Thursday, May 6, 2010
The Order of Myths
The men's faces are covered by masks. The man on the left, the one speaking, wears a satiny costume. His mask is lacquer shiny, pale, with rosy cheeks and a wide mouth. He looks like an overgrown porcelain doll. "We have no trouble with the blacks," he says. "The blacks and the whites get along fine." The old man next to him, his eyes covered by a silver mask tucked under his baseball cap, stares mutely ahead.
This was the moment that I became completely captivated by Margaret Brown's 2007 documentary The Order of Myths.
In 1703, 15 years before New Orleans was even founded, Mobile, Alabama was home to the first Mardi Gras in America. Over 300 years later the celebration is still central to the city's cultural life and identity. Or, perhaps, identities. Mobile's Mardi Gras is racially segregated. Two organizations, one white and one black, mount dazzling, separate events.
Brown's film navigates the jewel laden, liquor soaked phenomenon that is Mardi Gras in Mobile, exploring both sets of traditions. The energy of Mardi Gras suffuses every frame, and a current of tension is never far from the surface. Every moment is significant. Every gesture, and every slip of the tongue, feels weighty. Brown shows us a vibrant, complicated part of American life. I sat rapt, pulled into the narrative, until the film's final moments. And when it ended, I wanted nothing more than for it to keep going. I also felt the intense need to try a moonpie. Apparently this is a completely normal reaction.
Taut, intricate, beautiful, fascinating.