DID YOU READ

Margaret Brown on “The Order of Myths”

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Mobile, Alabama is home to the country’s oldest Mardi Gras celebration, an event that consumes the city with parades, masked balls, mystic societies and the coronation of the year’s king and queen. Well, kings and queens — as revealed in Margaret Brown’s astonishingly good documentary “The Order of Myths,” Mobile, a city composed of near-equal African-American and white populations, sees two separate and racially segregated celebrations unfold side by side with little contact between them. The film peers into the many strata and segments of Mobile society as Carnival preparations accelerate, painting a detailed and unsparing portrait of modern life balanced with not always pleasant history and tradition. Brown, whose first film, “Be Here to Love Me,” looked at the life of Texan singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, is tackling a more personal topic here — she grew up in Mobile, and brings to the film the rueful insights of someone intimate with the city’s pageantry and problems. After its premiere at Sundance, “The Order of Myths” garnered acclaim at Silverdocs and at the SXSW Film Festival, where I got a chance to talk to Brown about moon pies, Mardi Gras and how much of herself she decided to put in her film.

What made you choose the Mobile Mardi Gras as a topic?

I’ve always wanted to do something in Mobile, because it’s where I’m from. I thought it was going to be a narrative. I went down there to research, and started meeting people, and just thought, “This is actually a great moment in living history that needs to be captured,” so I decided to make it into a documentary.

My last film, “Be Here to Love Me,” was a movie about someone who died in 1997, so I wanted to make a vérité film, or primarily vérité, that wasn’t dependent on recreating things. I wanted to film an event so I could see what that was like as a filmmaker, go into something and not know what would happen.

How did you decide that you wanted it to be vérité, given your personal attachment — that you wanted to keep yourself…

…Out of it? When we first started shooting, I put myself into some of the scenes with my grandfather, but it just wasn’t good. Personal films — I’m not a big fan. Ross McElwee, he can rock that, you know? But not a lot of people can, and I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off. I was also interested in not weighing down the film with that information. I want you to bring your own prejudice and your own experience to the film. I made the film to open dialogue and have people start talking about race, and race is really hard to talk about. I think the film offers a way for people to get in. I didn’t want to personalize it, because then it might be harder to have that dialogue start.

I’d imagine a lot of people watching this film find it a little outrageous that things in Mobile exist openly the way that they do, but you grew up in the middle of it. Was there a point when you thought “this must seem so bizarre”? People in the film often seemed too close to see it…

07252008_theorderofmyths1.jpgMyself included. I didn’t know about the black Mardi Gras until I was an adult. It just wasn’t part of my mentality, because it was so separate. I didn’t make the film to make people think, “Oh, Mobile. How fucked up and weird is that place?” I think this stuff is everywhere. Maybe it’s not as obvious, and maybe people aren’t as unapologetic about it. The film is focused on small moments. There are small moments all the time in my life, in New York, in Austin. Bullshit if people say it’s just [in Mobile] — don’t pretend it’s so much culture shock. It’s everywhere. It’s everybody. That’s my little high-horse thing.

Were people ever reluctant to give you access?

People were definitely reluctant. The Mobile Carnival Association [overseers of “white Mardi Gras”] invited us to the rehearsal of their coronation — we never to this day figured out why they [then said] “You can’t film the rehearsal… Actually, we don’t know if you can film the rest of the thing.” I guess some of the parents were worried about how their kids would look. They let us start filming again, but we missed shooting — we have some stuff of the MAMGA [overseers of “black Mardi Gras”] rehearsal in the movie, but we don’t have any MCA rehearsal because we weren’t allowed to film it.

Some of the subjects you chose to follow, the Mardi Gras royalty, are self-explanatory, but how did you pick the others? The one that stood out to me was Brittain [Youngblood, a debutante].

The film actually started with her, because she was someone who in certain ways was a lot like me — we both went to college at Brown, and we both considered ourselves liberals. We both rebelled against where we were from to a certain degree, but I never decided to be a debutante. I filmed her before anybody else — the scene where she gets her dress fitted by Maggie the designer, we did that months before we shot anything [else].

I was really impressed by the look of the film. Having a documentary that’s actually shot well doesn’t seem to be a priority for many filmmakers.

Which is so sad, because so many of the historically important documentaries are beautiful. I’m a visual person, I don’t like sloppy filmmaking, and this is a film about a pageant; it has to look good. It meant a lot to me. Michael Simmonds, who was the main cinematographer, shot the pageant itself but then we went back after Mardi Gras was over and got the flavor of the humidity of the city, the feel of the place — we really wanted to bring that out visually. We were still shooting that stuff one month before Sundance, just getting it right.

Can you tell me about your grandfather? He’s not introduced as such — there are different reveals throughout the film, his initial involvement, and then further, and then finally the nature of his relationship with you. How did that become something marking the film throughout?

I grappled with how there can be people that I love so much who also are racist — that was part of why I wanted to make this film. I love [my grandfather], but there are fundamental differences in how we feel, and I wanted to be able to show both, show a man who’s obviously an entertaining, patriarchal guy, an amazing storyteller, and have him be the unofficial narrator of the film. Have him say, “Well, the black people want it that way,” which you can tell is not true, and then reveal that he’s my grandfather and show the love he has for my mother and my family. I wanted all those things to be there because it’s so confusing and complicated. He’s there at the end because, like I said before, I didn’t want to influence. I wanted to make a personal film, but not in the format of a personal film.

07252008_theorderofmyths2.jpgSo did the debutante lifestyle never hold any appeal to you? Brittain’s storyline, particularly, seemed to show how someone could have become distant from that world and still get pulled back in.

Who doesn’t like a pretty dress? When I was that age and made a decision not to do it, it wasn’t at all because it was segregated — I wasn’t even aware of that — it was more that the people that did it weren’t people that I was really friends with. They were more conservative than me and had gone to the private high school. I just didn’t think it would be fun to go to parties with them. What would I talk about?

Brittain went to a private high school with a lot of those girls, though they might have not been the best of friends. I think it was really important to her family for her to do it. In my family, my granddad really wanted me to do it, but my mother, who has been a Mardi Gras queen, would take me aside and say, “Please don’t do it. I kind of think it’s a waste of money, and you don’t have anything to show for it.” For me, it wasn’t a priority, becoming part of the white social elite of Mobile, Alabama.

Can you explain the moon pie thing to me? All I know is that they’re something thrown from floats.

I’ve done a poll in almost every screening, and people in the South know what they are, but not everyone at Sundance did. It’s this chocolate-covered graham cracker with a marshmallow in the middle. Have you ever had one?

No.

I should have brought you one.

They do sound good.

They’re delicious. They have them at bodegas in New York, but they’re not always as fresh. The MoonPie company was amazing. One of my producers, Gabby, said, “Why don’t we get moon pies for Sundance for the royalty to throw from a car down Main Street?” She called them, and they sent us 600 moon pies. We love the MoonPie company. They’re great.

[Additional photos: Mardi Gras Queen Stefannie Lucas at her coronation; Mardi Gras Queen Helen Meaher at the 2007 Strikers Ball, Cinema Guild, 2008]

“The Order of Myths” is now playing in New York.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.