing competitive tickling videos only to find their reputations smeared online by the gatekeepers of this niche fetish website are at once horrific and sad, including one fellow who loses his job, scholarship and soon all of his finances as litigation is lobbied against him.  Even now as this review is being written and after the film's central enemy is exposed to the public eye, these same figures are fighting tooth and nail to keep this story from getting out including a couple incidents where police escorted out private investigators hired to videotape the film in theaters and more than one Q&A where the reclusive and mercurial subjects confront the filmmakers publicly.  Despite the veil of threats and online harassment as well as the somewhat amateurish documentary techniques employed by Farrier, this is a story that absolutely had to get out into the world and God bless Farrier and Reeve for not backing down in the face of intimidation and loose threats of litigation.

The scariest thing about Tickled is that these figures are still very much active in the world and will stop at nothing to inflict serious emotional and professional damage to the participants who unknowingly signed their own death warrants by taking the money and agreeing to be in one of these tickling videos.  Even as we speak, these people are still roaming around looking for the next life to ruin under the guise of money and innocent tickling.  To level the playing field Farrier does throw in some examples of legitimate fetishists who are simply doing this for their own pleasure, but mostly this is an expose of a particular sect of the tickling fetish empire that seems Hell bent on causing so much destruction to so many lives.  While there's a lot of laughter onscreen and offscreen from the audience watching the movie, Tickled is far from a laughing matter and by the time it wraps up you'll feel enraged at the defamation crimes being committed yet gratified someone out there had the courage to confront these bullies face to face.  As a documentary filmmaker, Farrier has a long way to go to perfect his technique which is mostly standing on the shoulders of giants before him, but in terms of the subject, he unknowingly uncovered a gold mine that everyone needs to know about.


- Andrew Kotwicki