The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler made quite an impression on me when Frank Reiss of A Capella Books gave it to me in 1993. It's wasn't a book that filled my head with pretty pictures. Kunstler says he wrote The Geography of Nowhere, "because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work."
Fast forward sixteen years to the SlamDance Film Festival last week in Utah to the documentary category:
As background, General Order No. 9 was the document signed on April 10, 1865 by General Robert E. Lee surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia at the end of the Civil War.
General Orders No. 9 (orders in plural) is the title of a recent documentary about The South by first-time director Robert Persons. Persons plot description starts with "one last trip down the rabbit hole before it’s paved over," and he says that "General Orders No. 9 is an experimental documentary that contemplates the signs of loss and change in the American South as potent metaphors of personal and collective destiny."
Somehow his description doesn't fill my head with pretty pictures either. And, I may be mistaken, but when I watch the trailer, I don't think that the movie is going to have a happy ending.
Seriously, I do want to see General Orders #9. Variety says it's photographically beautiful and my friend, David Lyman shot some of it so I know it is. (No, not the David Lyman at The Maine Photo Workshops. The David Lyman in Decatur, GA)
Seriously, Kunstler and General Orders are part of something that I affectionately call the "pessimism genre" and I have to admit, I'm drawn to the genre and the imagery. And I'm not sure why. Is it just easy? Is it an age thing? I kind of joke here, but I find myself repulsed by yet drawn to Mark Tucker's images of closed up car dealerships. And why? Is it a way to express our discomfort with change? Is it a way to describe and depict the struggle with change and the acceleration of endings? And the endings of many things I could never foresee ending? Like contact sheets and photo editors and film and magazines and newspapers and books and publishing and bookstores and the end of cheap fossil fuels and the music business and record stores and the end of campaign contribution limits on corporations and the end of real estate appreciating, and the end of kodachrome (not that I ever shot it,) and the end of hope for health care with a public option and the end of Port au Prince and the end of JD Salinger not giving interviews. And again, I kind of joke here, but I'm wondering why I'm drawn to photograph those damn cell phone towers disguised as trees.
ps. whatever you do, don't read Kunstler's very popular blog "Clusterfuck Nation" - it doesn't have a happy ending.