George Washington: The Criterion Collection
When a director has complete command of his movie, the result can be a film experience that is singular and sometimes remarkable. Such is the case with David Gordon Green and his astonishingly original debut George Washington. Green professes an interest "in movies that aren't like any other movies movies with a stylistic approach and distinctive flavor." Much of George Washington's inventiveness comes from a combination of cinematographer Tim Orr's resplendent photography and Green's languid approach to unfolding the film's fragile, emotion-wrought story. Green dwells on the small, intimate emotions, the subtle asides, and unnoticed reactions of the characters, who are unaware of how much they give away with small gestures and expressions. George Washington carries a distinctive tone and Green shows great mastery and precision in his approach one gets the sensation that each frame is presented exactly as the director intended. George Washington is about that precarious time of preadolescence when friendships between boys and girls suddenly, and seemingly inexplicably, grow tense. Bodies change, perceptions change, and undeveloped psyches are thrown into emotional upheaval. George (Donald Holden) is a 13-year-old boy with a congenital defect that has created a soft spot on his head (a metaphor that works nicely here, both literally and figuratively). George's main ambition is to be famous and successful. His 12-year-old friend Nasia (Candace Evanofski), who narrates the story, is preoccupied with finding a "man," as she has tired of the immaturity found in most boys around her. The first half of the film focuses on the characters the casual interactions and comings and goings of these children and their friends as they glide through the hot summer days looking for stimulation in their exceedingly poor surroundings. But before long a tragic accident occurs an accident that takes its toll on the children's innocence. After the event, the children slowly and methodically absorb the aftermath with whatever emotional tools they can muster. As for George, he becomes obsessed with superheroes as a means of assuaging his own sense of guilt.
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Where David Gordon Green gets it right and what makes George Washington such a fascinating film is his true-to-life depiction of children and how they interact. Mainstream Hollywood would have us believe that children naturally speak in snappy dialogue, are smarter than adults, and learn moral lessons in 90 minutes or less. Green shows children as they truly behave with each other, in parallel conversations that reveal little if any real understanding or even a desire to understand each other. Children observe, internalize, brag, mumble, and rarely carry on direct one-to-one conversations. The children in George Washington live inside their heads and are cautious about revealing their true feelings to each other, since putting themselves out there means risking ridicule. Green's knowledge of this is vital to his film's tone, while his look at the gulf that emerges at this age between boys and girls is refreshing. When Nasia chooses George to be her new boyfriend, he has no idea why such is happening. Nasia claims that her previous boyfriend, Buddy (Curtis Cotton III), just wasn't "man" enough for her, but it soon becomes evident that Buddy didn't even know they were really having a relationship the romance existed in Nasia's mind, and through conversations with her girlfriends. George Washington deftly illustrates the gender-gap that appears during the teen years, which contributes to a precise, startling film experience from a director of great promise.
Criterion's George Washington DVD release offers a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby 2.0 audio. The disc is loaded with extras, including a lively and thorough audio commentary with Green, Orr, and actor Paul Schneider; deleted scenes with commentary; Green's short student films "Pleasant Grove" with commentary (the inspiration for George Washington) and "Physical Pinball"; Green's appearance on "The Charlie Rose Show"; recent interviews with the cast; Clu Gulager's 1969 short film "A Day with the Boys," which influenced Green; and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.