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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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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.