Of erectile dysfunction and tickling videos: two of the most outlandish docs at Sundance
Goat gonads feature prominently in one film; the sinister side of tickling in another
Odds are you weren't aware there is such a thing as "competitive endurance tickling." But come to Sundance and you'll be introduced to the phenomenon courtesy of one of the most unusual documentaries at the festival.
Tickled, directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve, is by no means the only offbeat nonfiction film at Sundance this year.
Take NUTS!, which dials back the clock a hundred years to explore the career of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, who invented a purported cure for male impotence that involved transplanting goat testicles into affected individuals.
Tickled might have been strange enough had the film only focused on competitive tickling. But apparently there is much more to this tale than just a poke in the ribs.
"After stumbling upon a bizarre 'competitive endurance tickling' video online, wherein young men are paid to be tied up and tickled, reporter David Farrier reaches out to request a story from the company," Sundance programmers wrote of the film in the festival catalogue.
"But the reply he receives is shocking—the sender mocks Farrier's sexual orientation and threatens extreme legal action should he dig any deeper. So, like any good journalist confronted by a bully, he does just the opposite: he travels to the hidden tickling facilities in Los Angeles and uncovers a vast empire, known for harassing and harming the lives of those who protest their involvement in these films."
NUTS!, directed by Penny Lane, looks back at a time when men afflicted with erectile dysfunction could not simply reach into a medicine cabinet and toss back a Viagra.
Dr. John Romulus Brinkley made a fortune developing a cure for ED in the early 1900s, which, unfortunately for his male patients, necessitated implanting them with goat gonads [one wonders if such men, upon ejaculation, unleashed a caprine bellow].
Dr. Brinkley not only got a rise out of his fellow man [or attempted to], he also ran for governor of Kansas, and as if that weren't enough, he "invented junk mail and the infomercial," according to the Sundance catalogue.
"Utilizing hilariously cheeky animation and the writings of Brinkley himself (whose dubious memoir provides the narration for this true story), filmmaker Penny Lane injects her audacious tale with humor and empathy," the catalogue added.
If NUTS! and Tickled don't satisfy your demand for unusual subject matter, there's always the Slamdance Film Festival. The alternative event, which runs concurrently with Sundance, will feature the premiere of Fursonas, directed by Dominic Rodriguez.
The documentary explores the subculture of fans who "purchase or create fursuits of their 'fursonas' -- life-size animal costumes that express their personalities," as press materials for the film put it.
One can almost imagine a mash-up of the three films in Park City, where a man dressed as a goat is tickled until he consents to having hircine testicles transplanted into him.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.