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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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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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