Across the globe, there are plenty of museums devoted to art of all kinds, cars, sports, music, war -- the usual stuff. Poke around, though, and you'll find some more eccentric stuff: a museum of counterfeit goods in Thailand, an underwater museum in Cancun, and one that focuses entirely on cat art in Amsterdam. Among the more popular and well-known of these museums is the Icelandic Phallological Museum, founded in 1997 by Sigurour "Siggi" Hjartarson. After receiving a bull penis as a bit of a joke (Siggi doesn't actually explain the set up, per se), his fascination with members of all shapes and sizes grew exponentially. The museum came about when his wife told him his collection was taking up too much space in the house. Since its opening, the museum has developed into a significant tourism draw, but Siggi is not quite satisfied. His collection, wide-ranging as it is (specimens range from 1/3 of a sperm whale to the penis bone of a field mouse, permanently displayed under a microscope), lacks the most obvious example: the human penis.
Although The Final Member is roughly structured around Siggi's search for a human specimen, directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math are at least equally interested in Siggi himself, whose unusual hobby is clearly important to him, but hardly defines him. A former teacher, Siggi is also the author of 20 books, including one on foxes, a second passion. Just like the penis museum, a joke about saving Iceland's fox population lead to the founding of a habitat where the foxes can be free from the country's many poachers. One of Siggi's brothers, Petur, comments that Siggi only had two goals before dying: to finish the collection, and to translate a book by the Spanish monk La Casas. "He's completed that," Peter says, as the film cuts to Siggi holding up the published book. Still, obtaining a human penis is important to Siggi. His other brother Reynir chimes in: "It's like when you have a series of something, and you're missing one piece in the series."
From here, the film splits its time with two other subjects, the two men who have offered their organs to the museum. The first choice is Pall Arason, a famous Icelandic outdoorsman and reported ladies' man, who shows off a book in which he claims to have written the names of every woman he's ever slept with (more than 300). Arason was the first to sign an official legal document guaranteeing the delivery of his penis to the museum upon his death, but his 2006 offer remains unfulfilled as of 2010. Worse, Arason is beginning to become concerned that his penis is shrinking in his old age, which may bring him under what Siggi refers to as "a legal length," the meaning of which is attributed to a piece of local folklore about an unhappy wife. In vintage interview clips from television, Arason is boastful and flippant, laughing "I won't need my penis after I'm dead!", but in some of the footage filmed for the documentary, he seems a bit less enthusiastic.
The other possibility (at least, the other one mentioned by the documentary -- online articles suggest that a British man and a German man also offered their services) is Tom Mitchell, an American who seems to be going through the world's most bizarre late-life crisis. Mitchell refers to his member as "Elmo", a name he claims he had "before any Muppets." After three failed marriages and a number of other heartbreaks, Tom is looking to put thoughts of romance out of his mind for the rest of his life, and thus he's begun preparations to have his penis removed before his death. Siggi is receptive to this part of Tom's plan, but less enthusiastic about the Tom's lengthy emails about display plans, complete with photographs of the penis dressed up in a number of costumes (including Abraham Lincoln), or the elaborate, erect display case that Tom is set on having constructed, complete with dangling testicles and a mirror so that visitors can see the underside. Early in the movie, Tom gets stars and stripes tattooed on Elmo's head; soon after, he mentions his plans for a comic book about Elmo as a superhero.
Since the documentary's release, Siggi has commented that the "race" between Pall and Tom was mostly manufactured by Bekhor and Math, but much like the equally suspect King of Kong, the participants are all so fascinating that any manipulation is sort of beside the point. The film's greatest strengths lie in capturing the educational spirit of Siggi's mission (several bits of B-roll show Siggi enthusiastically serving as tour guide to a bunch of fascinated teenagers), the unusually touching and somewhat philosophical portrait of Arason (and Siggi himself) contemplating legacies and the concept of death, and just being around to capture Tom's charmingly egomaniacal ideas on film. He genuinely speaks about his penis as if it's a person of its own, its importance so inflated in his own mind that he envisions it being the world's first famous penis (hopefully nobody ever tells him about John Holmes). Like the museum, some might consider The Final Member perverse, but it's overwhelmed with a warmth and fascination with humanity that underlines its humor and heart. That, plus a bunch of dicks.
Cinedigm serves up The Final Member in a clear translucent Viva Elite Amaray case with a reversible artwork, in keeping with other Drafthouse Blu-Ray releases. The front is the theatrical poster, a red muscular medical illustration of a faceless man over a tan backdrop, with the "l" in "Final" serving to censor his package. The reverse side is a photo, similar to or taken directly from the film, of Siggi's unfilled glass preservation vase, with the plaque beneath it advertising what ought to go inside. Between the two, I prefer the "default" poster art, mostly because the tan and green is a bit more unique, color-wise. Inside the case, there is a sheet with a digital copy code on one side, and an advertisement for the Drafthouse's subscription program on the other, as well as a brief booklet with info on the film's three main subjects (all "pre-movie" info, so no spoilers), as well as a mini-poster version of Siggi's legal penis donation form. The one minor issue: the art mistakenly lists the runtime of the film as 82 minutes, rather than 72.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 1080p AVC and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, The Final Member is a perfectly good but unremarkable HD transfer. Detail is fine, although the photography occasionally takes on a slightly amateur look, with a hint of aliasing around the edges of people or slightly mushy colors (common artifacts of digital cameras). Vintage footage, of course, is subject to all sorts of analog anomalies, but nothing unexpected rears its head. The film's sound mix favors the dialogue, but there are some nice music cues and the occasional bit of ambience from the original footage. Very little of the mix suggests the full 5.1 experience was necessary. There's really not much to say about the A/V on this particular disc: it looks and sounds exactly like one should expect a new doc to look and sound. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are included, although whoever programmed them didn't bother with the usual shifting to accommodate on-screen credits and such, with the subtitles often appearing on top of such things. The subtitles pertain only to the English dialogue; the film contains a number of "burnt-in" yellow subtitles for Icelandic comments.
One brief extra is included, entitled "Tour of the Phallological Museum". Following a short video introduction, a list of exhibits pop up with a "Play All" option (11:12, HD). These brief clips offer commentary and history on some of the museum's exhibits by Siggi himself. They're also, in a way, a clever presentation of deleted material, as these vignettes were clearly shot during the film's production.
An original theatrical trailer is also included.
Although it's a little light on the supplements, the Blu-Ray of The Final Member is definitely worth a look. Not only is it a very funny look at a unique monument to manhood, it's also oddly sweet, filled with people whose eccentricities are presented with fondness, not scorn. Recommended.
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