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The Order of Myths - Movie Review - 2008

All About Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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The Order of Myths - Movie Review - 2008

Order of Myths Poster Art

Cinema Guild
Filmmaker Margaret Brown returns to her family home in Mobile, Alabama, to trace the history of Mardi Gras in that Southern port city in which the tradition of 'mystic societies' and parading dates back to 1703, thirteen years before the founding of New Orleans, which now claims the more famous Fat Tuesday celebrations.

The film's title, The Order of Myths is the name of the 'mystic society' in which Brown's family has been involved for generations, and she interviews her grandfather about the meaning and importance of Mobile's Mardi Gras tradition--to her family, the city and contemporary culture.

Tradition and Racism

Brown follows a large cast of characters who are actively engaged in organizing and staging Mobile's annual Mardi Gras celebrations, focusing particularly on those most engaged in the 2007 events, which were pivotal for this documentary. We quickly discover that the people of Mobile are quite committed to their Mardi Gras traditions--and that celebrations are still essentially segregated. Black and white citizens have separate 'mystic societies,' separate coronations of their Mardi Gras kings and queens and separate fancy dress balls. And they stage separate parades at different times on the same day.

Various participants from both the white and black communities explain that Mardi Gras is their way of honoring their history and ancestors. It's important because it preserves their sense of place. Both groups are apparently untroubled that segregation in in the 'mystic societies' and Mardi Gras celebrations still prevails.

Actually, several people--mostly from the white community--express concerns that the segregation might be misconstrued as a more serious issue than, they say, it actually is. And, we see that membership in one recently organized 'mystic society' is open to all, and that society, which currently claims one white member, considers itself to be integrated.

As a matter of fact, Mobile has a very popular black mayor, as we see when he ceremoniously hands over a key to the city to the white Mardi Gras' king to kick off the day's celebrations.

Tradition and Reconciliation

We also learn that in 2007, the year in which Alabama made its official apology for slavery, the black and white Mardi Gras kings and queens 'mingled' with each other at official events. What several years ago might have been a scene charged with social tensions was handled graciously and smoothly. Everyone had fun and all agree the 'mingling' is a good thing that should and will be continued in the future.

However, at one point during the film, we see black queen Stephanie, who's a grade school teacher in her daily life, come to the realization that her ancestors were actually transported to Mobile on a slave ship owned and run by the ancestors of white queen Helen. That must have been a shocker, but Stephanie's moderate reaction is a measure of Mobile's active attempts to further reconciliation between the city's black and white populations.

As filmmaker, Brown furthers discussion of reconciliation through the comments of historians, preachers and other community members. Throughout the film's storyline, Brown's handling of Mobile's Mardi Gras-related social and political issues is very much integrated with interviews and well-shot footage that creates both a sense of place and of celebration. As background to specific events, she shows run down neighborhoods, grand mansions and a range of carefully maintained age old trees that are considered city treasures. She captures the pomp and ceremony of Mardi Gras in colorful footage of costumes, balls, floats, superb bands and steppers that obviously delight cheering crowds.

Mobile In A Bubble

Brown presents quite a captivating portrait of Mobile--which may or may not be typical of smallish Southern cities--as a rather insular community that's very involved with its own complex minutiae, much of which apparently revolves around the evolution of its Mardi Gras traditions. The film is a series of niceties, and there is little social conflict shown in it. Count the moment when members of one white 'mystic society' express dismay that their designated masks will interfere with their beer drinking as one hot spot of dissent. Even the fact that one black 'mystic societies' is so poor it must rent a float from a white group is handled convivially.

And, there is no establishment of a broader context. In Order of Myths, Mobile and its Mardi Gras duality seem to be world unto themselves, presented without reference to the wider world's pressing issues--the failing economy, environmental concerns, the war in Iraq. The film's impressive compilation of civil and celebratory minutiae creates an intriguing profile of a city whose citizens are completely self involved. Mobile and its citizens are in a bubble.

Brown is an accomplished filmmaker, so that's obviously her intention. Whether it's seen as insighful or an oversight is up to audiences and their individual perspectives.

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Film Details:

  • Release date: July, 2008
  • Running time: 97 minutes
  • Parents Guide: Add content advisory for parents
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English
  • Filming Location: Mobile, Alabama, USA
  • Awards:
    • (Nominated) Independent Spirit Award, 2008, Best Documentary
    • (Nominated) Independent Spirit Award, 2008, Truer Than Fiction Award
    • Silverdocs Documentary Festival, 2008, Cinematic Vision Award
  • Distribution Company: The Cinema Guild
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