It’s time again to note the landing of a new Wholphin, number ten this time in the biannual subscription series from Dave Eggers’ McSweeney‘s mill, and now more than ever it seems a vital project, even as our free time becomes increasingly consumed by watching and sharing viral “shorts” on YouTube.
Actually, what often spurs YouTube popularity isn’t so far from the aesthetic-ironic rationales employed by Wholphin — aside from newsworthiness and blooper moments and stupid people tricks, the genuine viral videos that catch on can have an odd, otherworldly sense of amazement to them, showing you something real that you never thought you’d see. Wholphin does better than that, of course, curating with not only the OMG factor in mind, but also duration, real wit and the amazement that can come with new visual perspectives. But there’s also a rabid hunger at work for what’s brand new not only in filmmaking but in science, in design and in conceptual performance art. Nothing is off the table — in past editions, multiple dubbing options are common, and in every issue, pieces of odd footage or sometimes entire films are used as rotating menu screens.
Building since 2005, the back library (which can be bought online) includes, amidst eye-popping nature footage (trap-jaw ants, drunk bees, etc.), redubbed Russian sitcoms and excerpts from idiosyncratic features, some of the most spectacular and vital shorts of the last few years (Anthony Lucas’ “The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello,” Bill Morrison’s re-edited lost film “The Mesmerist,” Ray Tintori’s junkyard-Oz neo-myth “Death to the Tinman,” and so on).
No. 10 is paradigmatic — the rotating menu-movies run the gamut from microscopic images of bizarre aquatic lifeforms to the chronicle of a handmade contraption that allows a windblown kite to manufacture its own very distinctive artwork. A segment from Michael Jacobs’ doc “Audience of One,” in which a Pentecostal preacher who devotes the resources of his megachurch to shooting the science fiction movie God told him to make, seems superfluous (it’s out on DVD in its entirety), but Spencer Susser’s “I Love Sarah Jane” is the McSweeney‘s-impish Aussie zombie film we’ve been waiting for, if we’re not just done with zombies altogether.
It’s easier to love Malcolm Sutherland’s “The Astronomer’s Dream,” a hand-drawn/computer-animated freakout that irrationally recalls early Métal Hurlant comics (Wholphin can always be depended upon to rope in whatever new flabbergasting animation style appear in the short-film festival void), and Eric Flanagan’s “Teleglobal Dreamin’,” which conjoins a young Singaporean telemarketer and the ugly American consultant/ex-actor she has to escort, eventually getting him mistaken for Brendan Fraser by the entirety of Singapore, including some whimsical death squads.
An episode from Jonathan Demme’s doc series about post-Katrina New Orleans, “Right to Return,” is eloquent if unsurprising, but the pearl might be the only vintage film on the docket: Mary Hestand’s “He Was Once,” from 1989, a fascinating post-punk reimagining of the old Lutheran animated TV show “Davey & Goliath,” only semi-animating real but post-dubbed actors (including producer Todd Haynes, right after “Superstar”) wearing giant clay hairdos and addressing real dramatic issues, like child abuse. Performed with that voguing, absurd semi-conviction that typified New Wave bands, in a kitschy style that both alienates and destroys distance, the film is hilarious and distressing at exactly the same time. You’d never see it anywhere else.