RETRO REVIEW: TICKLED Digs Deep, Becomes No Laughing Matter

Posted on: Jul 6th, 2016 By:

tickledBy Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

TICKLED (2016); Dir. David Farrier, Dylan Reeve; Starring David Farrier; Now Playing at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

Before we get started, just know that I enjoyed the new documentary TICKLED, and I absolutely recommend you take the time to see it in theaters. Know as little as you can. Don’t google. Watch the trailer only if you must.

If you’re unconvinced and still reading… well, here’s where it gets tricky. Because central to the experience of TICKLED is watching its twists and turns unfold. You won’t even believe how weird this thing gets, and many of the film’s best moments are tuned precisely to the shock and thrill of that escalation. To review it properly risks spoiling it. Spoiling it risks ruining it.

I’ll provide an overview. New Zealand journalist David Farrier (see Kool Kat of the Week interview here) is the kind of guy who trafficks in weirdness. Known in his home country as an entertainment reporter and personality, Farrier is the guy you send in to the field to witness the weird and off-kilter. His territory is the human interest story, the kind of thing that would show up at the tail end of a news broadcast to give you a light laugh and send you on your way. Need a guy to do a sit-down with GWAR? Farrier’s your man. In his quest for the odd, Farrier stumbled upon something he’d never seen before—a competitive endurance tickling league. Videos produced by an entity called Jane O’Brien Media lurked on YouTube, depicting young men in athletic gear tickling one another for sport. Farrier laughed, and sent out an email asking for an interview and a profile.

That’s when all hell breaks loose.

The film chronicles Farrier’s surprise as he becomes the target of seemingly crass, homophobic emails attempting to prevent him from writing his small article. Sensing a larger story, Farrier begins a collaboration with filmmaker Dylan Reeve, a partnership that takes them to some weird corners of the internet, across the Pacific to the United States, and into a web of harassment and hate that spans decades. At one point, the film shows Farrier engaged in an actual car chase.

Let me repeat that. From tickling videos to a car chase on American streets.

This movie is unbelievable.

Tickled VideosTICKLED is a slick, well-produced documentation of Farrier’s investigation that takes great pains to provide the context the story needs to avoid feeling like a hit job. Farrier takes time to meet with innocent tickling enthusiasts who demonstrate the innocent, victimless nature of their fetish that contrasts wildly with what’s going on in the YouTube videos, making it clear that this is not an attempt to shame a subculture, but rather a document aimed at defending it. The bad behavior on display in TICKLED is very bad indeed, stretching way beyond the studios where the videos are made and into a world that intersects at poverty and privacy, at benevolence and exploitation.

TICKLED is a living document, to an extent. Legal threats are all over this thing, and the recent LA premiere became a shouting match attended by some of the figures from the film. The story is not yet over. But TICKLED makes a very strong case for who should held accountable, and by bringing the film to the widest possible audience, Farrier and Reeve hope to bring a shadowy organization into the light.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Kool Kat of the Week: When the Tickling Gets Weird: New Zealand Director David Farrier Investigates One of the Internet’s Craziest Fetishes

Posted on: Jul 6th, 2016 By:

tickled By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

TICKLED, now playing in Atlanta movie theaters, is a whodunit at heart. New Zealand journalist David Farrier had hoped to write a short article about some videos he found online depicting something called Competitive Endurance Tickling. He couldn’t have known that the response to his request for an interview would send him on a multi-year journey to uncover a dark underbelly to this seemingly good-natured sport and, perhaps, a real-life monster.

ATLRetro talked with Farrier about the making of this insane little film, improvisational journalism, fetish culture, and how it felt when he first realized what he was getting into.

Note: the reception on our phone call was patchy, but we worked around it for the most part.

You can read my review of TICKLED here.

ATLRetro: First of all, I really loved the film. I’ve never been so on the edge of my seat watching a conversation outside a coffee shop.

David Farrier: [laughs] I know, I know. And like the world’s [unintelligible] car chase.

Right. I think I even said out loud in my chair when it happened, “we are having a car chase right now.”

DF: [laughs]

It was just very surprising. So, obviously it’s difficult to ask directly about the fallout over the film without spoiling it. For instance, the event that happened at the LA premiere.

Yeah, yeah. On that I’d just say that, you know, it’s been a pretty interesting time. People from, I mean the movie is about Jane O’Brien Media, and it doesn’t paint them in a particularly great light, and at one of our premieres we had some key players from the film turn up. And at the end of this film, during the Q&A, [unintelligible] with more legal action. That’s been going on through the whole process.

Tickled VideosWhen I was done watching the film, I didn’t get the feeling that the story was finished. It felt like some things are just beginning. What’s it been like promoting a finished film when it’s still unfolding day to day?

It’s difficult mainly because that people we want people to see the documentary without knowing too much, and when people see this documentary, when they’re coming out to a screening, that’s out there now, so we have to talk about it. [unintelligible] people to not watch the trailer, not read a review, watch the movie, and get into all that afterwards. The story is very active, as you say, you know. We showed everything in the film that we wanted to show at the time, but since the company is still active, of course, they’re going to push back after the film’s out, so we just have to keep on going.

When you sent that first email off at the very beginning of the film, things quickly went off the rail. I’m curious to know what kind of story you thought you were going to make before that first response. Where were you headed?

Yeah, I mean, I was just looking to generate a one-and-a-half minute story about, you know, here’s this crazy sport about competitive endurance tickling. And I wanted to talk to a competitor and I wanted to talk to the organizer. And get some shots of the event and maybe an interview with the organizer and an interview with the New Zealand competitor. But, you know, that first response that was very aggressive about telling me not to do the story, you know, that changed all that. I didn’t have my nice one-and-a-half minute story, it turned into something completely different.

Right, I get the impression that if you had gotten an answer that was just “no, we’re not interested,” then all of this that has come to light wouldn’t have come to light.

Oh, totally. [unintelligible] I would have forgotten about it and moved on. I was in a quick turnaround situation, so each day I had to turn in a story. So I didn’t have time to investigate, I had to move on to the next thing. Had it been a more measured response, there wouldn’t have been a documentary.

What was the first moment where this started to get too real? Was there ever a moment where you were scared?

There were lots of moments, I mean I was apprehensive when I went to the airport, you know, they sent representatives and I was going to have a meeting. And there was the time I spent in America, approaching people on the street. So approaching them I found nerve-wracking, but [co-director] Dylan and I, we were in this together from the start, you know. We came across this crazy thing. We both got warned early on by this company that we expect legal action to happen, so we were united in that, I suppose. So if we hadn’t had each other, I probably would have run away from the whole thing.

Tickled filmYeah, you guys seem to have a good working relationship. It seemed that there were moments where each of you had a choice of whether to continue or stop.

There were lots of discussions. It was like that the whole way through. If one of us was coming under threats or attacks, you know, we’d talk to the other person and share what we’re going through. We’d share everything in the process, right? In a practical sense, it was really great having someone else in this with me.

You’ve mentioned in interviews that you don’t have a background necessarily in investigative journalism.

No, no.

When you were doing this investigation, did you sit down and come up with a step by step plan, or were you kind of improvising as you went along?

I mean, the story happened really quickly. We did the Kickstarter campaign so we could start shooting it really quickly, and we did that initial shoot, and then we came back realizing the story was of a scope, was like, bigger. And we had a lot of time to prep and prepare for the second shoot, and I write entertainment, I was in the newsroom among all the hard current affairs reporters, and I always kind of admired what they were doing. [call completely breaks up at this point]

I think you actually broke up a little bit right there.

In the news room, I did, like entertainment, but I was sitting next to some really hardened current affairs reporters, so I absorbed a lot of what their techniques were. But really, it was just a lot of research, a lot of planning, and just being super aware of what could happen, what could not happen in any kind of situation, so I could react accordingly. So really just lots, and lots, and lots of preparation.

I’ve seen the film and I think you do a very good job of avoiding one of the concerns you might have going in, that this was going to turn into “fetish shaming.” I’m curious when you’re developing your approach on the film, was that something you were aware of, did you have to take pains to make sure that didn’t happen?

Oh, yeah, right from the beginning. Right from the beginning, we were super aware that we didn’t want to paint the fetish community with the same brush. It was the idea that, yes, there’s some bad stuff going on, but it’s less about the fetish and more about the harassment going on around it. One of the first people who reached out to us and supported our Kickstarter was Richard Ivey, who was filming in the fetish [community] and his whole career was built around it. And he came on board with the same concerns, like “I hope you’re not going to make a film that paints us,” you know, “in a negative light.” Yeah, it was right from the beginning that we wanted to make it super clear, and make it clear in the movie, you can be into tickling, there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, that’s great, it should be celebrated, but, you know, the dark world that we stumbled onto was somehow almost separate to the tickling.

Tickled PosterRight, in the video of the LA premiere, there was a debate going back and forth between you and one of the people involved about whether the tickling videos are pornographic.

Yeah, that was one of the rather obscure arguments. [laughs]

The idea that they’re just pornography with clothes. I’m just curious about that distinction. Why does that distinction need to get made by them that they aren’t?

That’s a whole other side of it…but that’s not what the film is actually about, and what the problem is. He claims that he doesn’t make fetish content. Now I would argue that Jane O’Brien Media is making, [are] not necessarily pornographic, but certainly, what’s the word? Erotic, and it’s really in the debate about what is erotica versus what is pornography. But, you know, anything can be erotica. If that happens to be young, good-looking, athletic men in sports gear tickling each other, that’s not all that surprising.

I have a question about the decision, and this was probably a conversation in the editing room, but the decision to show the tickling videos unblurred, showing all the faces of the people participating in them unblurred.

Yeah, the understanding was that we [had] many tickling videos, [but] we wanted to not focus on the tickling videos to an excessive degree. Because some of the people in the tickling videos, you know, we had to talk them about it. But all the videos were already online en masse, like they’re already out there. And our film explains why they’re in it. So while they’re online, hour-long tickling videos, the film provides context for why they’re there and how the people got there. I mean, I don’t want to give spoilers, but it kind of contextualized what was going on. The videos that were no longer online and no longer out there, we blurred those ones. Some of these videos were over a decade old and we didn’t want to bring those back for people, and also we didn’t know who was in them, so we thought about that a lot in the editing room.

To me, I find it an interesting dichotomy between the tickling videos as kind of a metaphor for everything else that’s going on. Somebody sitting on top of somebody else, and dominating them. Whether that’s physically happening in a video, or metaphorically happening in everything else.

Completely, oh yeah, definitely.

So the videos themselves are harmless and the [surrounding] behavior is bad, or are these videos themselves exploitative?

No, the videos… the people who were in those videos, if they knew who was behind it and why it was being created, if they knew all of that and kept doing them, that would be fine. What makes it exploitative is that they don’t know—the people that I’ve spoken to—they don’t know what those videos are for. And I think that’s wrong. In a nutshell, there’s nothing wrong with making tickling videos as long as you know who they’re for and where they’re going and what they’re going to be used for, etc. It becomes problematic when you don’t know the answers to those questions.

TICKLED is now playing at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. Click here for showtimes.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Retro Review: Oh, Miyazaki!: Grab a Cat Bus Because The Studio Ghibli Collection is Coming to Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Nov 7th, 2012 By:

NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984) and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988); Dir: Hayao Miyazaki; The Studio Ghibli Collection at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, Fri. Nov. 9 through Thurs. Nov. 15; NAUSICAA plays November 9 at 1:45, 7:00 p.m., and 12:15 a.m.; MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO plays November 11 at 12:15, 5:00, and 9:40 p.m.; showtimes for additional movies here; all films presented in 35mm. NAUSICAA trailer here and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Landmark Midtown Art Cinema may not be the center of the known universe, but for film lovers and adventurous families from November 9-15, the theater may certainly feel like it. That’s because the Art Cinema is playing host to an incredibly special event that will see almost the entire Studio Ghibli collection light up the screens, each film proudly offered in an increasingly-elusive 35mm presentation. Some film nuts may just move into the building.

While Ghibli doesn’t have the widespread name recognition in America that, say, Pixar enjoys, Ghibli and co-founder/frequent director Hayao Miyazaki combine to form one of the biggest animation brands in the world, especially in the studio’s home country of Japan where Ghibli’s films routinely break box office records and land major awards. Here in the states, Ghibli films have competed favorably for critical attention with the mighty animation brands of Pixar and Dreamworks, winning the second-ever Best Animated Feature Oscar for SPIRITED AWAY in 2002 and scoring another nomination just a few years later for HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE (2004). In the world of animation, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are already considered legends, and they’re currently working at the peak of their talents.

So who is Hayao Miyazaki? An animator and artist, Miyazaki was already a 16-year veteran of the Japanese animation industry when he released his first full-length film, THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (1979), based on the long-running LUPIN III manga and anime TV series. Miyazaki followed that success by moving into the world of manga—Japanese comics—where he created his own series about a girl caught between warring territories in a dying post-apocalyptic world. Miyazaki named his series NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND and he helmed a feature adaptation in 1984 that garnered enormous critical and commercial success in Japan and convinced Miyazaki and co-founders Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki to make the move to their own studio. So, while NAUSICAA is not officially a Studio Ghibli release, all things Ghibli began with that film and it holds a special spot of reverence in the collection.

Likewise, NAUSICAA is one of the crown jewels in the Ghibli film series playing at the Art Cinema because, frankly, it’s so rarely screened. Although widely available on DVD today, the original American release was marred by a lack of respect for the material. NAUSICAA received international distribution before Ghibli had made a name outside of Japan, and local producers didn’t hesitate to make massive cuts and add bad dubs to make the film “palatable” for their audiences. As a result, truly terrible versions of the film still exist out there (including an American hack job called WARRIORS OF THE WIND). Fans can finally see the original cut on 35mm and exactly as Miyazaki intended when NAUSICAA hits the screen on November 9.

Thanks to that highly public Oscar win, SPIRITED AWAY is perhaps Miyazaki’s most well-known film in America, but MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO is arguably his most popular. The third official Studio Ghibli release (and the second directed by Miyazaki), TOTORO is the story of two young girls who move to the country to be closer to their gravely-ill mother. Left largely to their own devices, the girls soon discover that the forest around them is teeming with fantastical creatures who become close companions just as the girls need them the most. Absolutely packed with Miyazaki’s trademark imagination, whimsy, and heart, TOTORO has become something of a signature film for Studio Ghibli, who adopted the film’s primary critter as their studio logo, and for fans who obsess over the film’s compelling fantasy elements (who doesn’t want to ride in a CatBus?) or create their own wild theories as to what it all means. (Don’t click here unless you’re ready for massive spoilers, possible lunacy). Bottom line, it’s hard to go wrong with any Studio Ghibli release, but if you’re only going to make it to one, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO is a must-see.

The film series runs from November 9-15, and while movie fanatics and toon-heads will be arriving en masse, families looking for wholesome entertainment for their children have plenty to be excited about as well, especially parents of young girls. One of the trademarks of Miyazaki and all of Studio Ghibli is the presence of strong, complex, young female lead characters. In an American marketplace that mostly serves a particular princess archetype to girls, Ghibli is powerful counterprogramming. The sisters at the heart of TOTORO and the stoic leader of NAUSICAA are two great examples, but so are the brave heroes of SPIRITED AWAY, KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE (1989), and THE CAT RETURNS (2002). Children seeking action and adventure may take to the war and strong themes of PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997) and younger children will delight in the Ghibli’s PONYO (2008), a sweet-natured take on “The Little Mermaid” story. Just be aware that all films are presented in the original Japanese with English subtitles—many kids will enjoy reading along with the story, and those who can’t will have plenty of visual input to enjoy on the screen, and a lot of engaging questions to ask on the car ride home.

Overall, the Art Cinema’s film series is offering just about every film in Studio Ghibli’s catalog, including the little-seen MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS (1989), a comedy from Takahata that diverges from the usual Studio Ghibli art style into something a bit more experimental. In fact, the only films that the Art Cinema isn’t screening are a few of the most recent Ghibli releases and the hefty post-war drama GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (1988), which is an extremely heavy film and is a bit more comfortable standing alone. Still, any established Ghibli fan or curious newcomer has plenty to choose from, and is highly unlikely to go home disappointed.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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