The thing that’s been so great about this Debuts Blogathon so far, as I’m sure Mark will attest, is that it’s been a great mix of well-known films and more obscure ones, and, to me, this films firmly in the latter category. This look at David Gordon Green’s George Washington comes from Alex at And So It Begins…, a really fantastic blog that covers a huge variety of film topics. Alex is one of the most knowledgeable bloggers I’ve seen, which really comes across in his piece below…
DAVID GORDON GREEN
George Washington (2000)
If you’ve ever read a brief synopsis for David Gordon Green’s masterful debut film, George Washington, then you’re likely to expect a cheap thriller. The plot description on the film’s Wikipedia page, for example, makes George Washington sound like a mix between I Know What You Did Last Summer and Kick-Ass.
Problem is, George Washington doesn’t have a plot. It transcends plot. It doesn’t equate to conflict and resolution. Instead, it speaks of a time and place. Of innocence and doubt. It speaks of an age when life is still winnable. When youth is fresh, and worry and responsibility have yet to be discovered. George Washington is about a time in life when all that’s ahead is living. Until it’s not.
At its core, the film is about a group of young friends who roam around their poor North Carolina town – talking, fighting, loving, hating. Although they have yet to experience the pain of “real life,” Green does a very wise thing by writing these characters as refreshingly mature. For instance, early in the film, one of our main protagonists, a young boy named Buddy, tells his friend how much he misses his recent ex girlfriend. “I love her,” Buddy says, “I think about her all the time.” That line is spoken from the mouth of a 12-year-old, and in any other film, it would play as silly. But here, and in every other verbal exchange in the film, it’s utterly authentic.
I’m not going to discuss where George Washington goes. The first time I saw this film, I was very surprised at the direction in which Green took it. But know that, Buddy and his friends do the things 12-year-olds often do. Maybe you did something bad when you were a kid. Something you regret and wish you could take away. Maybe you did something bad and never got caught. George Washington explores those adolescent tribulations flawlessly, and with sheer grace.
I use that word, “grace,” deliberately because this is one of the most gorgeous looking independent films ever made. Lensed by Tim Orr (who has shot all of Green’s subsequent films), George Washington has a magic hour, floating mystique that is often, appropriately, likened to Terrence Malick. The film had a reported budget of $42,000 but looks and feels like it’s worth millions.
After George Washington (which, to be clear, remains Green’s best film), the director helmed All the Real Girls, Undertow, and Snow Angels. (He also produced Jeff Nichols’ first and best film, Shotgun Stories.) All of those films are similar in tone and were shot for about the same amount of money, and remain perfect testaments to the strength of American independent cinema.
And then, as most of us know, things went downhill quickly. Green manufactured the big budget pot comedy/action romp, Pineapple Express, which made 16 times more money in its opening weekend than the full run of his first four films combined. From there, he made two dismal movies, Your Highness and The Sitter, which all but removed the clout Green had developed from his first films. (For the record, Green directed several episodes of the hilarious HBO show Eastbound & Down, which, despite being great, don’t feel like works by David Gordon Green.
You know what Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter have in common, beyond being mediocre-to-awful comedies? They weren’t written by Green. I can’t fault a filmmaker for taking a break from screenwriting. Nor can I fault him for wanting to make some serious money. I’ve never judged Green for his career decisions, but I’ve always longed for him to make something reminiscent of George Washington.
The opening sentence of my review for Green’s recent film, the micro-budget Prince Avalanche, asked if David Gordon Green was back. That film was the return to form I’d been waiting for, and his new crime thriller, Joe, is earning serious buzz out of the Venice Film Festival. Is David Gordon Green back? Possibly. But even if he never again reaches the great heights of his debut film, I will never shy away from returning to the source.
Tomorrow you’ll be treated to a piece by Nika from The Running Reel on Sam Mendes’s superb American Beauty. Don’t miss it!
Meanwhile, you can check out the rest of the entries in the Debuts Blogathon here.