This fine documentary will interest anyone interested in folklore, display, American history, race relations, and gender issues. Margaret Brown documents Mardi Gras in her hometown, Mobile, Alabama. In exploring the celebrations, she shows us a multilayered society. Mobile is the home of not only America's first Mardi Gras celebration but one of the country's last lynchings, in 1981 -- only twenty-six years before the filming. The city has an African-American mayor, but still has two Mardi Gras parades, one "black" and one "white." The white Mardi Gras queen is descended from the largest slaveowner in the area, the black queen from his slaves. As one participant in the African-American celebration tells us, "(Mobile's) Mardi Gras is…the last stronghold of segregation." Mobile's one integrated "mystic society", or parading group -- with its one white member -- is "the exception that proves the rule."

Still, it seems that everyone loves Mardi Gras with its sense of pageantry, tradition, and community celebration. People are willing to put hard work and resources into a festival that few profit from financially, though the event brings the city millions of tourist dollars. According to one designer, the elaborate floats cost $60-70,000 apiece to build. Participants are busy with costume, food, music, and organizing parades, dances, and ceremonies, as well as undertaking numerous other unpaid tasks that we can only guess at.

Throughout the film, we are presented with images that show us how ethnic, class, and gender issues affect the festivities, in particular both upper-class-white and African-American ideals of womanhood. The "white" celebration, dominated by Mobile's formerly slave-owning upper class, reinforces the social order, and includes coming-out ceremonies for southern debutantes. ("Coming out" in upper-class society is an old tradition in which a new group of young women of "marrying age" --assumed to be heterosexual -- are introduced into society.) One recently-formed mystic society of working-class whites seems marginal to many of the activities of Mobile's establishment.

Although this film begins as a straightforward documentary, it becomes quite moving toward the end, as a few participants challenge the status quo. "The Order of Myths" is well worth watching.

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