General Orders No. 9
Directed by Robert Persons
General Orders No. 9 is a rapturous ode to Georgia and a plaint for paradise lost—for what has been paved over and polluted, poisoned by the dissonance of urban asymmetry. In the first half, first time writer-director Robert Persons traces the state’s (and country’s?) evolution: “deer trail becomes Indian trail becomes county road”; the opening monologue describes the geometric patterns found in county planning and the construction of roads, using the kind of language poets usually reserve for celestial bodies. Narrator William Davidson gives soft voice to Persons’s historical, philosophical and spiritual ruminations: “here there is a sense of order… not one brick out of true, not one heifer out of pasture.” Against this narration, reminiscent of 19th century free verse, Persons parades images of carefully composed and naturally lighted landscapes; it looks like a Malick movie stripped of its narrative pretenses: sun, mists, clouds, trees, fields, roads, fish, farm animals, churches, water towers and small-town storefronts; the flames of a fire, flickering in slow motion. Persons’ portrait of a place disregards its people for its topography; the meditative General Orders No. 9 seems to function within cosmological time (for which human life is too ephemeral), where man-made structures resemble ruins and stand amid flowers, lakesides, and ceramic figurines. At least, anyway, until the interstate arrives.
“The interstate does not serve—it possesses,” Davidson says. “It has the power to make the land invisible to our attention.” Juxtaposed with the previous pretty images of rural scenery, shots of speeding cars on city freeways, filmed on gray days, turn menacing; captured like post-apocalypse horror in gloomy black-and-white, the desolate and isolating city begat by the interstate is represented by abandoned hallways, warehouses, parking lots. “Not a place but a thing,” as Davidson describes it. “A machine.” Persons possesses a hysterical level of anti-urban anxiety, though his point is that The City violates the divine order he sees in nature, and sees mirrored in the small towns with which the natural can coexist. “There are no words to describe the city,” Davidson says, “no way to make sense of it.” (Though Persons tries, with an image of a mechanical claw crushing cars.) Near the end, the movie returns to its rural roots and finds the countryside polluted by urban detritus, decimated by people and scrapped machinery. Persons laments this new Fall of Man, mourning “a world covered over” whose traces exist now only in history books, in the drawers of museum artifacts that the movie inspects—and, in the trance-inducing abstractions of General Orders No. 9.
Opens June 24