Director: David Gordon Green
|Screenplay: David Gordon Green
|Stars: Candace Evanofski (Nasia), Donald Holden (George), Curtis Cotton III (Buddy), Eddie Rouse (Damascus), Paul Schneider (Rico Rice), Damian Jewan Lee (Vernon), Rachael Handy (Sonya), Jonathan Davidson (Euless)
|MPAA Rating: NR
|Year of Release: 2000
In his debut feature, George Washington, 24-year-old Texas-born writer/director David Gordon Green captures the nuanced rhythm and flow of life in a rural Southern town in a postindustrial age. Starring a cast of unknown actors who are mostly under the age of 15, Green creates a low-key drama about how these kids live their lives almost completely cut off from adult supervision.
There is nothing particularly flashy about the film. Even when a major event happens that involves the accidental killing of a character, life continues on. The film is disturbing in how it shows preteens and teenagers covering up a friend's death because they don't know what else to do, but it is handled so eloquently that the kids don't become moral degenerates. Green doesn't let them get bogged down in melodramatic hijinks or overloaded plot developments; instead, he creates an atmosphere in which we can understand why they do what they do, even if we know it's wrong. He simply lets the story and its characters move at their own ebb and flow. For some, this may be too slow. But, for those who are willing to let themselves get pulled in, George Washington offers a fascinating glimpse of life.
Most of the main characters are poor African-American youths. George (Donald Holden) is a withdrawn teenager with a genetic condition that makes his skull too soft. Thus, he cannot get it wet, and a blow to the head that might just hurt anyone else could kill him. George's friend, the bespectacled and outgoing Buddy (Curtis Cotton III), has recently been dumped by his girlfriend, Nasia (Candace Evanofski), because she doesn't think he's mature enough. Of course, he's only 12 and she's only 13, something that is pointed out by Vernon (Damian Jewan Lee), another of Buddy and George's friends who is slightly larger and therefore more extroverted than the others. There are a half-dozen other characters, including Damascus (Eddie Rouse), George's uncle whose hatred of animals is both sad and unnerving.
Most of Green's screenplay simply follows these characters over a period of a couple of days during the hot summer month of July. We see them hanging out in drainage ditch, going swimming at the local pool, discussing their lives and pondering their futures. One of Green's major accomplishments is that he gives these kids a realistic understanding of their world, which goes a long way toward explaining their reaction to a friend's accidental death. Some of their conversations are amusing in the way they attempt to mimic adult talk (this is especially true of Nasia and her friends, who discuss relationships as if they are seasoned pros), but at the same time it feels completely natural. The freedom and innocence associated with childhood is getting shorter and shorter, and Green shows that these kids have had to grow up before their time.
George Washington doesn't seem to have any major overarching themes outside of the most basic observations about love and loss, life and death. It is a film that captures everyday life and is content with its subject. Green does try to inject the theme of heroism into the last third of the film when George saves a child from drowning in the local pool and begins to wear a home-made superhero outfit around town, but it is in these moments that the film is at its weakest because it feels like Green is trying to overcome the casual pace he has worked so hard to establish.
The film is narrated by Nasia in an insightful tone that many have compared to the films of Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heavan). The narration is an integral part of the film, and unlike many voice-overs, it is not distracting or insulting to the intelligence of the viewer. Rather, it gives a certain perspective on the characters and situations, and also adds insight to Nasia's character (although, like in Malick's films, it often sounds like it is the writer/director speaking in Nasia's voice).
The film benefits greatly not only from the natural and unaffected performances by the young actors, but also by the beautiful cinematography by Tim Orr. Although a low-budget, independent film, George Washington was shot in 35mm CinemaScope, and the results are breathtaking. The film's composition is nearly flawless, with Orr juxtaposing the lush, Southern landscape with the rusted, twisted remains of industrial parks and warehouses that have been deserted and forgotten. There is a sense of abandonment throughout the unnamed setting—it feels as if the characters have been left behind—yet there is still the lingering sense of hope amid the ruins. In many scenes, Orr's photography emphasizes the golden light from the setting sun, which casts a hopeful glow on even the ugliest industrial remnants. It is in these moments that the film comes closest to becoming cinematic poetry.
|George Washington Criterion Collection Directed-Approved DVD|
Dolby Digital 2.0 surround|
Audio commentary by writer/director David Gordon Green, cinematographer Tim Orr, and actor Paul Schneider|
Deleted scene (with commentary)
Original theatrical trailer
Pleasant Grove short film by David Gordon Green (with commentary)
Physical Pinball short film by David Gordon Green
A Day With the Boys 1969 short film by Clu Gulager
Charlie Rose interview with David Gordon Green
New video interviews with the cast
|Distributor|| The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 12, 2002|
| Given a high-definition transfer from a 35mm interpositive in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), George Washington looks gorgeous. Tim Orr's naturalistic cinematography, which catches the hot glare of the afternoon sun as poignantly as it contrasts rusting steel girders with lush green foliage, is expertly presented with strong, rich colors and fine details. The image seems just slightly lighter than you might expect, perhaps due to the film stock used. There is little grain in evidence and almost no artifacts of any kind. |
| The soundtrack, presented in its original two-channel surround mix, is clean and clear, with subtle surround effects that add depth and resonance to the music and to Nasia's voice-over narration.|
| When I first saw George Washington during its initial theatrical release at the end of 2000, I feared that it would be one of those special films that is heralded, then quickly forgotten. Thankfully, Criterion has put together an impressive director-approved special edition DVD that focuses primarily on David Gordon Green's growth as a filmmaker and the many influences that led to this impressive feature debut.
The disc includes an entertaining and informative audio commentary by Green, cinematographer Tim Orr, and actor Paul Schneider, who played Rico Rice. These three men have known each for several years, and they have a relaxed, easy-going banter that is neither too casual, nor too serious. They point out numerous details and what influenced them, which range from Green's experiences living in the area where the film was shot, to Schneider recounting the story that led to the scene in which one of the characters says he is looking for a hotdog in his overalls. One of the most interesting aspects of the commentary is listening to Green and Orr discuss their cinematic influences, which range from Charles Burnett's low-budget '70s masterpiece Killer of Sheep to Sesame Street documentaries.
More information directly from the mouth of the director can be found in an interview from The Charlie Rose Show. Having never seen Green before, I was surprised at how young he looks (he was only 24 when he directed the film), but he is quite well-spoken, despite his generally laid-back demeanor. The interview only runs 15 minutes, but it covers a variety of topics, including Green's cinematic influences, why he made a film primarily about African-American youth, and what lies ahead for him (he mentions working on a science fiction film, a love story, and "a comedy-western about three guys trying to kill a horse").
In order to trace Green's growth as a filmmaker, Criterion has included two student films he made at the North Carolina School of the Arts in the mid-1990s. The first, Pleasant Grove (1996, 15 min.), was shot on digital video and is, in Green's words, "the inspirational basis that George Washington evolved from" (it includes optional audio commentary by Green, with a few random interjections by Orr). Physical Pinball (1998, 20 min.), the stronger of the two, was shot on 16mm and stars Candace Evanofski and Eddie Rouse, both of whom also star in George Washington. In addition to these two short films, the disc includes character actor Clu Gulager's little-seen short film A Day With the Boys (1969, 18 min.), which is an impressive and disturbing look at the conflicts between childhood innocence and violence that Green has cited as being one of the major influences on George Washington (the cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs is particularly notable). Both of Green's student films are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios, while A Day With the Boys was transferred in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1).
Also included is a new video interview of the majority of the young cast members conducted by Green himself. Candace Evanofski, Donald Holden, Damien Jewan Lee, Curtis Cotton III, and Rachel Handy, looking much the same, though two years older than when they appeared in the film, are reunited to discuss the making of George Washington and what they have been up to since. In addition, the disc contains a deleted scene involving a community meeting organized by Rico and George (presented in nonanamorphic widescreen with optional commentary) and an original theatrical trailer.
Overall Rating: (3.5)