Shot over two years and compiled from more than 100 hours of footage, this documentary can safely be said to have no equal. Bob Flanagan died in 1996 after a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis. Performance artist, stand-up, diarist, poet and filmmaker, he is the unlikeliest movie hero of the year. But hero he is.
Whether demonstrating how shampoo can make a Visible Man doll come, shit and hack up phlegm or being beaten with diverse implements for a photomontage called Wall Of Pain, Flanagan was certainly prepared to suffer for his art. But then, his wife and collaborator, Sheree Rose, was more than prepared to do her bit, too. In Autopsy, she talks us through the scars and bruises on his body before giving him a playful piercing through his scrotum. But that's nothing compared to the act of pushing a sizeable metal ball up his arse to the rasping accompaniment of her rubber gloves.
In addition to readings, S&M exhibits and darkly comic songs, the film also includes the shocking sight of Flanagan nailing his penis to a wooden board, sending a cascade of blood over a glass sheet above the camera lens. Yet, none of these images quite matches the traumatic effect of watching him cough his guts up or try to explain to his ever-domineering wife that he no longer has the strength to be her slave. Rose only agreed to the making of this film with great reluctance, feeling it challenged her status within the marriage. Certainly she's harder to like than Flanagan, but it's clear he could never have fulfilled his sexual or artistic ambitions without her.
Whatever you want to call Sick, it's anything but a piece of exploitative voyeurism, by turns sombre, hilarious, wince-inducing and inspiring.