Release Date(s)2009 (July 26, 2022)
Studio(s)PFFR (American Genre Film Archive/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C+
Final Flesh provides a definitive rebuttal to those who complain that modern movies are nothing more than remakes, sequels, or superhero films. It’s also a reminder to be careful what you wish for. For good or for ill, there’s never been anything else quite like Final Flesh. It’s an absurdist assault on normality that subverts any and all expectations.
Final Flesh was the brainchild of Vernon Chatman, co-creator of Wonder Showzen and Xavier: Renegade Angel, as well as a founding member of the PFFR collective. According to Chatman, a friend had told him about fetish porn sites that would shoot videos on-demand based on their client’s wishes, and he suggested that Chatman use them to shoot a music video. Chatman took that idea and ran with it. He wrote a four-part script about a family facing the threat of nuclear destruction, and then farmed each part out to a different porn production company over the course of several years. The only directive was that they had to stick to the script; aside from that, Chatman told them to do whatever they thought was best.
Chatman had filled each script with utter nonsense; the action was filled with ridiculously surreal incidents, and the dialogue was laced with non sequiturs. None of it made sense, nor was it intended to do so. The hope was that by having the video companies play everything straight, inadvertent comedy would result. It’s essentially a modernist version of Dada art: a deliberate rejection of logic and rationality in favor of random absurdity and an assault on bourgeois normality. The fact that each segment features the same characters played by different actors, shot in a completely different style, is part of that absurdity.
The performers do play things straight, with one or two exceptions. They weren’t told what Chatman’s goals really were, so they did their best to try to interpret the insanity. Since they worked for porn production companies, there’s an abundance of graphic nudity on display, but there’s no graphic sex. Chatman’s scripts subverted expectations at every opportunity, so even when there’s a sexual setup, it’s usually turned into something unexpected. (At one point, an invitation for oral sex turns into something involving a block of cheese and a cheese grater.)
Chatman wasn’t interested in erotica; he wanted to create something uniquely unsatisfying instead. The fact that he succeeded places Final Flesh in an interesting position. It’s occasionally amusing, but it can hardly be described as entertaining. It runs a scant 71 minutes, but it still may be best to view it one segment at a time, rather than in a single sitting. It will be an endurance test for anyone hoping to make sense out of it—there isn’t any to be had. Yet that’s exactly the kind of experience that Chatman wanted to provide. It’s the ultimate expression of his contempt for norms of any kind.
Final Flesh was shot on standard definition video, which has been upscaled to 1080i for this Blu-ray release. The first two segments are framed at 1.33:1, while the last two are letterboxed at 1.78:1 within the 1.33:1 frame. Not all SD video is created equal, so the good news is that the image quality here is a step above the VHS-sourced SOV films of the Eighties and Nineties. On the other hand, it still needs to be viewed with expectations kept firmly in check. The level of detail isn’t bad, even though it still falls short of true high definition. It varies a bit from segment to segment, with a few looking sharper and more detailed than others. The only major artifact of note is aliasing, especially along diagonal lines. Contrast and black levels are adequate for a production of this nature, with a bit more detail visible in the shadows than on other SOV films. The colors look natural within the limitations of the videotape technology that was used. It’s not demo material, but it’s still perfectly watchable, even on a larger screen.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. Needless to say, everything consists of production audio, with only the music and a few sound effects mixed in afterwards. It’s as clear as can be expected under the circumstances.
The AFGA (American Film Genre Archive) Blu-ray release of Final Flesh is packaged in a clear amaray case that displays an image from the film on the reverse side of the insert, which is visible when the case is opened. There’s also an embossed and spot gloss slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 2,000 units. The following extras are included:
- Video Intro by On Cinema's Gregg Turkington (HD – 2:35)
- “Lay and Love” Video by Bonnie “Prince” Billy (Upscaled SD – 3:52)
- Alternate Music Score Track
- Original Trailer (Upscaled SD – 1:30)
- Outtakes (Upscaled SD – 8:43)
- PFFR Commercial (HD and Upscaled SD – :33)
The Video Intro is with Gregg Turkington of On Cinema, minus co-host Tim Heidecker, shot at the Victorville Film Archive. It appears to be fairly recent, as he mentions the 2020 version of The Invisible Man. Unfortunately, he doesn’t contribute much to the conversation. The Lay and Love music video was directed and shot on video by Vernon Chatman, but it’s otherwise not directly related to Final Flesh. The Alternate Music Score was written and recorded by Ben Chasny, and is also offered in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. (Whoever wrote the primary score remains a mystery, as there are no credits in the film.) The Outtakes are actually a blooper reel, featuring the various cast members cracking up at the antics on display. Whatever you may think of Final Flesh, the actors seem to have had a good time shooting it. Finally, the PFFR Commercial is a promotional ad for their 2008 Legacy Film Festival in Chicago, where Final Flesh premiered.
It's not a particularly extensive collection of extras, but Final Flesh doesn’t really need much more. It’s the kind of film that’s best left to speak for itself. Whether or not it speaks to you is going to be a matter of personal taste, but it’s a unique voyage through the surreal for adventurous viewers.
- Stephen Bjork