General Orders No. 9

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Time Out says

Tue Jun 21 2011

City bad! Country good! That's the thematic thrust of Robert Persons's shallow experimental documentary about the modernization of the American South---a real shame, considering the lyrical heights to which the film strives. Perhaps you've seen the evocative one-sheet: a shadowy still of a man-size cottontail (probably of the Alice in Wonderland variety) smoking a corncob pipe. Initially, the movie builds on that intriguing image, as Persons shows us, through expressive animated graphics, how the state of Georgia became subdivided over the years. "Deer trail becomes Indian trail becomes county road," goes the constant refrain of gravel-voiced narrator William Davidson as lines appear on maps---the rural giving way, slowly but surely, to the urban.

Down the rabbit hole we go to modernity, something Persons clearly despises if the ominously scored images of present-day Atlanta and its twisting turnpikes are any indication. This is where the film takes a disastrous turn: Pseudo-eloquent bon mots are tossed out for our contemplation ("The interstate does not serve. It possesses," intones Davidson). Pretty, but vacant, cross-faded shots of the Georgia countryside (cows ambling through the mist) act as retrograde counterpoints to the horrors of progress. There is no depth or resonance to anything we see and hear---everything is as it seems, no more, no less, and the reactionary superficiality dulls the senses. General Orders No. 9 strains for elegiac profundity and ends up as bad, backward-looking poetry.

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