“You ladies, and most men as well, are always thinking about the size, aren't you?” accuses Sigurdur “Siggi” Hjartarson, the founder of the Iceland Phallological Museum and star of the documentary The Final Member, which plays at Cinefamily April 25-30 joined by a pop-up penis display. “In nature and among other species, this is not a major issue. You know, the hamster has a penis of about 1 to 2 millimeters, but it functions well and the hamster gets an awful lot of descendents.”
Hjartarson is the expert. A schoolteacher by trade, in 1974 he was given a bull's penis as a joke, a finger-slim whiplike appendage he still uses as a walking stick. Inspired, he set about collecting penises from the 46 mammals of Iceland – minx, reindeers, Harbor seals, and that gorgeous pest, the Arctic Fox – and when that was accomplished, he diversified to include phalluses of all shapes and species from the unabashed hamster, housed under a magnifying glass, to six feet-worth of the Sperm whale bobbing in a giant jar, merely a third of its intimidating length.
“I have only paid for one specimen: the elephant from South Africa,” says Hjartarson on the phone from Iceland. “I paid for that, the taxidermist and the postage. But all the others have been gifts.”
In 1997, Hjartarson moved his collection from his house to a proper museum. He had every penis imaginable – even those that are literally imaginary, like those from a Troll, a Merman, a Changeling, and the nightmarish-sounding Corpse-eating Cat of Thingmull. All he lacked was a human.
What man would donate his penis for public posterity? Two men, in fact. The first to offer was Icelandic local legend Páll Arason, who's kept a book tallying his over 300 sexual conquests – on an island of 300,000, that's roughly one in 500 women. But naturally, Arason wanted to keep his member until his death. Fifteen years after he signed a contract bequeathing his hardy appendage to the museum, the 93-year-old is still determined to put it to use.
“The guy has so much pride and bravado that after we shot him, we were going to drive him back to his house after we shot outside and he refused because he wanted to go back to the local establishment and speak to some women,” laughs The Final Member documentarian Zach Math, who co-directed the doc with Jonah Bekhor. Yet the older Arason gets, the more his penis shrinks – and it's already on the borderline of Hjartarson's five-inch requirement, the minimum legal length according to Icelandic folklore.
The second man is Tom Mitchell of California, a thrice-married bachelor in his sixties who is determined to make his penis the most famous in the world. Dubbed Elmo (a name that precedes the Muppet, he sighs), it's a handsome seven-incher that Mitchell sees not just as an extension of himself, but as its own separate being that he dresses up as a spaceman, a Viking, a cowboy and a wizard (link NSFW, obviously). For Mitchell, however, there's a catch: he wants Elmo to be the first human penis on display. And with the three-decades-older Arason racing him to the ultimate finish line, Mitchell's made peace with a drastic decision: he'll have to cut Elmo off.
“From the first moment we met Tom, it was clear that he was on this extreme journey,” says Jonah Bekhor. He and Math established a clear, ethical boundary with Mitchell: they would bear witness to his story but every choice was his. Gamely, they join Mitchell and Elmo as they meet with genital surgery specialists, plastination experts, display cabinet makers, and a tattoo artist who inked a patriotic stars and stripes on Elmo's head. “It was amazing how relaxed he was,” says Bekhor. “This was not the first time he tattooed his penis.”
Hjartarson finds Mitchell, well, cocky. “He sent me hundreds and hundreds of emails talking about nothing but his penis, his Elmo. I was not interested in his bragging about this phenomenal organ of his,” says the museum director. “In my view, I've been collecting for 40 years now. I appreciate every specimen, whatever the species is.”
But Hjartarson must complete his collection, Arason must cement his place in Icelandic lore, and Mitchell must launch Elmo into worldwide acclaim, no matter the personal cost. The historian, the lothario, and the famehound are united in their quest for a legacy – which, apart from using one's penis to sire offspring, is the only way a mortal man can live forever.
Sold? Today, Hjartarson has his first penis, a moment of bittersweet triumph in The Final Member. But he's still looking to add to his collection, especially for a penis in its prime. Currently he's eyeing another American man in his thirties who claims 14 inches. “That is exceptionally good,” says Hjartarson. “It would be awfully great to the museum to have a specimen like that.”
As for his own, it depends on whether Hjartarson outlives his beloved wife of over 50 years. “We are 73 now and if I die first, I can't guarantee that my specimen will be preserved for the museum,” he says. “But if she dies first, I would be free to do whatever I wanted with my specimen.”
Alas, women willing to donate their vaginas to history have hurdles he can't surmount. First, Hjartarson has no idea how to preserve them. Secondly, a younger collector must tackle the challenge. Lastly, he deadpans, “I have preferred them alive.”
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