Vernon Chatman is a man of many talents. The three-time Emmy Award winner is a member of art collective and electro-rock band PFFR, and he’s a co-creator of television comedy Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, (starring Snoop Dogg), MTV kids’-show-gone-wrong Wonder Showzen, and recently, Adult Swim program Xavier: Renegade Angel.
He has written for The Chris Rock Show and Conan O’Brien, among others, and may be best known as the voice of South Park‘s marijuana-pushing corporate mascot “Towelie.” Chatman’s repertoire has been described as eclectic, twisted (Wonder Showzen, for instance, had a sketch titled “Hitler Kid”), and — depending on who you’re asking and when — alternately hilarious and disturbing.
Though Chatman’s brain overflows with its own absurdities, the inspiration for his new film, Final Flesh, came from an unlikely source. “My friend told me that he saw there were companies that made custom-made porn, and you could make them do whatever you wanted them to do,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a nurse sitting on a yellow sheet saying the name ‘Jacob’ over and over again. I don’t know what the normal thing is. Feet? Hamsters? I don’t know.”
Speculating on what sort of oddities get other people hot is fun, but what Chatman found most intriguing about the concept was, he says, “the fact that a person would need their thing, and would only be able to find it if they could custom order it.” He had a revelation.
“If these people are already going to have sex in any way, or any style, you can get them to do anything you want and they will do it sincerely,” he says. “That’s what they do. In porn, it’s totally sincere; they just think this is a fetish. A lack of artifice, or total artifice — that makes them committed to total insanity and to give it their all.”
For Chatman, the foray into avant-garde porn was a refreshing change from his animation projects. “In animation, you have total control; you can make anything happen,” he says. “You can make the Earth blow up and bloom into a flower as easy as you can make a guy walk down the street. The other thing is that you have all this control, and it kills you. [In my animation team] we’re super meticulous. We go frame by frame and are über control freaks. This was about surrendering all control.”
He got to work writing the script, which he dubbed Final Flesh, divided it into sections, and commissioned four porn-production companies around the country to film them. “I wanted to see if I could make an inadvertent comedy on purpose,” he explains. “If you want to do something as an outsider, you can’t, because it’s catch-22. This was an attempt to do that.”
“If you want to do something as an outsider, you can’t, because it’s catch-22. This was an attempt to do that.”
Final Flesh, a compilation of the four short films, depicts a family unit of a father, mother, and daughter — represented by a wide cross-section of American porn actors in age, attractiveness, and acting ability — as an atom bomb drops. They are, presumably, the “final flesh” left on Earth. From there, anything that can happen does.
(Spoiler alert!) A woman gives birth to a piece of meat, which she names Mr. Peterson as she suckles “him” to her breast. A man tries, literally, to return to the womb headfirst.
“I don’t consider sex complete until birth,” Chatman says adamantly, “and this movie is proof of that.” Later on, characters receive messages from divine beings via fortune cookies, fax machines, and jars of change spilled on the floor. People grow smiley faces on their backs that “make out” with each other, or develop deformities such as being clad with never-ending layers of panties. A woman shits her brains out. People are “scared to death” and brought back to life.
Chatman remained completely hands-off in the production process. “I made the script so that as long as they stuck with the script, I would be happy no matter what they did,” he explains. To assist, he included instructions, such as guiding a male actor to play the part as if “your vagina was having a nightmare.” Other instructions include, ”Say this line in a way that would make the Earth crumple around you,” or ”After he says this line, he melts inside himself and faces the complete truth about himself for the first time.”
He explains, “I wanted to get them to do things that were bizarre and strange and things [whose meaning] they would be forced to grapple while they were doing them, but they had to do it all as they could expend with their resources. I wanted to weigh the lowbrow down with as much highbrow as possible and fold in a heaping helping of super, über lowbrow into the mix.” This led to hilarious moments including an actress fantasizing about overthrowing the capitalist regime, and another where the players argue with, and try to outsmart, God.
As far as actual sex acts are concerned, Final Flesh is decidedly soft core. “I didn’t want to have any sex in this because I think sex is a disgusting habit not to be shared with the general populace,” Chatman says. “But there had to be enough in there so they believed it was someone’s fetish. I used the word ‘sensual’ a lot in the script and ‘fantasy.’”’
But the films are anything but sexy. “I started to realize how truly uncomfortable things were and how surreal things were,” Chatman says. “If they didn’t know what to do in a scene, they would say, ‘Let’s try to make this sexy!’ and it was funny, because it shouldn’t be.” There is an inverse relationship between sex and sexiness in Final Flesh; the more explicitly the actors interpreted a scene, the creepier and more bizarre it became.
However misguided, though, Chatman has nothing but respect for all of his actors. “They can make anything porn-y,” he marvels. “That’s why they’re professionals, and that’s why we as amateurs can never compare. And that’s why I believe in God now more than ever.”
“I never really let them in on the joke because I don’t really know how to explain it; I don’t think it’s a joke on them,” he continues. “I would hope that they would like it. There are varying levels of awareness. No one questioned the sincerity about it. They were aware that this was pure and sincere and not commissioned as a joke. I don’t think anyone dismissed it as a joke — hopefully not.”
Final Flesh was licensed for distribution by Drag City Records, a company known more for its association with acclaimed musicians like Will Oldham and Joanna Newsom than adult films, though Chatman contends, “If they start going down the road of distributing mostly porn and Smog albums, I’ll consider that a victory.” With the release of the film in the fall of 2009, Chatman feels that the ultimate mission has been accomplished. “It makes me laugh,” he says. “I’m not necessarily going to do this again, but there are a lot of ways to apply this concept to other things.”