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Unseen oddities

All that and a bunch of backflipping ants

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Ants doing backflips. A lobster in a blender. A pink-robed God with a high-powered rifle taking potshots from his puffy cloud-realm. Eclecticism is the word with Wholphin No. 3, a McSweeney’s-affiliated digital digest of roughly a dozen “unseen films” from France, Japan, Sweden and the United States, and it’s coming to a public library near you! Here’s a quick rundown of the good, the bad and the just plain weird:

The Russian Suicide Chair
This “legendary” bit of 1983 “performance art” from movie madman Dennis Hopper would be a lot more effective on film if it gave you a better look. Hopper is detonating 17 sticks of dynamite with himself in the middle to show how the shock waves cancel each other out, but you can barely see what he’s doing through the murky video shot by someone who seems to have arrived breathlessly on the scene just seconds before the event. Hopper lives, of course. Ooh, spoiler!

Never Like the First Time!
After collecting some 30 interviews of people talking about losing their virginity, filmmaker Jonas Odell took the four most cinegenic stories and animated them in four completely different styles for this 15-minute short. One of the stories is quite grim. The movie, however, is charming, presented in the original twanging Swedish with subtitles.

Funky Forest The First Contact
The accompanying DVD literature indicates these startling comic sketches are actually excerpts from a feature film—a little FYI that will prove irritating in the extreme if I can’t figure out how to get my hands on the long version. The “Mole Brothers” sketch is a deranged hybrid of Laurel and Hardy and Gilbert and Sullivan, with lots of slapping and falsettos. “The After School Club” is like one of those crazy dreams you get with a raging fever. If the “Oh Fishy Fishy Fish” sketch from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life really speaks to you, Funky Forest might be your favorite thing you’ve seen all year.

A Stranger in Her Own City
Shot “on a whim” by Yemen’s first female filmmaker, Khadija al-Salami, Stranger follows 12-year-old Najmia around the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, a picturesque place of ancient skyscrapers and extremely judgmental passers-by. Najmia is at the age when she’s supposed to start covering herself with a scarf and veil, but she doesn’t want to, and men and women of all ages insult her mercilessly for it. Najmia is a plucky kid with a big heart and a disarming smile—as the narrator says, everyone in the neighborhood knows something good about her—but her resistance to the pressure of tradition marks her for constant public shaming.

A Bee and a Cigarette
Bob Odenkirk deserves acclaim for his “Mr. Show” collaboration with David Cross, but as a director he’s got a way to go. A Bee and a Cigarette is an off-the-rack slacker short about two average guys looking for female companionship on the last night of an erotically unsuccessful resort stay. It has its comic moments, but also wonky performances and annoying camera work, and of course the whole irritating bee-and-a-cigarette thing that one of the characters keeps blabbing over and over until you pretty much want to stuff his mouth with bees and cigarettes. Not horrible, but not exactly great, either.

The Ballistic Propulsion of Trap-Jaw Ants
It’s official: The trap-jaw ant (Odontomachus bauri) has the fastest body part in the animal kingdom. It can snap its scythe-like jaws together at speeds of up to 145 miles per hour. Yes, little Timmy, that’s even faster than the peacock mantis shrimp. The force of the snap can send the ant flying high in the air—in human terms, like jumping 45 vertical or 120 horizontal feet using your mouth. Myrmecologists with a $60,000 video camera that can shoot 100,000 frames per second have captured some of these ant gymnastics in the lab, and the resulting short film is pretty amazing—kind of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon of science movies.

The Passion of Martin
Alexander Payne might be better known for directing Election and the award-winning road trip wine movie Sideways, but he says a lot of his friends still prefer The Passion of Martin, a tart mini-feature about a misanthropic wedding photographer who falls for a bridesmaid, which Payne made for his thesis at UCLA film school in 1990. At 50 minutes, The Passion is an awkward length—too long for a short, too short for a feature—but it delivers itself from structural limbo by being generally funny, inventive and well-written, with lots of resonant observations about the all-consuming nature of a first big crush.

The Missoula Public Library hosts a screening of Wholphin # 3 Thursday, Sept. 6, at 7 PM. Free.

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