One last trip down the rabbit hole before it gets paved over. A deep geography. What is above and what is below. What came before and what will come after. Agrarian fantasies, sacrificial rites, and excavations. A story told with maps, dreams, and prayers. A map lesson in three parts. A history of the State of Georgia – or Anywhere. Deer trail becomes Indian trail becomes county road.
Lush with the bucolic imagery and iconography uniquely representative of the American Deep South, General Orders No. 9 immediately transfixes with its churning visual carousel of rusted-out weathervanes, rotting remnants of oaken polebarns, wolf trees standing solemn and solitary in abandoned pastures, and stately brick courthouses hauntingly silent in disuse–stark remnants all of the collective trials and traumas that have coalesced to forge such a complex cultural and aesthetic legacy here in the cradle of the genteel South. The debut work from Robert Persons, a Charleston, South Carolina magazine publisher turned director, the film churns and swells as a breathtakingly poetic meditation on the state of Georgia and its cultural, moral, and geographical birthright, rendered through rapt contemplation of obsolete territorial maps, architectural artifacts, lyrical narration, and exquisite landscape cinematography.Accompanied by swirling stringed flourishes and the low rumble of ritualized chanting, the first words from our guide billow up like a rising storm and testify from a wilderness to a state, from unknown lands to chartered streets, deer trail becomes Indian trail becomes county road. From this, Persons incredibly self-assured first effort takes a commanding grip and keeps hold through an elegant dialectic where dusty county roads and serene backwaters collide with clattering freight trains and the transgressions of Atlantas ever-creeping urban sprawl, to nearly overwhelming effect. The stoic intrigue of Georgias dormant sharecropping wastelands and skeletons of plantations has never been so gorgeously depicted, and indeed imposes a powerful language entirely its own. Likewise Persons mesmerizing verbal accompaniment explores the darkest elements of the Souths intercultural DNA and how the fingerprints of both great wretchedness and great triumphs have slowly faded, brought about by a combination of graciousness, willful ignorance, and, increasingly and perhaps most alarming, through the sort of cultural amnesia that the paving over of industrialization naturally catalyzes.General Orders No. 9 fittingly derives its title from the order of surrender issued by General Robert E. Lee to the Confederate Army in 1865, effectively ending the traumatic Civil War and serving as a critical point in the shaping (or more aptly re-shaping) of the nation. The profound treatise of the film, however, suggests that the residual trauma is still very much extant, and its catharsis is still a gradual work in progress. In synthesizing a panoply of imagery and iconography vital to reconciling the cultural and territorial identity of Georgia, and by proxy the entire American South, Persons traces a spellbinding genealogy that is both uniquely American and an unforgettably singular feat of cinematic poetry.Christopher Holmes