Maybe you've heard about the film where the guy nails his dick to a board. Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist is that movie. While a completely disgusting act, it is perhaps not the most difficult scene in the film to watch. Emotionally, not visually, it gets worse.
If you've seen the slightly-infamous Nine Inch Nail's banned-by-MTV, music video Happiness is Slavery, where a naked man gets poked, prodded and finally pulled apart by machines, you already know a bit about Bob Flanagan. Who is the subject of the controversial documentary Sick. Apart from the final death of Bob in that video, everything else is real. He is a self-appointed super-masochist.
With his body already ravaged by the horrendous disease cystic fibrosis; when every breath is pain, where death is right around the corner; Bob figures that he might as well enjoy a bit more pain in his life. He finds most of this through his life-partner/sadist Sheree Rose. She whips him, pierces him and forces nasty foods into his mouth. But he also performs a lot of it himself. There must be more than 100 shots of his penis in various states of torture in this film, all leading up to the piece de' resistance of a nail going directly through his cock in full view of the camera. Which may just be the nastiest thing I've ever seen on film. I watched it with my hands covering my eyes, like a little kid watching a horror film.
But Bob is doing something right with his life. At 41 he's the longest living survivor of cystic fibrosis; which fills his every organ with mucus. Two of his siblings are long gone from the same disease; most people who suffer from it don't make it out of childhood. Bob has turned it into an art, literally.
He writes songs and poems about it, performs stand-up routines centered around his suffering, bringing it right out there in the open, so people can not ignore it. In maybe his most daring piece, he puts himself on display in a museum, in a hospital bed, where people can come watch his body wreck itself live. He's not shy about a thing. His sadomasochism plays a part of his art as well; taking pictures, making videos and performing it on stage. He is the master of masochistic-mixed-media, a true original.
While he's trying to do everything to display his battle with CF for the public, he's not necessarily trying to be the poster boy for the disease. But through his art and his longevity, he has become one. He volunteers at a CF summer camp for kids, singing funny songs about the reality of their lives. The most touching scene in the film comes when, through the Make A Wish foundation, teenage sufferer Sarah Doucette pays him a visit him . She sees right through all his disgusting acts, not caring a bit about his fetishes, to the heart of the man. With her around, we get to see the tender side of Bob.
While Sick doesn't offer many explanations for Bob's tendencies, it also doesn't hold anything back. There are no experts talking about who he may be, nor is much of his personal history shown. But every method of torture is given its due, every cough is heard loud and clear and when he painfully succumbs to this terrible disease, we are there. His mom has the best explanation for the way he lived his life, "that Bob uses his whips n' chains to punish the body that has betrayed him." This 1997 film by Kirby Dick is well worth seeing, if you can get past the bits of sickness, you'll get to know a man who is very bright, funny and most of all brave.