Kirby Dick (Director)
'Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist'
"Sick Dick? You Decide!"
Kirby Dick (1952, Phoenix, Arizona) studied at the California Institute of the Arts. In 1981 he co-directed 'Men Who Are Men'. In that same year, he produced and directed the controversial documentary 'Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate'. In 1993 he wrote the screenplay for the feature 'Guy' (1996) by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, that was screened last year in the Fake programme. Since then, Dick has gone on to make 'Chain Camera' (2001) and 'Derrida' (2002), about the French Philosopher Jacques Derrida. His most recent film, 'Showgirls: Glitz and Angst' is currently showing on HBO as part of its prestigious America Undercover series.
Although filmed in 1997, Dick's 'latest' DVD project is entitled 'Sick' and is all about the life and times of performance artist Bob Flanagan; a man who suffered from cystic fibrosis throughout his 42 years. This disturbing, poignant, and disarmingly funny documentary examines his odyssey to have control over his body through inflicting pain on himself. Through private moments captured on camera, his performances, and direct conversations with Flanagan himself, we learn of his painful fight against his affliction, the creative and disturbing things he does to his ailing body, and the importance of his long-term relationship with his dominatrix/partner Sheree Rose.
Taking some time out with Dick recently, I first wondered when his friendship/relationship had begin with Bob Flanagan and what
initially had drawn them together? "I first met Bob in the 1980ís at the Beyond Baroque Literary Center in Los Angeles, where he was really beginning to make a name for himself with his poetry and outrageous performances. We started hanging out together and I went to some of the parties that he and Sheree threw. He was always very open and we became friends, although I became much closer to him while shooting the film during the last two years of his life."
Do you think that without CF racking his body and thoughts that he would
have lived a more, perhaps, 'normal' life - with regard the S&M? "I donít know. Bob certainly thought that his very early experiences of the pain of CF somehow compelled him to find a way to experience the pain as pleasure just to survive."
At the beginning of Bob's life, he seemed a more stand-up, self-assured,
polite, moral young man/adult, but then as the CF set in along with the
pain, he changed - did you see this as a gradual change or an overnight one? "Iím not sure I see that change. He grew up in a suburban middle-class environment, and so he may have seemed a little more ďnormalĒ, whatever that is. I have always seen Bob as a very straightforward, moral person. And he was usually polite, as you can see when he answers some of the crazy and aggressive questions that he got during 'Visiting Hours'."
Bob seemed as if he were a man caught between the worlds of being a Poet
and being a S&M devotee. Was he good enough, in your eyes, to have ever
progressed onwards as a Poet in such a manner as to possibly even write
books, etc.? "Being an artist is never a separate experience from living oneís life. In fact, it is often the interaction and conflict between the two that produces great work Ė certainly for writers. Because of Bobís illness and his masochism, Bob had a lot to work with. I absolutely believe that if Bob lived his full life he would have been one of the major American artists/writers of his generation. In the couple of years before he died, he had many very elegant ideas for new art pieces that he was unable to realize because he was so ill."
Bob once made the comment that he thought "Christ was the first
masochist," but did he really believe this and other such shock-value
comments spread throughout the film, or was it just that ... pure shock
value?! "That statement, which Bob clarified by saying that Christ was the most well known masochist, wasnít meant literally. Who knows if Christ was a masochist or not? Itís usually not something that people publicize (Bob and some others excepted.) What he was pointing out is that the image of the crucifix is the most ubiquitous image of suffering in Western society. Bobís teasing speculation that Christ may have enjoyed it is Bobís way of saying that the pleasures that accompany the exchange of power are all around us, at play even (especially) within our most sacred institutions."
With regard those final scenes in the hospital, how long did that final
stage take to overcome him and weren't you ever worried that the latter half of 'Sick' had turned quickly into something close to a TV medical hour?! "He was in the hospital for about two week before he died. The entire film up until his final stay in the hospital presents Bobís mediation on illness, suffering and death, both his own and others. So to chronicle Bob continuing that mediation up to the last possible moment before he dies I think is very powerful and is certainly something Iíve never seen on television before."
Is 'Sick' a movie or a documentary and what was it first conceived as regardless of any eventual outcome? "Itís both Ė a movie that is in the documentary genre. When Bob and I agreed to make the film, one of the conditions he insisted on was that I shoot all the way through the dying process. I never expected the film would be so well received Ė that it would be in the Sundance Festival, win an award there, and then go on to get such great reviews Ė including more than 20 Top Ten Criticsí list for 1997. The response the film received is a tribute to how strongly Bobís art and life affected people."
Which part of this movie shocked you the most and for what reasons? "Even though I knew Bob and had seen much of his worked, it was shocking to go through all the footage he had shot over the years, especially the footage he and Sheree shot for the 'Scaffold'. And there were certainly some moments when I was shooting 'Autopsy' that were a bit unnerving. But, like anything else, the shock wears off, especially when you realize how funny and rigorous his art is."
You mentioned that it's the British that have had the most to say about
this movie - explain in what way you've seen/heard that "'Sick' premiered in the UK at the Edinburgh Film Festival. When I arrived in London on my way to the festival, I was surprised to see it covered on the front page of the London Times. I think they related to Bob for many reasons, their love of perversion, Bobís sharp sense of humor, and the fact that he was of Irish descent."
So, why take on such a story and what's been some of the comments made
about it thus far: Good, bad & ugly!! "The New York Times called it "Unforgettable...among the most intimate love scenes ever filmed...a groundbreaking documentary" and one Entertainment Weekly Reviewer called it ďAmazing...extraordinarily rich and haunting" but another EW Reviewer said ďLife is too short too have to watch this filmĒ. I thought about writing a response to her but didnít, and it turned out she gave a rave for my next Sundance Film 'Chain Camera'."
Finally, sum up 'Sick' in three words "For the healthy!"
Interviewed By Russell A. Trunk
To win a brand new DVD of 'Sick', just tell me what Bob Flanagan's date of birth, month and year of birth was? Then, just send an e:mail to me with the subject title 'SICK' and the answer in the text to: