Final Flesh Dir. Vernon Chatman

[Drag City; 2009]

Americans are hopelessly polarized when it comes to smut. On one side of the aisle, the indoctrinated inheritors of our Puritanical past fervently protest against all forms of nudity, pornography, and sexual discovery, bearing the banner of morality. At the other extreme, you’ll find the industries, individuals, and artists who continued to harness the goodwill of the Summer of Love to push a frankly sexual, au-naturel world, regardless of substance or subject matter.

Somewhere in that latter faction of this ongoing war resides Vernon Chatman. Fans of the PFFR collective are all too familiar with Chatman’s take on the sociopolitical stratification of America. Through television programming such as Wonder Showzen and Xavier: Renegade Angel, Chatman and his crew have transformed the absurd into a potent mixture of lowbrow comedy and highbrow combustibility. His shows make little distinction between right and wrong and accept no filter between what is imagined and what can be realized.

Chatman continues to flash, fondle, and fuck with boundaries throughout his first DVD, Final Flesh. With the help of four separate adult entertainment production houses, Chatman brings to life a unique combination of social commentary and artistic fetish. In the four scripts he farmed out to each production house, he weaves a tale based on the apocalypse, disguised in one man’s obscure quest to get off. Centered on two women and one man—playing a husband, wife, and daughter—each chapter of Final Flesh bleeds into the next one with varied but rewarding results.

Attaching the term "director" to Vernon Chatman is a little misleading, considering he doesn’t touch a camera or an editing device throughout the run of Final Flesh. The material each production house shoots is its own, and how each chooses to bring to life Chatman’s outlandish, fetish-packed script is just part of the overall puzzle. The opening threesome is as bad as it gets -- and it also happens to elicit the most laugh-out-loud moments in the film, thanks to some awful porn acting. However, the bad acting only transforms Chatman’s absurdities (each woman gives birth to a fruit before the daughter pops out a raw slab of meat and breastfeeds it; the mother has a dream of washing herself in the blood of angels and the tears of neglected children) into full-frontal comedy. The first trio is meticulous with their nudity, keeping Chatman’s criss-cross of fetish and art house low-key. As the film progresses and the second and third trios tackle the script, the nudity is ratcheted up. By the third trio’s appearance, it seems the actors and crew have decided that Chatman’s script, however strange it is, needs more punching up and that the best manner of doing so would be to make sure the buxom mother and teeny daughter are naked for as long as possible, creating a completely different comedic atmosphere from Final Flesh’s first act.

Final Flesh finds its true auteurism in the film’s last threesome. Not only are the three cast members gorgeous enough to leave the adult industry behind for legitimate modeling work, the crew seems to understand that Chatman’s script is a desperate stab at high art. The cheap production that was the calling card of the first three-fourths of the film is replaced by dark lighting cues, a black wardrobe, and a cast that has carefully memorized dialogue and cues. While many may scoff at Chatman’s faux fetish, the fact is that the three adult actors on display during the film’s climax are willing to give into the writer's supposed fantasy at will. They are true submissives, committing to the film's dubious aim of exposing some ridiculous truth to which none of us are privy.

Whether Vernon Chatman manages to tear the clothes off morality to expose its naked body is up for debate. But what's clear is that Final Flesh does achieve its goal of showing how one man’s fetish—no matter how goofy or scripted—may be another man’s smut.

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