DID YOU READ

On DVD: Wholphin No. 6, “Perils of the New Land”

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07292008_darlingdarling.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

Chances are you’ve never seen a wholphin (a rare hybrid of dolphin and false killer whale), or a Wholphin, the short film DVD magazine emanating on a subscription basis from the Dave Eggers/McSweeney’s publishing factory. But it might be the most relentlessly fascinating and inventive showcase for new short films in the country. Not that it has much competition — shorts can appear haphazardly on auteurist-minded DVDs or on public television or the Sundance Channel, but otherwise there’s no dependable cultural outlet for them, and they are for the most part considered cinema non grata in the culture at large. Movies began in the short form, but quickly shorts became nothing more than ballast for features, and then, come the ’60s, were not even that. (Anthology-style TV series may count — think of each “Twilight Zone” episode as a 24-minute short — but look how that format has fallen out of favor as well.) Filmmakers continue to make them, largely as résumé-builders, but a substantial audience has never been acculturated to appreciate them.

We could use a broad variety of semi-annual DVD “magazines” releasing shorts into the public bloodstream, but Wholphin is already much better than that — like Eggers’s other periodicals, it’s a magazine/program with a distinctly ironic personality, an endlessly entertaining point of view and a rabid hunger for what’s brand new and supercool, internationally, in this least market-impacted region of moviemaking. Not just any decent short is allowed through the door — the Wholphin philosophy runs toward the eccentric and politically radical, while largely excluding the abstract-underground school and the earnest political doc. Anyone at all would be well-served by catching up with volumes one through five (editions have come biannually since 2005), which have already included, amidst eye-popping nature footage (trap-jaw ants, drunk bees, etc.), re-dubbed Russian sitcoms and excerpts from idiosyncratic features, some of the most spectacular and vital shorts I’ve ever seen: Anthony Lucas’s “The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello,” Bill Morrison’s re-edited lost film “The Mesmerist,” Alice Winocour’s lobster tribulation “Kitchen,” Olivo Barbieri’s eye-defying “site specific_LAS VEGAS 05,” Ray Tintori’s junkyard Oz neo-myth “Death to the Tinman,” the Oscar-nominated mega-retro-animation “Madame Tutli-Putli,” inexplicable chapters from Spanish astro-surrealist César Velasco Broca’s “Echos Der Buchrücken” and so, fabulously, on. (Occasionally, the Wholphinites go historical, offering up the astonishing 1954 government short “The House in the Middle” — which maintained that a clean home would survive nuclear blasts better than a messy one — and vintage Iranian animation from 1975.) Each edition of Wholphin comes at you as a cataract of idiosyncratic culture with whole-hearted faith in its own choices; if the editors find something superlatively stimulating or revelatory, it goes in. No other criteria — certainly not commerciality or even critical acclaim — is necessary. Thus, each volume feels like a complete experience, not just a potluck shopping bag of random fest winners.

Wholphin No. 6 does not disappoint, from the electrifying science fiction of Catherine Chalmers’ digi-vid insect close-ups (used, as Wholphin is wont to do, as menu-movies, as well as an independent entry, “Safari”) to Matthew Lessner’s “Darling Darling,” a domestic absurdism starring Michael Cera and featuring multiple dubbing options, involving either John Cleese or Daniel Handler, but not both. But the best spoonfuls range from an excerpt from Weijun Chen’s doc “Please Vote for Me,” in which Chinese grade-schoolers are instructed to wage classroom campaigns that quickly devolve into all-too-familiar democratic skullduggery; Adam Keker’s “On the Assassination of the President,” a mock-classified-briefing film that whips up a computerized Pynchonian conspiracy lather in just six minutes; “Lucky,” Nash Edgerton’s slam-bang snatch of harrowment that barely gets from a locked trunk into a hurtling car’s driver seat; and Randy Krallman’s “Force 1 TD,” which matter-of-factly, and sweetly, mates gangsta life and seeing-eye Shetlands. Each Wholphin comes with a rather McSweeney’s-ish booklet of interviews and statements, where the queries most often answered are, how and why in the hell did you do that?

07292008_trafficinsouls.jpgThe new Flicker Alley set, “Perils of the New Land,” is straight as an arrow, collecting pre-World War I silents that address, in of course outrageously pulpy and melodramatic and stereotypical ways, the issues facing turn-of-the-century immigrants in America (New York, precisely). Thomas Ince’s “The Italian” (1915) is a lively epic about an émigré gondolier facing ghetto life and lawlessness in downtown Manhattan, while George Loane Tucker’s famous “Traffic in Souls” (1913) limns a complex and righteous screed about “white slavery,” complete with deceived Swedish teenagers, “dens of iniquity,” romantic betrayals, evil philanthropists, police procedural mechanics, and possibly the movies’ first significant use of surveillance technology. While Ince’s Los Angeles-shot movie does a decent job at recreating East Coast tenements (albeit in the SoCal glare), Tucker’s pioneering exploitationeer — the production and success of which warranted an entire chapter in Terry Ramsaye’s seminal 1926 film history volume “A Million and One Nights” — is a veritable lexicon of pre-war New York locations, from the Bowery to Ellis Island. Three Edison shorts, fiction and otherwise, round out the social crisis docket: “McQuade of the Traffic Squad” (1915), “Police Force, New York City” (1910) and “The Call of the City” (1915); all of the films are both primitive and expressive of the fact that before Griffith put the polish on crosscutting, filmmakers still knew how to tell fast, meaty stories, just by utilizing their frame space and actors’ bodies. As the issue of immigration still rages, more than 90 years later, these eloquent, sympathetic antiques come off as surprisingly progressive — have we learned nothing from the 20th century?

[Photos: “Darling Darling,” Monte Lomax Productions, 2005; “Traffic in Souls,” Universal Film Manufacturing Company, 1913]

Wholphin No. 6 and “Perils of the New Land: Films of the Immigrant Experience 1910-1915” are now available on DVD.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.