The Magazine Reader

Wholphin, a Journal Cast Against Type -- On DVD

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wholphin is not just a new magazine, it's a whole new concept of a magazine -- a quarterly DVD mag containing not articles but short films, new and old, American and foreign, fiction, documentaries and animation. When we at The Magazine Reader received our copy, we were so happy we started high-fiving and giving group hugs.

That's because we at The Magazine Reader are sick. We're also tired. We're sick and tired of words -- endless words marching one after another in horizontal line after horizontal line in paragraph after paragraph in article after article in magazine after magazine.

In other words, we're sick of reading. We long to join the rest of our fellow Americans sitting on the sofa with beer and Doritos, basking in the glow of a TV screen. And now Wholphin enables us to do just that.

Wholphin is put out by the wild, wacky folks who publish McSweeney's, an avant-garde literary mag, and the Believer, a literary mag that's not quite as avant-garde but is still pretty freaking weird. In fact, the first issue of Wholphin comes as a freebie in the latest issues of McSweeney's and the Believer. The next issue, due in March, will be available all by itself, selling for $10.

What's a wholphin? Well, according to the booklet that comes with the DVD, it's an animal, a cross between a dolphin and a whale. Which is, I guess, symbolic of this mag -- a cross between a magazine and . . . well, a TV station programmed by the kind of people who put out weird literary mags.

So anyway, we sat on the couch with our beer and Doritos and put the Wholphin disc into the DVD player. And the first thing we see is an extreme close-up of a scruffy-looking guy who starts making goofy faces. And then the mag's table of contents pops up next to the guy's face, so you can choose which film you want to see. But we were entranced by the guy making faces so we didn't choose a film fast enough. That turned out to be a big mistake because the table of contents quickly disappeared and we had to watch the guy making goofy faces for, like, five minutes.

And then the camera pulled back and you see that the goofy guy is sitting next to another guy, who gets up and walks down the hallway of a public storage place, following a noise that gets louder and louder and turns out to be a guy rehearsing a folk song in one of the storage lockers.

And then the table of contents pops back up. By now we knew we'd better choose quickly. The first choice is "Al Gore Documentary." Do we want to see a documentary on Al Gore? Good God, no. So we quickly click on something called "The Delicious."

It turns out to be a 15-minute film about a New York yuppie who has a weird compulsion to wear his mother-in-law's dorky red pantsuit while standing in front of a mirror fiddling with scissors and making weird noises. After he does this at a party, his wife decides he's nuts and divorces him. And then he goes to a park in his dorky red pantsuit and starts fiddling with scissors and making weird noises when suddenly he sees a guy in a dorky yellow pantsuit fiddling with scissors and making similar weird noises. So he goes over to introduce himself and the guy in yellow runs away. So the guy in red chases him, yelling, "Wait! Wait!"

End of movie.

Hmmmm. We chug more beer and chomp more Doritos and suddenly we're watching a film of a guy standing in front of a cathedral singing "Stairway to Heaven" backward as people walk backward behind him. He's emoting like crazy as he sings, but since he's singing the words backward, it sounds like Swedish, or maybe Swahili. And then he finishes the song and reaches over and turns off the movie camera.

The table of contents returns and we choose something called "Death of a Hen," which turns out to be a crudely animated version of a very grim Grimms' fairy tale about a rooster whose wife dies. The rooster puts his wife's body in a carriage and gets six mice to pull it. And he gives a bunch of other animals a ride in the carriage. And then the mice pull the carriage into a river and they drown. And the carriage flips over and all the animals drown, except the rooster. He buries his wife and lies on her grave, mourning. And then he dies. And the narrator says, "And then they were all dead."

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