The Final Member


It's grand to be a man!

It’s grand to be a man!

(2014) Documentary (Drafthouse) Sigurour Hjartarson, Tom Mitchell, Pall Arason, Peter Halldoresson, Reynir Hjartarson, Petur Petursson, Hannes Blondal, Terry Gunnel, Ari Karlsson, Marci Bowers, Douglas Mason, Siri Hastings, Shahar Tsabari, Lilja Siguroardottir, Jona Siguroardottir, Hjotur Sigurosson, Thorgerdur Siguroardottir. Directed by Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math

Florida Film Festival-2014

Sometimes the subject of a documentary can lend itself to a certain type of humor, which as a reviewer you want to resist. The documentarian after all deserves a sober and dignified review of his or her hard work. Then again, it can be hard not to be cocksure and by extension, possessed of a stiff adherence to a set of hard and fast rules entered into by the reviewer without understanding what they’re getting into.

But this film with the Icelandic Phallological Museum at its center is like that. The Museum is essentially a collection of penises from every species of mammal save one – homo sapiens. Sigurour Hjartarson, better known as “Siggi,”  is the curator.

This unusual collection began as a joke when a friend gave Siggi a bull penis because as a boy, Siggi had owned a cattle whip made from a bull’s penis. Other members followed from different mammals which he stored in his office at the college where he taught history and Spanish. After he retired and moved the collection home, he began to add more and more specimens to his collection. Eventually his wife Jona encouraged him to house the collection in a museum. At first the museum was a bit of a curiosity, located in Reykjavik, but when Siggi couldn’t afford the rent he moved it to a former restaurant in the tiny Northern Icelandic town of Husavik. The villagers initially viewed the new attraction with some suspicion but once they realized that the museum contained nothing pornographic they accepted it.

From there it went from oddity to genuine tourist attraction. Thousands of people flocked to the quirky museum from all over the world, 60% of them women. Still, the museum lacked the crowning specimen from the top of the mammalian food chain. Siggi was in despair; no longer a young man, he had very real concerns about the future of the museum without him. He had his cousin Petur, a doctor, start to quiz patients to see if they would be willing to donate the organ when they were dead.

The trouble was that Iceland is essentially a very small island in terms of population and not everybody wanted to have their most private part on public display for eternity, even after they were dead. However, two people heard about Siggi’s plight and decided to help.

The first was Pall Arason, who already was famous around Iceland. A nonagenarian, in his youth he had been an adventurer and explorer of the highlands of Iceland. He was also a notorious womanizer and decided that such a well-used member should get its due.

The other applicant was a different case entirely. His name is Tom Mitchell and he marches to his own drummer as well. A divorcee living in the Santa Ynez Valley in California, Tom refers to his penis as “Elmo” (so-named as a young man by one of his girlfriends) and is determined that it become the most famous penis in the world. He has tattooed his penis with the stars and stripes so that museum visitors will know that they are looking at an all-American penis and let’s face it; what could be more American than a schlong?

As Tom got more into the idea, he e-mailed Siggi regularly with ideas and suggestions as to how his penis should be displayed. He also sent dick pics of his penis dressed up in costume (I couldn’t make this stuff up). He also decided that in order to be first, he would have it removed while he was still alive.

For a first feature (which this is) this is an amazing documentary. I was not aware that there was a museum of this sort anywhere in the world and when I first found out about the movie, I was sure that I could have gone the rest of my life without having that knowledge.

I was wrong. The filmmakers (and Siggi himself) point out that the penis for whatever reason has become a taboo subject, not just here but essentially everywhere. We can talk about any other body part without blushing more or less but bring up the penis and people start to blush and stammer, yet it is a part of our bodies (for males anyway) just as our heart, our eyes and our hair is. That it happens to be the part of our body which not only urinates but also creates life is simply part of its function, like the lungs oxygenate our blood or our stomachs digest food.

Mitchell doesn’t come out looking too favorable for much of the film, although at the very end we begin to see him as less of an oddball and more of a human being whose motivations for the way he acts and the things he does becomes more clear. I can see how some might view him as an object of ridicule but to be honest I found him to be the most fascinating character in the documentary. To those disposed towards judging him (or anyone else in any documentary for that matter), keep in mind that we are spending (when you tally up all the screen time) less than an hour with these people in order to get a glimpse of a certain facet of their lives. That really isn’t enough time to make any sort of comprehensive opinion on who they are as people.

That said, I found this movie to be something of a celebration of things that are outside our comfort zone. I tend to agree with Siggi that we should be able to talk about the penis without resorting to dick jokes (although a few inevitably show up, not always intentionally) and we should be able to view people who are fascinated with them as something other than perverts.

This is one of the most entertaining documents you’re liable to see this year. I have to admit that I had some trepidation towards seeing this initially – what red-blooded guy will admit to being fascinated by a movie about…well, dicks – but once I sat down and actually saw it I realized this was one of the best documentaries of the year. As a matter of fact, it is one of the most delightful films I’ve seen so far this year.

REASONS TO GO: Uproariously funny. Celebrates the unusual.

REASONS TO STAY: Some might find having so many dicks onscreen a little bit uncomfortable.

FAMILY VALUES: Obviously the subject matter is not for kids. Also there is some male frontal nudity and some mild foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In addition to the two donors in the film, an Englishman and a German both also pledged to donate their members to the museum.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Magical Universe

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Devil’s Knot

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Turn Me On, Dammit! (Få meg på, for faen)


Turn Me On, Dammit

Just because a teen girl is in bed doesn't mean she's thinking about sleep.

(2011) Teen Sex Comedy (New Yorker) Helene Bergsholm, Malin Bjorhovde, Henriette Steenstrup, Beate Stofring, Matias Myren, Lars Nordtveit Listau, Jon Bleiklie Devik, Julia Bache-Wiig, Julia Elise Schacht, Arthur Berning, Hilde-Gunn Ommedal. Directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen

 

Hollywood has explored teen sexuality with a bit of a vengeance. Teens losing their virginity, teens frustrated by their raging hormones and teens just generally looking to get laid are all common themes – but always from the male perspective. Sex for teen girls has always been relegated to either a search for Mr. Right or as objects for teen boys.

Alma (Bergsholm) is different, at least as far as Hollywood perceptions of teen girls go. Sure, she’s sweet on a specific guy – hunky Arthur (Myren) – but she has urges and I mean all the time. She puts teen boys to shame. She is constantly getting herself off (forcing her mother (Steenstrup) to don earplugs at night so she doesn’t hear her daughter’s moans), looks at porn magazines and spends well over six thousand kroner (about $1,000 US) on phone sex. In fact, the phone sex operator she usually chats with has gotten to know her well enough that he knows about her fascination with Arthur and about the tiny little town in Norway that she lives in.

Skoddeheimen is bucolic, nestled in the mountains and fjords of Norway but far from any semblance of anything that would keep a teen from getting bored. Alma hangs out with her friends Sara (Bjorhovde) and Ingrid (Stofring). The former smokes like a chimney and dreams of moving to Texas where she would become an anti-death penalty activist (good luck with that one) while the latter is a bit on the empty-headed bitchy side and is constantly applying layer after layer of lip gloss, making Snooki look positively hippie-like.

The girls take the bus to and from school, talk about boys, get adult men to buy beer for them and smoke disconsolately in a bus stop shelter on the edge of town which is kind of a clubhouse for them. They go to school and party – that’s life in Skoddeheimen. At a party at the Youth Center one night, Alma steps outside to sneak a beer. Arthur joins her there and suddenly without any apparent reason, whips out his member and rubs it against her leg.

Alma is suitably surprised and runs inside to tell all her friends. Ingrid, who has a big crush on Arthur, refuses to believe it happened and when confronted Arthur denies it as well. Alma soon finds herself completely ostracized, shunned like she has a scarlet letter embroidered on her chest. Ingrid spews venom at her every chance she gets and even Sara finds it impossible to be seen with her at school. The kids start calling her “Dick-Alma” and the nickname follows her everywhere except to her home where her mother is completely oblivious to the hell her daughter is going through.

And hell is exactly what it is; shunned, no longer invited to parties, the guy she has had a crush on for a long time refuses to speak to her. Alma gets a job at the co-op market working for the genial Sebjorn (Devik) who happens to be Sara and Ingrid’s dad (did I mention they’re sisters) but when he discovers Alma’s out of control sexuality and Alma discovers the reason for Arthur’s distance and denial, she gets fed up and runs away to Oslo to visit Maria (Bache-Wiig), the older sister of Sara and Ingrid who is attending university there. Desperately lonely, Alma opens up to Maria and her roommates and for the first time in quite awhile finds acceptance.

Eventually her break in the city must end and she must return home to Skoddeheimen. Can she get past the small village’s perceptions of her or even change them, or is she doomed to be an outcast for the rest of her life (or at least until she graduates).

This is a heartwarming movie with a wry sense of humor. The teens here act like teens (flipping the bird to the road sign with the town’s name on it every time they pass it) and don’t have all the answers. They can be petty and vindictive but also enormously loyal and caring as well.

The fact that almost none of these actors had any professional experience before this movie is amazing. Bergsholm in particular had a role that can’t have been easy; it calls for some displays of sexuality that would make adult actresses uneasy and she is in nearly every scene in the movie. She’s quite beautiful with a shy but charming smile and an attitude that shows the kind of strength a lot of adults don’t possess. Sure Alma is a horndog, but she’s admirable just the same. She doesn’t always deal with her sexuality well, but what teenager does? I don’t think she is a role model precisely but she isn’t far from one.

Steenstrup is one of the few adults in the movie and she gives the single mom in the movie (Alma’s dad is never in the picture) the kind of frustration and confusion that every parent of a teen daughter can relate to (and it’s not by accident that the mother is never given a name). The mom doesn’t always handle her daughter’s situation gracefully and she is sometimes caught up in her own problems to really take enough notice of her daughter’s and her reactions tend to be on the knee-jerk side. Like every parent she has no manual to consult and so she just wings it, sometimes doing or saying the perfect thing, other times stumbling into disaster. As parenting goes, that’s pretty much universal.

As I said at the top of the review this is an unusual film for its female perspective. Some will find the opening scene with Alma lying on the kitchen floor with her hand down her panties masturbating while listening to her favorite phone sex operator describe what he’s doing to her shocking; others will have their feathers ruffled at the nudity displayed here. If you tend to be on the prudish side, this might not be your cup of Aquavit. However, while teen sexuality is at the center of the movie, it isn’t about teen sex but more about our attitudes towards female sexuality. Why aren’t girls allowed to enjoy sex or want it? When boys/men are horny, we snigger and shrug it off as “boys will be boys” but when girls/women do it, they’re sluts. I guess I just don’t understand why we have to look at both cases differently.

This is a movie with a gentle sense of humor that has a certain amount of sex, but I never found it raunchy like a Porky’s type of movie or even like an American Pie sort of thing. Rather, it looks at teen female sexuality with level head and open eyes. That seems to me to be a more sensible way of promoting understanding.

REASONS TO GO: An unusual look at teen sexuality from the female perspective. Well-acted and funny from a realism standpoint.

REASONS TO STAY: There’s a lot of emphasis on female masturbation and fantasizing which might put conservative folks out of sorts.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of sexuality and nudity, as well as several scenes of female masturbation. There are rude words and gestures and plenty of teen smoking, drinking and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The filmmakers tried to make most of the cast local to the Sogn og Fjordane district where the film was set so that the dialects would be accurate. 450 teenagers were seen which isn’t a large amount for this kind of film but is a significant percentage of the overall population of 10,000 for the district.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 70/100. Early reviews are highly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The First Time

FJORD LOVERS: The area the movie was filmed in has its share of fjords and they are beautifully captured here.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Bully