April 15, 1999
In this documentary -- which premiered March 15 at 11 PM EST on HBO -- more than 20 men aged 17-73, debunking the "think with..." stereotype, disrobe and describe what they think about their most private parts.
Cindy28 asks, "The men in the movie seem so comfortable discussing their penises. Did it take long for them to warm/open up to you? Did the tenser moments end up on the cutting room floor?"
MEEMA: The best way to make anyone comfortable is to listen to what they're saying. If Thom and I have any technique, it's that we're insatiably curious and, I suppose, politely persistent. But I give a lot of credit to the men themselves. No matter what we did or said, they had to be comfortable with themselves and they had to take a leap of faith in us. Some of the men told us they were put at ease by watching our previous documentary "Breasts." They knew we weren't out to ambush them.
THOM: We didn't intentionally cut out tense moments. But a lot of everything wound up on the cutting room floor because we condensed about 25 hours worth of interviews into one hour. I'm hoping we can eventually put some of the outtakes on video.
THOM: Most of them are relatives. No, actually we spent several months recruiting men with the help of Ann Rose, our associate producer. We placed ads in newspapers, started a penis hotline, and sent out hundreds of questionnaires titled "A Survey for Men." The men who made it into the film from those ads include the porn actor Lexington Steele; the sportscaster Chad; and the brothers J.P. and Mike. We also contacted urologists, plastic surgeons, therapists, and other specialists. These days everyone has an organization. We found Boris through a paraplegic group; Kate and Spencer through a transsexual group; and Phil through an anti-circumcision group.
MEEMA: We wanted people who weren't public figures. We made slight exceptions for Lexington Steele and for Kate Bornstein. She wrote the books "Gender Outlaw" and "The Gender Workbook" and has done a lot of speaking before. We also avoided the opinions of "experts" figuring you can find plenty of that elsewhere. Our one exception is Jesse Sheidlower, the slang dictionary editor, who has a great web page. That concludes the promotional segment of this interview.
THOM: Yes, we were dressed. I offered to match anyone else's state of undress and no one took me up on it. Our first interview was with Donald, a 71-year-old ballroom dance instructor. Now I wasn't sure if he would do the interview naked. I had only talked to him on the phone, never in person, and I told him as we told everyone that he could dress or undress in whatever way made him most comfortable.
MEEMA: So it's the first day and everyone's a little nervous. I meet Donald in the make-up room and I feel too shy to ask if he'll get naked.
THOM: Meanwhile I'm in the studio making sure the crew is ready. Meema comes down and asks, "Is Donald getting naked?" I say, "I don't know, you better ask him."
MEEMA: I say, "Well, you've talked to him more, you ask him."
THOM: "But, Meema, you're a woman, you should ask him."
MEEMA: We go back and forth like this --
THOM: -- until finally Meema asked him. And he said yes -- thank you, Donald - and that loosened us up for the rest of the shoot. After the first day it seemed to us like the most normal thing in the world to sit there with a five-person crew talking to a naked man.
THOM: It's true Lexington Steele -- whose erect penis measures around 11.5 inches -- did not take off his pants. He said if people want to see his penis, there are other venues for that. Chad -- who didn't take off his pants either -- told me that if he had a penis like Lexington's, he'd never put his pants on. He was joking, of course, but I think Lexington doesn't flaunt his package because he doesn't want his penis to define him.
MEEMA: He breaks the stereotype. Most viewers were surprised to find a porn star so down-to-earth.
MEEMA: I was a bit unsettled hearing men talk about the role of testosterone in their lives. Usually women don't get to hear men talk quite as frankly as the men in this film.
THOM: I'd like to say that as a man I wasn't surprised by anything. But there is a lot of male experience in the film far from my own. You rarely hear men talk about their vulnerabilities. Take a serious matter like testicular cancer. I never knew that it's the highest cancer risk for men my age. I think women are better at sharing that kind of information than men are.
MEEMA: By the end of the film, I got to thinking of the penis as the Wizard of Oz. Just like Oz, men like to project their penis as great and all-powerful. But when you draw back the curtain, you find a more gentle persona.
MEEMA: Sheila Nevins at HBO kept encouraging us to make the penis film and we put it off for several months. We weren't sure that we could find men to be as forthcoming as the women in "Breasts." Then, finally, Thom said, What are we scared of? We realized that the challenge of getting men to open up was the reason to make the film.
THOM: Another difference is the way the media treated "Private Dicks." When you talk about penises in this country, you feel like you're living in a convent. The New York Times, for instance, would not even print the full title. It read "Private ." CBS THIS MORNING courted us nervously for a week to do an interview. They warned us, "Don't talk about homosexuals or masturbation or anything too serious. Be funny." Then the day before the interview, they cancelled. We heard that all the women producers were in favor of the segment and all the men were against it. We didn't encounter that squeamishness with "Breasts."
THOM: This documentary does contain more penises, I believe, than have ever been shown on American television. But we weren't allowed to show any hard ones. You can televise someone being brutally beaten, but not a penis ready to make babies. Americans do have some principles, after all.
Breakup Girl created by Lynn Harris & Chris Kalb