HBO Documentary Films: TICKLED and THE TICKLE KING

Doc-logo2Overview: After stumbling upon a bizarre “competitive endurance tickling” video online, wherein young men are paid to be tied up and tickled, pop-culture reporter David Farrier reaches out to request a story from the company behind it. Delving deeper, he encounters fierce resistance, and the more Docs_Tickled02-300x208he investigates, the stranger it gets, leading to the discovery of decades of abuse. Compelling and disturbing, Tickled illustrates the damage that can result from wealth, privilege and an obsession with power and control. He contacts Jane O’Brien Media, the company responsible for the competitions. To his surprise, Farrier is met with a barrage of homophobic rants and threats from the company, which, he admits, “made [him] more curious than ever.”

THE TICKLE KING features new, previously unseen footage documenting the bizarre and unsettling things that happened to filmmakers David Farrier and Dylan Reeve as TICKLED premiered at film festivals and theaters in 2016.


Expectations: I never really knew too much about this documentary. I knew it was about competitive endurance tickling gone bad and that it was a darling of the Sundance Film Festival and that was it. When it came on HBO’s schedule I knew it was one to see. So, as is my habit with highly anticipated content, I starved myself of the details in order to not spoil what was going to see. I avoided all HBO content about the piece. For example, I didn’t find the information for the paragraphs above until I watched the film first nor did I watch a trailer. I didn’t even formulate any sort of strong expectations for it.

I knew going in that it had to be well-made and a through film or it wouldn’t have received the accolades it has. I knew that there was something shocking or revealing about it all; that there was something about this “sport” that was not quite right. I suspected links to the adult entertainment industry perhaps. But that was it. Now that I have viewed the work I can give you my brief thoughts on it. First the trailer:

In addition to the documentary is the 20-minute follow-up THE TICKLE KING in which we get a look at how the film has handled its notoriety.  


Gut Reaction: I’ m glad I kept myself in the dark about the true intent of this film. I was surprised at how quickly it got off and running. Here is what I thought I was going to get. I thought our filmmakers, Farrier and Reeves, were going to apply to be participants in a competition of endurance tickling and travel to the U. S., from their native New Zealand, to audition. Once on the inside, I thought they’d be caught unawares that it was being filmed without their contractual consent and that they would be exposed to the nasty underbelly of a seedy production company which they expose.Docs_Tickledcompetition-300x169

I was off the mark but drawn into an equally interesting scenario. The truth really is that this documentary is not solidly about the “sport” but an investigative report about the vile, ruthless power player behind it all. Something is quite suspicious from the beginning when nasty threats try to deter the filmmakers from pursuing the topic. Not ones to be bullied and harassed, by company insiders to cease & desist Farrier & Reeves head to America to get to the bottom of the startling attitude and learn about the “sport” or outright fetish along the way.

The real interest lies in the work the filmmakers do to find out about participants in the endurance tickling game and how they have been treated, or rather exploited, by Jane O’Brien Media. That trail leads to interesting connections filled with more threats, deception and a corrupt glutton of power and wealth named David D’Amato. He doesn’t want to be investigated and exposed but is successfully by Farrier & Reeves. The film abruptly ends with no solid resolve as the filmmaker’s determine, aided by a phone call to D’Amato’s stepmother, that he has never stopped his cruel behavior even though he has served prison time for his actions.

David D’Amato (left) and Dylan Reeve (right)


The only recourse for these video journalists was to get their film out there and they did with assistance from a Kickstarter campaign. The result of all that was summed up in THE TICKLE KING and some surprising guests attend screenings. In the follow-up Farrier is served with lawsuits outside Sundance and Reeves meets with D’Amato at a Los Angeles screening. While civil with Reeves the threats are still there. That is no surprise, but what is shocking is the recanting video of a TICKLED participant. This doc is up to the minute as it states that in January 2017, a new production company has launched endurance tickling videos after it appears Jane O’Brien Media has halted.   


In Conclusion: Needless to say we will be glued to any news going forward about any TICKLED lawsuits that may surface. As for D’ Amato and his associates they are still free to do what they do. I hope Farrier & Reeves are not deterred from continuing on this topic or any topic for future international documentaries.

I intentionally did delve into all the details of this film. I am never out to give a scene by scene recap of what I watch. I want you to seek it out on your own. In the end, you’d never think that this tickling topic would ever lead down this path. Well, it did and there is no going back. Watch it and you’ll be drawn in too.   


Next:  THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS: YO-YO MA AND THE SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE is billed as an uplifting portrait of the international musical collective created by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Its diverse members explore the power of music to preserve tradition, shape cultural evolution, and foster understanding around the world. It debuts 03.06 at 8:00pm.


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