If you see only one movie this year about a twisted, cuddly, courageous, fatally diseased, self-mutilating love slave, make sure that movie is Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (CFP). To call Kirby Dick’s extraordinary documentary ”disturbing” isn’t to do it justice — it’s cathartically disturbing. Born in 1952, Bob Flanagan grew up with cystic fibrosis, the debilitating lung ailment that kills most of its victims by their teens or early 20s. As if that weren’t burden enough, the illness is quite painful, and Flanagan, an Irish Catholic, mastered that pain in a uniquely perverse way. From an early age, he began to inflict pain upon himself, crucifying his flesh, becoming his own tormentor, his own vengeful god. Ultimately, he matured into an outrageously creative ”lifestyle” masochist and sick-dog performance artist, complete with razor scars, piercings, breathing tubes, and a brutally devoted dominatrix-lover.
In Sick, Flanagan, with his wounded eyes and gopherish smile, his I’ll-try-anything-if-it-hurts bravura, is certainly a freak, but he’s also an astonishingly sincere and witty man. He cracks wise about his predilections, compressing his life story into a ghoulish parody of ”Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” turning his body into a hideous work of art. Flanagan’s relationship with Sheree Rose, his mistress of 15 years (she provided much of the video footage that makes up the movie), is the core of Sick: This weirdly tender sadomasochistic union is observed with an intimacy that makes most fictional love stories look flimsy. Brilliantly edited, Sick prepares you for everything it shows you, from its ultimate shock-cinema epiphany (let’s just call it the definitive act of punk piercing) to Flanagan’s own death, one of the rare movie sequences that leaves its hero’s very soul lying naked. A