Register Saturday | September 21 | 2019

Don’t Worry Wholphin, We’ll Wait For You

A quarterly DVD magazine of short films is a good idea.

By the time you read this, Wholphin #2 will finally be available. At least, it had better be-they promised. Actually, the dang thing should have been ready in April but an exception was made because-by a stroke of good luck that every fledgling creative concern hopes for-somebody important wanted to get in on it.

"When Steven Soderbergh emails you to say that he's willing to take a day out of the hyper-productive tornado of his life to make a short cinematic homage to Godard's Alphavillefor your little upstart DVD magazine," editor Brent Hoff wrote on the Wholphin website with an affable mixture of sheepish contrition and gushing pride, "you stop production and praise Ganesha for your unbelievable good fortune."

Hoff's job might really be seen as a curatorship. Wholphin, which takes its name from what you get when you cross a whale with a dolphin (Oh, like you could think of a better name for it) is designated as a quarterly catalogue of "unseen things," a scrappy little periodical of moving pictures-or at least as scrappy and little as anything with the Dave Eggers imprimatur can be these days. (Indeed, Wholphin is another McSweeney's production.) One suspects that many more important people will want to get in on it.

And unimportant people, too. When I first discovered the inaugural DVD, tucked cozily and promotionally into an issue of The Believer last December, I wanted to get in on it right away-at least to watch it and approve of it. Now that companies like Netflix -and, my favorite, Greencine-have made mail-ordering movies an acceptable way of life for so many people, a literal movie magazine seems like a terrific idea. What's more, good batches of good short films are harder to come by than you might think, if you ever think about such things (which you probably don't, which is part of the reason why they're hard to come by).

Wholphin's debut issue features, amongst other eclectic fare, some bewitching Iranian animation from the 1970s, Spike Jonze's fond documentary of Al Gore, a Turkish sitcom subtitled five different ways, a pair of performance-art delights from a guy who taught himself to sing the entirety of "Stairway to Heaven" backwards and a short movie by Miranda July called Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?

And it is thanks to this latter item that Wholphin already has come in handy. Recently, a friend hosted what she described to me as a Miranda July party. At the outset, although she already had the Me and You and Everyone We Know DVD (as any civilized person should), she discovered that no one in the group was in possession of, nor was quite sure how to track down, the director's earlier short subjects. "Well, we do have Wholphin," my friend announced, putting minds at ease and restoring satisfaction.

I bring this up only to reassure Mr. Hoff that an infrequent DVD magazine of short films is in fact entirely pragmatic. Which brings to mind the impending arrival of issue #2-it is almost ready now, yes? I'm just asking ...

As a teaser, the website offers a portion of the sophomore issue's liner notes-a brief interview with Oscar-nominated animator/director Anthony Lucas. A sample of the exchange:

Q: What is the worst disease you've ever contracted?

A: Children.

Q: Why do you make films?

A: Unemployable.


As I might have observed in this space before-I actually can't remember-ours may be an era of diminished attention spans but it is also, increasingly, one of highly specialized and demanding on-demand entertainment. This has its drawbacks but also its share of exciting possibilities. As the DVD landscape grows ever-more crowded, with its aggregated old television shows and reiterated new feature films, and the watcher-enthusiast feels his wonderment giving way to anxiety, every real new discovery feels like a blessing-one that's been earned.

If I'm not sure I need to add, say, Season One of Kate & Allie to my collection, it's because there are not enough hours in a day or years in a life, and I suspect that better material awaits-the undiscovered, the "unseen" things.