THE FINAL MEMBER And A Personal Walk With Cinematic Wangs
“The presence of the absence is everywhere” – Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am constantly looking at or touching my own wang.
The average person micturates six times a day according to DrOzFans.com, which is an actual Internet website. That means once every three hours I'm whipping out, holding and looking down at my wang, even if the rest of the day I'm contemplating butterflies or listening to Gregorian Chant or painting cherubs or whatever else it is that chaste people do.
And then there is the mere day-to-day of just sitting down, standing up or walking around with that thing down there. My appendage is hardly elephantine, but it still manages to frequently go the wrong way in my trousers, necessitating me to shove my hand beneath my belt and make maneuvers even if, say, walking down Broadway in the clear light of day.
To this let's add my libertine spirit, entwined not just in zesty and frequent marital affections, but let loose in the desert of a work-from-home schedule, with high-speed Internet, no religious qualms concerning the Sin of Onan and a seldom-discussed but agreed upon spousal contract based partly on Bruce Springsteen's filler cut from his 1980 LP The River which states “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch.)”
The point is, my wang is EVERYWHERE in my life, and I imagine it is the same with all men. Considering how much of the movie business is run by men (and frequently tailored to men, with female audiences unjustly considered an afterthought) it is quite surprising, when you think about it, how rarely we see a wang on screen. The movies are supposed to be our great reflection back -- life as it is lived with just a few tweaks for story purposes. And this thing which occupies so much of our visual and tactile real estate is just. . .missing.
I remember seeing my first wang on screen. It was the half-naturalist/half-Disney film Never Cry Wolf. I was just shy of nine years old. I haven't seen the film since, but my recollection is that it's about a scientist who goes to Antarctica. The Internet tells me I'm wrong -- that it is the Canadian Arctic -- and that the script was co-authored by Curtis Hanson and Sam Hamm, who wrote Tim Burton's Batman movies. But it also tells me that it's no false memory -- I did see a grown man's wang in public and in the presence of others.
Charles Martin Smith plays a biologist who is up there studying a declining caribou population and runs afoul of wolves. To mark his territory he whips out his wang and urinates a border near his tent.
I sat in the audience unimpressed. Not that I lived with nudists, but I had familiarity with what a grown wang looked like from various quick changes in cabanas with my father. I wouldn't categorize my parents as hippies, but they were direct with any biological questions we had. A book about the origins of life with naturalist drawings rested on my shelf alongside various picture books of the Solar System and Dr. Seuss.
But to my friends in school, the brief flash of a waggling wang in Never Cry Wolf was all anyone could talk about. (Nota bene: how ‘bout that 1983, huh? A time where every kid was off seeing virtually wordless films about scientists and the hardships of nature.) Their already sewn-up minds with their middle class values were blown away at the site of a wang in a movie. Their immaturity about the matter forced them to ignore everything else about the movie and focus on its lack of fig-leaf.
But was it their fault? Perhaps not entirely. The dearth of cinematic wangs leads to a veritable frenzy when one shows up. There are some movies out there -- good ones, too -- that when I say their title the first synaptic connection we make is to the fact that there's a wang in it. I say Hollow Man, you say wang. I say Women in Love, you say two English wangs. I say Eastern Promises, you say windmilling wang action to the death. I say Shame, you say enormous wang. (Me, I say not that enormous, but I also don't like to brag much.)
Some actors love to show their wangs. Ewan McGregor's has his own CAA agent. In Young Adam, Velvet Goldmine and Trainspotting Obi-Wang made an appearance. In The Pillow Book dude does naked cartwheels just to make sure you get a chance to see it from every angle.
But McGregor is hung like a rhinoceros so of course he's on display. Let's give a cheer to Harvey Keitel. When Keitel's wang appeared in The Piano one couldn't help but notice that, um, it wasn't all that fortissimo. It appeared front and center in Bad Lieutenant, protruding like a raisin as his character was wobbling around the apartment high on crack. In Ulysses' Gaze his wang is virtually non-existent -- an elevator button hidden in a forest of method acting bush.
Of all of cinema's wangs, Keitel's wang-du-verite is probably the most important one we see. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the human body, but after watching The Final Member I learned that, with extreme old age, and the dignity and good cheer it always brings, our wangs shrink.
The shrinking wang of nonagenarian Pall Arason is something of a “ticking cock” in Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math's touching film, a portrait of Siggi Hjartarson's desire to build a complete wang museum in Iceland.
There's a natural reaction to stifle the chuckles around the subject of this documentary -- to call it an insightful look at tenacity and conflicting egos. One could say that Siggi's museum could be about anything -- it could be about stamps or hubcaps or Pez dispensers, instead of collecting the wangs of all of God's creatures and letting them float in jars. But it isn't. It is Wang City, 100%, but not in a jerky, jock-ish way of dude-bros grabbing their crotch. It varies between the scientific and the sweet.
Siggi, somehow, became the guy whose life's mission is to preserve and display the array of nature's wangs, and when he had one of every kind except a human's, that's when the already weird story got a little bit weirder. Siggi finds himself two would-be donors -- one, an American jerk who is so warped and phallocentric he wants to have his wang surgically removed while he is still alive so it can sit in the museum. The other is Arason, something of an Icelandic folk hero (for, among other things, cocksmanship) whose shriveling wang might not be considered large enough to be “true” according to the bizarre requirements deemed necessary by a rather amusing cultural marker.
As Arason nears death one can think of no more personal way to watch his spirit and body part company. To consider that a group of men -- and a filmmaking crew -- rally with his genitalia to stay the course is just one of a number of reasons The Final Member really has no precedence in movies. It's that very present, top-of-mind aspect of a man's life, literally put on display.
Okay, we good? Great. Now let's talk about cooters. . .
This was originally published in the April edition of Birth.Movies.Death. See Drafthouse Films' The Final Member in theaters starting Friday!