When the good people at McSweeney's came up with Wholphin, their "DVD magazine of rare and unseen short films", I was excited. I love McSweeny's intelligent aesthetic mojoe, and was hoping for the same in Wholphin. But I took Wolphin No. 1 home and was fairly unimpressed. I filed it away and forgot about it...until last week, that is. I was casually hanging out/browsing my favorite Twin Cities independent bookstore, Micawber's, when I picked up Wholphin No. 3 for an examination. What I found reinvigorated my interest and enthusiasm, and I bought a copy faster than you can say "Bonus Disc: The Power of Nightmares." I have since revisited Wholphin No. 1, and realized I didn't give it a fair shake, and put in an order for Wholphin No. 2, and am anxiously awaiting Wholphin No. 4.
I like the format of DVD plus a booklet. I personally can't stand reading content from a DVD. If it is printed material, just print it. So each segment has some info or an interview or some factoids. The Wholphin website is also a wealth of supplementary content if you just can't get enough. The content of Wholphin No. 3 runs the gamut. Here is a brief rundown of the contents:
Menus - There are three menu loops that I guess would be hidden content for the impatient. Once the menu runs through one loop (about 30 seconds), it launches into a video. The first is called Tactical Advantage by Daren Rabinovitch; it shows what happens when God gets a little bored (or busy) up there in the clouds with his angel...and rifle. The second is Ballistic Jaw Propulsion of Trap-Jaw Ants by a team from UC Berkeley, CA Academy of Sciences and U of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; these people used a video camera that essentially shoots at 100,000 frames per second to capture 145 mph action of this ants pinchers; this is definitely a moment when art meets science - amazing! Third is Flotsam/Jetsam by David and Nathan Zellner; this is a two part "story" that has the feel of an art school video project.
The Russian Suicide Chair - Performance by Dennis Hopper. Now here's an oddity. In 1983 at Big H Speedway in Houston Texas, Dennis Hopper curls up under a chair that is lined with 17 sticks of dynamite and lights the fuse. Why? Who knows. Contains footage from the performance and a more current interview about the incident.
The Passion of Martin - Written and directed by Alexander Payne. Payne's mean-spirited student film he made at UCLA. This actually screened here at the Walker before Citizen Ruth as part of an Alexander Payne retrospective.
A Bee and a Cigarette - Directed by Bob Odenkirk. A funny short about two losers who can't shake their fate.
A Stranger in Her Own City - Directed by Khadija Al-Salami. This documentary is one of the show-stoppers of the DVD. Khadija Al-Salami follows a 13 year old girl who refuses to wear a veil around the streets of Sanaa, Yemen. She rides a bike, plays soccer with the boys, and plays outside her home; all activities that are unheard of for girls her age, and she receives constant criticism from everyone as a result. The courage and spirit of this girl light up the screen in a very intimate portrait of her life. With an epilogue that ends up being a sad ending, there is an eventual post-epilogue that is hopeful.
Excerpts from Funky Forest: The First Contact - Directed by Ishii Katsuhito. Funky Forest was one of my favorite films from last year. There are two excerpt here from the 3 hour film, and they don't even come close to doing it justice. Hopefully this is a sign that someone will pick this film up in the US.
Kitchen - Directed by Alice Winocour. This simple, dark, French short is one of my favs of the DVD. The battle between lobster and housewife has never been more funny.
Walleyball: "Yeah Yeah, We Speak English. Just Serve" - Directed by Wholphin. A friendly game of volleyball over the fence that separates the U.S. from Mexico at the Pacific serves as a commentary on immigration and the the U.S. built paranoia on illegal immigrants.
Never Like the First Time! - Directed by Jonas Odell. Swedish director Jonas Odell takes four stories told by four individuals about losing their virginity and illustrates them with animation, each with characteristics that match the narrative.
Bobby Bird (in The Devil in Denim) - Directed by Carson Mell. Another great animation where the menu is a drawing of Bobby Bird in the buff. You click on one of his tattoos to get the story behind the tattoo and inevitably the story about Bobby Bird. Now, I can't really tell you if Bobby Bird is a real person, but Carson Mell also did an illustrated novel about Bobby Bird called Saguaro.
And now, about that bonus disc....I have to admit that the real reason I was causing a ruckus about Wholphin was what was printed in the lower left hand corner. The Power of Nightmares was a three part BBC production made in 2004 that "explores the origins in the 1940s and 50s of Islamic Fundamentalism in the Middle East, and Neoconservatism in America, parallels between these movements, and their effect on the world today." There was lots of press about this series when it aired on BBC1 and also made it on many top ten lists for the year. The documentary uses lots and lots of stock footage from myriad of sources, so it got caught up in a copyright conundrum. It seemed that it would never be released on DVD because of all the clearances a distributor would have to deal with. So it ended up on the internet, and you can download it or watch it for free. I'll admit my laziness in not wanting to deal with all that, and also use the excuse that I don't like watching things on my computer. I'm big on kickin' back on the couch and watchin' the big screen. It's a good way to see and own this important documentary. Part 2 of The Power of Nightmares is included with Wholphin No. 3 (and part 1 with No. 2 and part 3 with upcoming No. 4.)