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Essays On Bob Flanagan

The title alone of Kirby Dick’s alleged documentary Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist practically screams: “This is not your standard biopic!” And the first scene, in which Flanagan reads his own obituary, is all the confirmation we need. Dick’s film is an unquestionably straightforward and unflinching depiction of Bob Flanagan’s painful and prolonged death from Cystic Fibrosis and the director manages to bend some of the affectations of “documentary etiquette” most other filmmakers place on themselves, without ever traversing into essay film territory. Flanagan is portrayed in the film as a mordantly hilarious man who has turned his entire life into a realization of his fictional fantasies. He has made his own body the canvas for his gruesome art displays. Simple enough, but Dick is savvy enough to realize that a scrawny little dude committing various atrocities to his body isn’t profound in and of itself and is liable to send audiences running for cover. (Though thanks to a notorious scene involving a hammer, a nail, and Bob’s knobby cock, many exited before the final reel anyway.) Instead, what makes Sick more than just a provocation is how Dick conveys how often people attempt to understand those around them in terms of themselves. Though no one, not even Bob, can offer a conclusive explanation for the appeal of sadomasochism, everyone has their own theory (that more often than not speaks to his or her own various life outlooks). Bob suggests that engaging in S&M actually makes him a stronger person, and more resistant to the debilitating effects of his disease (a theory made more plausible when one takes into account that Bob lived a couple decades longer than most CF patients do). His mother, who has already buried two children to CF, seems fairly certain that Bob uses his whips n’ chains to punish the body that has betrayed him. Between the two extremes is Bob’s life/artistic partner Sheree, who knows that it’s mostly a kinky turn on; but, of course, she could just be saying that because he’s her butt-plug bitch.

Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist

Bob Flanagan, Author, Andrea Juno, Editor, V. Vale, Editor Re/Search Publications $14.99 (126p) ISBN 978-0-940642-25-6

Flanagan is a poet and performance artist whose lifelong struggle against cystic fibrosis and whose taste for sado-masochism have led him into artworks that examine the fringes of sexual behavior. By surviving into his 40s, he has already beat the odds against his illness, a triumph he attributes in no small part to his willingness to surrender to the desires of his body: ``I've learned to fight sickness with sickness.'' The book includes six interviews by the editors with Flanagan and one with his partner/lover/dominatrix Sheree Rose, as well as considerable graphic documentation of his performances. In their sententious introduction, Re/Search publishers Juno and Vale extol Flanagan for ``giving us a glimpse of a more tolerant, more responsible and more conscious society where creativity is no longer fettered by censorship, sexist repression and denial of one's past.'' Flanagan himself is often quite funny in discussing the reactions of others to him and to his sex life but most readers will be repelled by the descriptions of such practices as genital piercing and hanging for long periods of time naked in a closet. Not for the squeamish. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 01/04/1993
Release date: 01/01/1993