My twentieth high school reunion is coming up--class of 88, Murphy High School, Mobile, Alabama--and as I was browsing the reunion site yesterday I came across a familiar name, Margaret Brown. She was a year behind me in school, and now she's all grown up, and it turns out she's been busy. Months ago, I watched a wonderful film called Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt. My husband and I talked about it for days after, but it never occurred to me to put the director's name together with my old high school days.
Now, Brown has a new film that's making waves in the film world. Her documentary about Mardi Gras in Mobile, The Order of Myths, debuted to rave reviews at Sundance. Manohla Dargis, writing for the The New York Times, had this to say:
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...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.
Dargis calls The Order of Myths "the documentary that left the strongest impression [at Sundance]...a story that is at once very site-specific and seemingly simple and as big and richly complex as the United States itself."
In The Moviegoer, Walker Percy's classic novel about searching and longing in Louisiana, Binx Bolling, himself a less-than-enthusiastic participant in the better-known Mardi Gras of New Orleans, says that to see one's own city on the big screen is, in a way, to have one's own place and time validated, made real. I'm a long way from Alabama. It's fair to say that, for a long time, I have not considered it home. In one of the stories in my first book, The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, the narrator, Gracie, who has also left Mobile, remarks on how ill-at-ease she feels every time she returns there: "Some Mobilians don't know that the party has long-since ended, clinging hard-heartedly to the notion that the Confederates won the war." I was 25 years old when I wrote that, close enough to home to despise the place, too young to understand the subtler nuances that Brown captures in The Order of Myths. This is a film for Southerners who've left home, and for those who have stayed, and for anyone who wants to reach a deeper understanding of a place and a culture that has been by turns mocked and mythologized for decades.
The film will be coming to the Bay Area on September 5. You can see it at the Lumiere or Opera Plaza in San Francisco, or at Shattuck Theater in Berkeley. View the trailer here.