Dir: Kate Shenton
On Tender Hooks almost beat me. This is rare. I've only previously stopped watching one film purely because I couldn't deal with the content (The Bunny Game). On my first attempt I got only 13 minutes into this film; a low budget documentary about human suspension, in which participants pierce metal hooks through various parts of their skin and are suspended (and sometimes swung) from ropes.
Director Kate Shenton doesn't ease us in, which is why the film took me two goes. Right upfront we're watching as people get pierced and suspended in the safe (almost medical) confines of a studio. From there the film opens out, looking at a little bit of the history of suspension both as a religious ceremony and talking to the first people who began doing it for recreational and artistic purposes and seeing suspension in other places and contexts. On Tender Hooks is more of a document than an analysis, and on that level it's often intriguing. I was initially skeptical of the artistic side of suspension, but some of the images created here do have a macabre sort of beauty about them.
This isn't to say that the film neglects to explore the motivation behind suspension as well as document it. Paritcipants speak about many different reasons that they want to suspend; some for the natural high that many report, others for the artistic value and many simply for the experience, but at just over an hour it doesn't have time to delve as deeply into these things as I might have liked. Certainly I still struggle to understand the attraction of the practice. The most interesting segment of the film in this respect are its last ten minutes, which show the suspension that Kate Shenton did before starting production. It was odd watching this, because I had recently met and liked Shenton I was very uncomfortable seeing her in obvious (and real) pain, but her eventual experience and the value she seems to take from it are the things that speak most eloquently about what draws people to suspension.
The film is full of eye-watering images, after a while I thought I was okay, then came the bungee jump and I wasn't okay. That said, if you can deal with the imagery On Tender Hooks is well worth a look. The film is packed with interesting characters and Shenton, though not on screen until the end of the film, imparts real personality from behind the camera. Her interaction with her subjects also prompts an openness from them that produces a compelling, if not always easy to grasp, testimony about the value of this kind of body modification.★★★☆☆