If the baseline for a compelling documentary is the exploration of an outlandish true story, Tickled has you covered. An investigation by New Zealand journalist David Farrier into the American fetish-sport of competitive endurance tickling. An investigation that slowly reveals a hidden world so bizarre that the frivolous matter shows itself well worthy of a feature length picture. I hesitate to take you through the revelations at play here as they are largely revealed with such verve that this is one of those documentaries which could be legitimately said to have spoilers.
Farrier in this picture chooses to follow a similar presentation to his previous television work. Placing himself and co-director Dylan Reeve as major players in the unfolding story. Think of a style similar to Louis Theroux’s although at times, especially in lulls in the action, more dependent on explicitly produced B-roll. This works largely because the escalating legal threats against them become an integral part of the plot, however at times can become a little self-indulgent. Like when they discuss stopping investigating because the hammer seems about to fall. I’m sure it was a concern at the time, but when you’re watching it the fretting seems a little pointless.
When it does work, it does so because of the great sense of humour of the directors, and especially of editor Simon Coldrick. So many of the laughs here come from the choices made in that editing suite, the interplay of Farrier’s narration with the images chosen. For a doc about tickling to work you gotta have a sense humour about the thing. Thankfully, they resist the opportunity to turn it into a gag-fest. The material, and more importantly the subjects (who really deserve credit for agreeing to be in the thing) are treated with respect and nuance. Most of the time anyway, the filmmakers do draw their guns at the people who rightfully deserve it.
One suspects though that this reverence may have been taken a little too far. While the fetish aspect of fetish-sport is touched on, we don’t really get too much exploration of why this is a thing. Most of the time the sexual deviance being played for humour without any chance to understand it. And finally, disappointingly, when villains are revealed, we get very little insight into the systems that enable their actions. Without giving too much away, a certain court case is repeatedly alluded to but we are never given information as to why that case went the way it did.
The story’s a little under examined, but holy shit what a story. The world of competitive endurance tickling turns out to be everything you expect, and also a few things you never would.