Tackle Happy (The Origins of "Puppetry of the Penis")
**½/**** Image B Sound B- Extras C-
directed by Mick Molloy
by Bill Chambers A name actor once dropped trou' in front of me, under non-sexual circumstances I dare not elaborate. I buried my face in my hands and this only inspired him to taunt me further with his manhood. "What's the matter? It's just a dick," he said. The more I think about it (not that I've been dwelling on it), the more sage his plea of innocence becomes. Penises are obnoxious, and sometimes none too innocuous, but all in all, they're not the least bit sacred. Compare the western cultural reputations of the vagina and the penis: on stage, the former gets a pretentious monologue performed by everyone from Glenn Close to Alanis Morissette; the latter gets a puppet show.
"Puppetry of the Penis" was developed Down Under by Simon Morley and David Friend, after Morley released a calendar containing twelve fresh snapshots of his gentalia striking a pose. (That it didn't sell well was both understandable and shrugged off, as though it were the first failed stab at the light bulb.) Morley describes his relationship with Friend as founded on common interests rather than chemistry; they remind him of war buddies. In Tackle Happy, a movie that recounts the abortive cross-country Australian tour of "Puppetry of the Penis", we repeatedly see the utter passiveness of Friend, who goes by the nickname "Friendy," unnerve Morley, a hard-living bloke with a subtle disregard for others that manifests itself in antisocial episodes like driving without a license. Morley and Friend are the classic odd-couple showbiz partners, the current between them changing course depending on whether they are in front of a crowd or cramped together in the back of a tour bus.
The documentary, directed by Mick Molloy, Australia's answer to Howard Stern, revels in the explosion of taboo that "Puppetry of the Penis" represents: There is a desensitizing amount of full-frontal male nudity on display as Morley and Friend fold their packages, origami-style, to resemble such disparate shapes as the Eiffel Tower, Nessie, and a pelican. Audiences tend to have a two-part reaction to each, the first a complex flinch rooted in shock and sympathetic pain, the second awe at how close the puppeteers have come to hitting their target. Molloy's film is narrated with and thus bridged by excerpts from his morning program in which he ridicules the act's trials and tribulations on the road; if there's an antagonist in the piece, it starts out as censorship (decency laws, apparently governed by crapshoots, force the cancellation of performances and have an adverse effect on the size of the venues) and metamorphoses into the elephant in the room that is Morley and Friend's ballooning bar tab.
We collect this information through loose, all-access sketches--the upshot to documenting two professional flashers is that they aren't shy subjects. The downside is that the work of Friend and Morley speaks for itself: the blue-collar pair may share a gift but it is not for introspection, leaving us, for the most part, to speculate pathologies. What makes a penis puppeteer? Tackle Happy hasn't a clue, although I'm criticizing the film for the agenda it doesn't have instead of back-patting the one it does have. So generous in showing flesh--and seizing every opportunity for a cringe-inducing close-up--that it surpasses fetish (there are even extended, semi-poetic sequences of naked sky- and scuba-diving), Tackle Happy is a fitfully amusing baptism-by-fire that aims to, however incidentally (it was made, after all, by a disc jockey), cleanse us of twentieth century hang-ups.
Tackle Happy was released on DVD in North America by newcomers Critical Mass, though "Cocky Productions" (ho ho) produced the film. The fullscreen image looks straight out of a digital camcorder, clean and crisp. Video noise is a minor issue during dark interiors (some of the places that host "Puppetry of the Penis" are better lit than others) and night exteriors. The 2.0 stereo soundmix reflects the poor acoustics of many of the clubs, and unfortunately, there are no subtitles or closed-captioning options to assist us in this regard. (The Aussie accents besides are easily decipherable, at least.) Extras include a how-to section comprising five lessons (these and twenty-one more are available in a Puppetry of the Penis companion guide)--I still say don't try this at home. A scene selection menu, separate from the standard one, called "Quick Flicks to Dick Tricks" (27 chapters in total), plus trailers for Tackle Happy and a companion piece profiling the worldwide tour of "Puppetry of the Penis" (Cock Stars), round out the disc. Originally published: January 10, 2002.