Thursday, September 18, 2014

Penis Week on The Audient

When you watch a documentary about penises on Netflix on a Tuesday night, and you know you have exactly one other documentary about penises remaining on Netflix, might as well watch it on Wednesday night and just get the two-night double feature out of the way.

So went the thinking that resulted in consecutive-night viewings of The Final Member and Unhung Hero -- both of which I liked quite a bit.

Both films, in very different ways, get at an obsession that is universal among men: size. You could say that almost all men are fixated on the size of their penis, or at least have been at one point or another. Unless you've been told you have a gargantuan member, there's likely a part of every man that wonders if he measures up, literally and figuratively. But even if you are grotesquely well-endowed, that might also create an obsession of sorts (as we shall see in the discussion of one of these two films).

Because it's also kind of embarrassing to be concerned about your own size, I had avoided watching the one I knew was more directly related to that -- even though Unhung Hero had been on my radar for almost a year. I just didn't really want it to show up among the recently viewed titles in the Netflix account I share with my wife. However, when I watched The Final Member the same day I added it to our queue (having heard about its existence on a podcast a few months ago), I figured the opportunity for a corresponding blog post was too good to pass up, and hit play on Unhung the next night.

The title The Final Member relates to the last necessary donation to complete a unique museum in Iceland: one devoted entirely to the penis. It's the brainchild of Sigurdur "Siggi" Hjartarson, who has turned his eccentric hobby of collecting samples of animal penises into a full-fledged tourist attraction. Although he's got specimens of nearly ever mammal known to mankind, the elephant in the room is that there's no human genitals to complete the collection. This becomes an obsession for Siggi, and the movie explores how he plans to get a willing donor -- perhaps one who will even part with his junk while still alive.

An odd conceit for a movie goes from strange to stranger when we learn that an American named Tom Mitchell is so proud of his unit -- which he has nicknamed Elmo -- that not only does he want the whole world to see it, he wants to see the whole world see it. Mitchell is that volunteer for the prehumous contribution to the museum, so enamored with what God gave him that he is willing to give it up entirely just so everyone can know how great he ... was. Especially if it will make him the first donor to the museum, getting ahead of a nonagenarian Icelandic celebrity known for numerous exploits, particularly having slept with around 300 women.

I shouldn't tell you too much more about the movie, except that it is a fascinating study of truly exotic forms of obsession that stem from the very mundane obsession we all experience. There's discussion in this film not only of the greatness of particular specimens, namely that put forth by Tom Mitchell, but the potential disappointments of others, like the increasingly shriveling sample offered by the 90-something Icelander whose impending death gives the film its strangely significant sense of stakes. There's even discussion of what qualifies as the historical definition of a "legal length" -- and whether the elderly man's penis will a) make the cut, and b) be something he remains interested in sharing with the world if it doesn't.

That probably makes for a good transition to Unhung Hero, which concerns a gentleman (the Mark Duplass lookalike you see in the poster above) who has already been told that his size doesn't measure up. Patrick Moote got the wrong answer on a Jumbotron marriage proposal, and his soon-to-be-ex callously gives the following explanation for her rejection: His penis is too small for a lifetime commitment. Reeling from his public humiliation (which quickly went viral on Youtube) and the private humiliation of being considered an inadequate lover, Patrick goes about making this latter humiliation extremely public as well, agreeing to explore the question "Does size matter?" in documentary format, with himself as the prime subject. In a bit of a paradox, Patrick embarks on a sequence of events that only someone with a lot more confidence and a lot less shame than he thinks he has would ever undertake: He seeks out exes to see if they considered him small, he consults experts to determine if he is small, and then he ventures out to find ways to make himself bigger -- from scientifically valid procedures to the suspect practices of witch doctors.

I certainly enjoyed this movie's playful presentation, which might remind a viewer of the films of Morgan Spurlock (without the knack for polemics that tends to divide people on Spurlock). Director Brian Spitz gets the tone of the graphics and the cutaways ("I was in the pool! I was in the pool!") down perfectly. But what kind of floored me about it was the courage displayed by Moote, who as far as I know is the only person in history who has told the entire world that he has a small penis. Oh, I'm sure Jerry Springer had a guest who said something like that once, but the audience for this documentary -- the prospective if not the actual audience -- is theoretically much greater. A television talk show is ephemeral, watched once and then discarded, but Patrick Moote has gone on record for all time as being "the guy with the small penis." Bravo for him.

This courage forgave some of the parts of the film that I thought seemed too convenient -- i.e., possibly staged. You have to wonder in a film like this if everything is perfectly legitimate, particularly one aspect of the plot that comes home in the final act (which I won't spoil, but which is kind of already spoiled by Netflix using it as the promotional still that hangs on the screen while the movie is loading). When you've got a guy willing to risk a lifetime of public ridicule and humiliation like this, I kind of don't care if a little bit of it is scripted. The fact that this guy actually has a small penis is something that I know is real, and the bravery of this kind of naked (pun intended) exhibition of our most fundamental masculine insecurities makes him, indeed, the very hero mentioned in the title.

I will admit that after this movie I went into the bathroom and looked at "myself" in the mirror. There was a part of me that hoped that we would have actually gotten to see Patrick Moote's offerings, so those of us who, you know, wondered a bit could compare and contrast ourselves.

But in the end I'm glad that it didn't, because what both of these movies really want a viewer to do is to love his penis -- no matter what shape, or size, or attachment to his body it may have.


1001: A Film Odyssey is produced, directed and written by Chris, a librarian. said...

I keep seeing Unhung hero whenever I browse through Netflix titles. You've at least got me thinking about giving it a go.

Vancetastic said...

If you think of it, come back here and let me know what you think!