» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum

July 21, 2008
Whether cultivated by an obsessive, blog-surfing hand or the cigar-wielding paw of a media hype machine, expectations undoubtedly influence experience. Approaching any type of visual medium with an unbiased and purely objective point of view is nigh impossible in the world of contemporary cinema. This is especially apparent in an urban environment like New York, where a movie's substance seems to float in the air (soundtrack and all) through a haze of subway posters, video advertising, and overheard conversation. As a result, it is particularly refreshing to discover a project like Wholphin, the quarterly DVD curated by the McSweeney's publishing house.

Composed of "Rare and Unseen Short Films," Wholphin is a treasure trove of visual delight with a staggering breadth of content. Culling material from film festivals, recovered media, and perhaps at least one parallel universe, every disc of the series addresses and massages parts of the viewer's brain that are often overlooked by popular cinema and mainstream media. Featuring such Hollywood royalty as Spike Jonze, David O. Russel, and Stephen Soderbergh, Wholphin is a great way for already established filmmakers to expand upon their impressive catalog and gain recognition for the series. But the real gems come in the form of completely unknown films with simultaneously ambiguous and suggestive titles like The Delicious, Tactical Advantage, or Funky Forest the First Contact. Taking in a Wholphin film is akin to receiving a gift you never knew existed that far exceeds anything for which you may have thought to ask. It would take a space much larger than this to give the entire series (currently five volumes, with No. 6 due out shortly) a properly thorough review treatment, so instead a list of highlights might be more appropriate.

First off, many of Wholphin's most entertaining films begin at the title menu. Each disc has three different films that play in the background of the DVD menu, and if given enough viewing time, will forego the menu and play in their entirety. Some examples:

1. Untitled Patton/Byrne Piece (Wholphin 1) - Comedian Patton Oswalt makes funny faces in slow motion and David Byrne plays guitar in a hilarious place.

2. Tactical Advantage (Wholphin 3) - God shoots at stuff from heaven.

3. Shot Through (Wholphin 5) - Man shoots at drums from earth.

Secondly, nearly every issue has at least one animated piece, which is often stunning both technically as well as conceptually. Given that it is such an overwhelmingly time consuming medium, animators often develop short pieces that are a perfect fit for a format like Wholphin. Some personal favorites include:

1. The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (Wholphin 2) - Characters and ships navigate the sky in full steampunk silhouette.

2. Malek Khorsid (Wholphin 1) - Completely unintelligible and bafflingly fascinating Iranian film, perhaps depicting some sort of folk tale. Beasts are cut into pieces and the girl gets saved, sort of.

3. Madame Tutli-Putli (Wholphin 5) - Breathtaking piece of darkly bizarre stop-motion animation. Her eyes will ruin you!

There is also a strong political presence running throughout the Wholphin volumes. Although the topics tend to stem from left-leaning filmmakers, the films presented are never proselytizing or posturing. The political subject matter often deals with relatively unknown injustices and, more often than not, will have you barking at your friends about the need for a global screening to inform every human of their importance. Some of these particularly striking non-fiction films include:

1. Yeah Yeah. We speak English, Just Serve (Wholphin 4) - Strangers play volleyball over the fence separating Mexico and the United States while a narrator speaks plainly on the wasted funding and terribly inhumane treatment that goes on at the border.

2. American Outrage (Wholphin 5) - The U.S. government decides to take away land that is rightfully owned by two 72-year old Shoshone grandmothers for the sake of gold mining operations, destroying their cattle in the process. This will make you punch something.

3. The Power of Nightmares (Wholphin 1-3) - BBC documentary in three parts comparing the rise of the Neo-Conservative movement in America to the rise of Radical Islam in the Middle East. This has never been aired in the United States, for obvious reasons. If there is one part of Wholphin that should be considered required watching and added to every high-school history curriculum, this is it.

A special note must be made for Heavy Metal Jr. (Wholphin 4), which is absolutely my favorite film of the series. This documentary follows a heavy metal band of middle-schoolers from Scotland as they develop their sound and prepare for their first performance at a local county fair. The film is brilliantly edited and the performance of the band's "manager" as he teaches the kids how to be a rock superstar is one of the most outstanding examples of the wonders of humanity that I have ever encountered.

Very few of the Wholphin films fall into any traditional stylistic or genre category, and many of the offerings defy categorization or even any sort of description entirely. Some are exactly what the title describes (Drunk Bees, Ballistic Jaw Propulsion of Trap-Jaw Ants, Sour Death Balls) and yet are still able to deliver something more and entertainingly fulfilling. Others present a tantalizingly mysterious title, leaving the viewer to approach the film for what it is with a blank slate. This occasionally leads to a head-scratching finale, but is a testament to Wholphin's longevity in that repeat viewings are always rewarding. There is also a booklet included with each DVD containing interviews with the filmmakers and additional information about the films themselves, which often enhances the value of the films significantly.

For those who are familiar with McSweeney's, there is certainly an underlying sense of humor and topicality at work here. This disposition is often met with accusations of pomposity or elitism, but such accusations necessarily miss the point entirely; the McSweeney's quarterly publications have always been about building a literate and literary community and sharing things with the world that might otherwise be overlooked. While some might accuse the editors of being ill suited for curating such a community, there is no editorial attempting to elevate the Wholphin works beyond what the films themselves entail. Wholphin does not present itself as a gold standard, it merely presents itself. The series is a lucky and exciting tool for filmmakers and the hope is that it inspires more creative and non-traditional filmmaking to emerge. Previously such works would have been largely restricted to film festivals and private screenings, only to fall into obscurity afterward. Fans of experimental filmmaking should be ecstatic for Wholphin's arrival and thrilled at its steadily growing success.

SEE ALSO: www.wholphindvd.com
SEE ALSO: www.mcsweeneys.net

Mike Shea
A staff artist for LAS magazine, Mike Shea is bringing comics all up in the ish from his home in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit his blog at www.mikeshearules.com.

See other articles by Mike Shea.



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