That old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” must apply to the scenario in which an internet chat turns into an envelope of cash from FedEx, a trip to LA and an eight-hour session of being tied to a bed while four hunky guys in neat Adidas athletic gear tickle you with cameras rolling.
For a football star with a family finance problem, the decision to follow through with the absurd proposition of “Competitive Endurance Tickling” and an effort to later strike it from the merciless records of YouTube led to retaliation from the filmmaker.
What first seemed a quirky TV story for New Zealand pop culture journalist David Farrier quickly took a turn into the control fetish of a well-heeled (and perhaps even dangerous) recluse.
Combining forces with hacker companion Dylan Reeve, Farrier barrels ahead with an investigation in the face of threatened litigation, personal attacks and other hurdles. Who they allege the mastermind of the global tickling phenomenon is turns out to be worth the wait. And kudos to the duo for digging in despite a barrage of threats that apparently continue to this day. “Someone has to confront this bully,” Farrier says in the film. “Lawsuits or not.”
The documentary reveals a degree of stomach-churning misrepresentation and what appears to be abuse of young men as well as a healthy dose of failing by the justice system over a yearslong period. Though the filmmakers are not due to appear at the Santa Fe screening, their targets showed up for an ugly public confrontation at a Los Angeles premiere last month. One official with the company that runs the “competition” has called the film “a pack of lies” and produced a number of videos and blog posts attempting to refute it, as well as threatening lawsuits again. The Los Angeles Times reports that two lawsuits were filed after the film began screening, but both were “voluntarily dismissed.”
Tickled is no feat of filmmaking elegance. It’s a fairly straightforward approach to a riveting thesis, including some great airport ambush footage, audio-only tracks recorded in secret, a stakeout and even one scene shot from inside a coffee cup. But the unfolding story has built-in plot twists that make you not want to step away to refill your drink. Building on the work of other journalists and connecting the dots in a new way, the pair also delivers an eye-popping look into the little-known kink of tickling on camera in what at least some of the fans claim is a totally nonsexual thing. True to that point, the clips feature nothing that’s outright pornography. Even though there’s no epic finish or overt genital contact and no sound except for giggles and gasps for breath, the scenes are still squirmy.
Turns out, it’s madly liberating to watch a hairy chest wriggle under one finger in the armpit, feet in stocks and wrists bound over his head. At least one entrepreneur has made a great living at the tickle video trade. His “talent” seems perfectly happy. Not like the football guys who tangled with the wrong tickler. That dude, devious and manipulative as he is, has like $5 million in the bank and is probably right this moment arranging for a Minnesota track star to have an awkward day and a life of regret. Don’t fall for it, fellas.
Directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve
With Farrier, Reeve, David Starr