Art via Re-Appropriation: Vernon Chatman’s “Final Flesh”

1 03 2010

First off, I’m pretty sure that my professor and my mother are the only people reading this blog. With that in mind, I’ve designed this post to effectively alienate 100% of my audience. Hi, Mom!

Final Flesh cover

Final Flesh Dvd Cover. Easily the most sane and comprehensible portion of the movie.

Now back to the platter at hand. I think Vernon Chatman is a comedic genius, although those are fightin’-words to many. Chatman’s created a very distinct voice with his PFFR productions Wonder Showzen, Xavier: Renegade Angel, and Delocated. Chatman has the admirable ability to create beautifully intelligent nonsense. He is capable of making vast, bizarre non-sequiturs that have just the right amount of logic to contrast their inherent outlandishness. There are rules and order in Chatman’s universe, but they are not the same as the ones in our own. He’s obviously an intelligent guy who has used his powers for absurdity. I respect that.

So when I read a recent A.V. Club interview with him, I immediately wet my pants over the announcement of a new PFFR project. Chatman’s direct-to-DVD release “Final Flesh” sounded like it would prove to be another feather in Chatman’s grotesque cap. I ordered it through Amazon at such a speed that my mouse clicks created several small sonic booms.

The concept is magnificent in it’s simplicity. Chatman discovered that there are fetish porn studios that will create movies for whatever weird-ass sexual perversions you can wrap your head around. Average, working-class deviants send in requests for movies every day, and these studios dutifully fulfill the fantasies of heavy-breathing strangers in exchange for filthy, filthy lucre. God bless America!

So Chatman developed the most ludicrous, surreal script you can possibly imagine. And he sent portions of it away to four different porn studios. Then, Chatman sat back and waited, taking the ultimate hands-off approach. These studios shot, directed, and cast the films themselves- ostensibly under the assumption that someone, somewhere was really going to get off on it.

The sexual content is essentially zero (occasional nudity, but nothing else). But this is still a deeply disturbing viewing experience. The DVD comes with a mini-poster and, fittingly, a packet of antibacterial handgel (which has been strategically placed to maintain the innocence and upstanding reputation of this fine internet publication).

Poster Side 2 and Antibacterial Gel. Vernon Chatman is your new God. Fear him.

Poster Side 2 and Antibacterial Gel. Vernon Chatman is your new God. Fear him.

The movie either has the most intricate plot ever or is completely plotless. I’m too scared to take a firm stance. It follows the story of a family (mother, father, and daughter) as they cope with nuclear apocalypse. The film is divided into four different segments, from four different studios, with four different sets of actors. These four segments seemingly take place on four different planes of reality. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.
(Link possibly NSFW? It’s a tough call. But don’t let the kids see.)

So what’s the ultimate result when porn actors are paid to sincerely but woodenly recite lines like “Last night during sex, you accidentally called out the Bible word for word,” “Now that I’m a trillionaire, I control you with my mind,” “It looks like Gregor Samsa will get the last laugh after all,” and “I’ve had it up to here with consciousness?” Comedic gold, that’s what. Chatman creates a sincerely laugh-out-funny film by taking on and subverting the genre of low-budget, amature fetish pornography. He’s taken (would-be) pornography, and turned it into comedic brilliance.

I can’t say if it’s artistic beyond it’s comedic value, though. But there are hack internet writers better than I who are more than willing to argue that point. Heathen Harvest seems to take the stance that Final Flesh may well be a work of great cultural import. I’m more prone to consider it well-read, intricate, cerebral nonsense. But when a comedian makes a porn actor reference the works of Franz Kafka on-screen, the lines start to blur.

Final Flesh features scads of Chatman’s trademark recursive meta-meta-meta comedy. In more ways than one, it’s a comedy ouroboros, forever eating it’s own tail. In one pitch-perfect scene, the characters on-screen decide to start acting. So they begin reading scripts. And the scripts are about acting. So they pass out more scripts. Someday, Chatman’s going to make a recursive gag so perfect that the universe collapses in on itself. I can’t wait.




One response

8 03 2010
Jane Singer

Yep, I’m reading! Don’t always get it (‘comedy oroborous’?), but it’s fun anyway … 🙂


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