[Marxism] The Order of Myths (NYT movie review)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sat Jul 26 10:52:41 MDT 2008

(Though I have not seen this movie, I'd like to.
Race and racism are so central to the life and
culture of this country, that any opportunity 
to learn more is always appreciated.)
The Order of Myths

Published: July 25, 2008

There’s nothing post-race about the closely orbiting worlds depicted in “The
Order of Myths,” Margaret Brown’s wise and soberly affecting documentary
about the separate but unequal Mardi Gras festivities that take place each
year in Mobile, Ala. Though the city’s Web site discreetly sidesteps the
issue, this Mardi Gras, the oldest in the country — probably inaugurated by
soused French settlers (à votre santé!) in 1703 — is almost entirely
segregated between the children of slave owners and the children of slaves,
whose celebrations, coronations, parades and pleasures are as divided as are
their views on race.

It takes a while for the fissures in the groups to show. Ms. Brown, a
relative newcomer to nonfiction (she has made one previous documentary
feature, “Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt”), approaches
her material with a measured calm, edging along its borders rather than
mounting a frontal attack. She opens with a nighttime image of a broken
column on a float — a figure dressed as Folly chases another dressed as
Death around the pillar — and an interview with a white Mobile resident,
Dwain Luce, explaining with mellifluous gentility that the column probably
represents the South. (You may recognize Mr. Luce as one of the veterans in
“The War,” Ken Burns’s documentary about World War II.)

Ms. Brown later returns to that broken column, which looks as if it had been
knocked from the portico of one of those plantations that remain a potent
symbol of the old, spooky South. By the time it resurfaces, Ms. Brown has
traveled into Mobile’s slave- trading past and taken the unquiet pulse of
its current race relations, going wide and surprisingly deep. With the aid
of a handful of essential Mardi Gras players — notably the 2007 white king
and queen and their equally engaged black counterparts — she has observed
the costume fittings, a wine tasting, some party toasting. Eschewing
voice-over or any obvious trace of an on-screen or off-screen presence, she
lets her images, a little text and other people do the talking for her. 
Her quiet has its own force.

The black queen and king — Stefannie Lucas and Joseph Roberson, both
schoolteachers — are cautious yet optimistic about their city and its racial
divide. They see change, glimmers of real progress, but they don’t have the
luxury of naïveté. Most of the white revelers — including the queen and
king, Helen Meaher and Max Bruckmann — all of whom appear significantly
wealthier than the black participants, are either vaguely or keenly aware of
race. Mr. Bruckmann, a jovial type with the round face of a well-fed baby,
and Ms. Meaher, a willowy blonde who’s all but swallowed up by her heavily
jeweled costume, are swaddled in privilege, tradition and culture. It’s hard
not to notice that every hand that serves them is black.

Ms. Brown, who edited “The Order of Myth” with Michael Taylor and Geoffrey
Richman, catches such salient everyday details so artlessly that you may not
notice them at first. Shot in sharp, clear high-definition video by Michael
Simmonds, the movie seamlessly shifts between casual in situ interviews and
fly-on-the-wall visuals that often shed complicating light on what subjects
say when they’re looking into a camera. In one scene Brittain Youngblood, a
coltish white debutante and self-described liberal, visits a kitchen during
an event and eagerly chats up an older black woman washing dishes. During
their brief conversation, the animated Ms. Youngblood keeps backing into an
area in which a second black worker is rushing back and forth trying to do
her job. Sorry, Ms. Youngblood says, sorry.

What makes this great documentary moment even better is that Ms. Brown
refuses to use it against Ms. Youngblood, whose acute political
self-consciousness hasn’t rendered her any less entitled. More than most,
Ms. Brown knows that there’s nothing black and white about race in America,
and nothing specifically Southern about its calamities. Or maybe she’s just
more honest. The extent of her sincerity doesn’t become apparent until late
in the proceedings, when she reveals a personal connection to Mobile that
gives this very fine movie a bracing emotional kicker. In contrast to the
cloistered, all-white Mardi Gras membership group (called a mystic society)
that gives the movie its poetic and freighted title, Ms. Brown has a
beautiful grasp of gray.


Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Directed by Margaret Brown; director of photography, Michael Simmonds;
edited by Michael Taylor, Geoffrey Richman and Ms. Brown; produced by Ms.
Brown and Sara Alize Cross; released by the Cinema Guild. At the IFC Center,
323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running
time: 1 hour 20 minutes. This film is not rated.

     Los Angeles, California
     Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
     "Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

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