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SXSW 2008: “The Order of Myths.”

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03092008_theorderofmyths.jpgTradition is rooted in history, and history is littered with things we’d rather forget. Mobile, Alabama’s Mardi Gras celebration is the oldest in the U.S., and some aspects of it, like a customary float depicting Folly chasing Death around a broken column, can’t fully be explained even by those who grew up there. Others, like the fact that the celebration, the pride of the city and the generator of $227 million of income a year, is blatantly and surreally segregated into separate parades and pairings of Mardi Gras kings and queens for the black and white populations, can be broken down without much effort. But most of the people interviewed in Margaret Brown’s superb documentary “The Order of Myths” instead perform an exquisite verbal dance around the issue, citing tradition, roots, history and the debatable fact that everyone prefers it this way. “The Order of Myths” is a tender, unsparing portrait of Mobile’s Mardi Gras, but it’s also a tremendously rich examination of how people carry on from day to day while negotiating the minefields of the past.

Helen Meagher, a coltish blond with a sweet-natured smile, is designated queen of Mardi Gras by the MCA &151; the Mobile Carnival Association, an all-white, old school Alabama organization. Stefanie Lucas, a glowingly round-faced elementary school teacher, is proclaimed queen by the all-black, slightly newer but just as entrenched MAMGA — the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association, once the Colored Carnival Association. As the film follows the queens and their accompanying kings through the fittings, coronations, lunches and balls leading up to the parades, it dips into the past, recent and further back. Helen comes from a long line of property owners and, once, slaveholders, one of whom commissioned the last slave ship to come from Africa over 50 years after the slave trade has been outlawed. Stefanie’s ancestors arrived on that ship. Elsewhere, the costumes of some of the secret “mystic” societies who make up the parades recall, without question, those of the KKK; an outspoken debutante discusses her own liberal nature and free spirit while gradually being seduced by all of the pageantry; a few paeans are composed to moon pies; and the MAMGA king and queen pay an unprecedented visit to the MCA coronation.

It’s heady material, but Brown doesn’t let it bear the entire burden of the film. “The Order of Myths” is beautifully composed and shot, and, even better, delicately edited — while none of the subjects are let off easy, none are given unfair treatment. Parallels that could have been hammered in are allowed to breathe — someone discusses the city’s love of the old oak trees that line the streets and makes a note of how they represent, literally, the area’s roots; later, we see an image of a 19-year-old man who was found hanging from one of those trees in 1981, one of the country’s last reported lynchings. A reveal, late in the film, of the filmmaker’s own connections to Mobile and the carnival draws the film’s fond and rueful tone together. Only someone who came from this world would have this kind of knowledge and access, and only someone with a bit of remove would be able to present it in such sharp detail.

[Photo: “The Order of Myths,” Margaret Brown, 2008]

+ “The Order of Myths” (SXSW)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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