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DVD: George Washington (2000)
Review Rating:   Excellent  
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Catalog #:
GEO020, Criterion 152
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1 (NTSC)

March 12, 2002



Genre: Drama  
A group of friends in North Carolina share a secret of a tragic event that cannot stay hidden forever.



Directed by:

David Gordon Green
Screenplay by: David Gordon Green
Music by: Michael Linnen, David Wingo
Produced by: David Gordon Green

Candace Evanofski,  Donald Holden,  Damien Jewan Lee,  Curtis Cotton III,  Rachael Handy,  Paul Schneider,  Eddie Rouse,  Janet Taylor,  Derricka Rolle,  Ebony Jones,  Jonathan Davidson,  Scott Clackum,  Beau Nix

Film Length: 90 mins
Process/Ratio: 2.35 :1
Anamorphic DVD: Yes
Languages:   English (Stereo) / English Subtitles
Special Features :  

Audio Commentary by Director David Gordon Green, Cinematographer Tim Orr and Actor Paul Schneider / Short Films: David Gordon Green's “Pleasant Grove” (14:54) with optional commentary + David Gordon Green's “Physical Pinball” (20:25) + 1969 Clu Gulager's "A Day With The Boys" (17:54) (1.85:1 Anamorphic) with text comments / Deleted Scene (8:28) – (2.35:1 Ltbx) with optional commentary / Cast Reunion (12:45) / Charlie Rose Show interview with David Gordon Green / 6 page colour booklet / Theatrical trailer for "George Washington"

Comments :

Though a tragedy figures at the end of the first act, David Gordon Green's film is really about nuances, colours, textures, and the intimate moments of several characters in a small North Carolina town. Shot in diverse locations - a crumbling outdoor train museum, a disintegrating Putt-Putt golf course, and an unused grade school, to cite just a few - Green and cameraman Tim Orr composed a visual landscape of radiant rust and omnipresent hues of amber and burnt orange - colours that bleed from the screen in a most soothing manner. The addition of rich green and off-whites wash away the otherwise depressing and grubby nature of the town's worn and fading edifices, and Orr's beautiful widescreen compositions dignify the small town, a ploy that supports Green's deliberate slow pacing and stripped-down dialogue.

Criterion's transfer is first-rate, capturing the saturated colours of the rusty trains and twisted warehouses, the turquoise water of the community pools, and dim spotlights which figure in several interior sets. The black levels are natural, and some minor grain appears during a few day-for-night and nighttime shots.

The basic stereo mix suits the film's simplicity, with an ambient synth score and periodic blues peppering the layered soundtrack. Periodic montages blend sound effects and music, and the dialogue and narration comes through clean (though it may take some viewers ears a moment to become accustomed to the dialect).

Criterion's DVD essentially offers a complete package of a film school graduate's gradual path from early student efforts (some included on the disc) to influential works and supplemental materials regarding the subject's success with critics.

Green's early short film "Pleasant Grove" (with optional commentary from Green, cinematographer Orr, and actor Paul Schneider) formed the genesis of "George Washington," with a few scenes directly lifted into the feature film, and other ideas altered or expanded altogether. The full-frame 1997 video project (made during Green's second year at North Carolina's School of the Arts) is relatively clean, with adequate audio, though a few shots contain video noise and soft focus. The commentators discuss ideas and approaches for both student and theatrical versions, and Green makes a salient point: where the more humble North Carolina film program - which funds all projects - often gave students more opportunities to make movies than the more well-known (and more expensive) California and New York institutions.

Green's 1998 short film "Physical" Pinball" is essentially a character piece between a widower and his teenage daughter, as the father realizes his tomboy child is becoming a young woman. Starring Candace Evanofski and Eddie Rouse (also in "George Washington") the briskly paced drama shows Green playing with editing, slow-motion ratcheting, freeze frames and music, yet his gift for evoking honest performances and natural dialogue are clearly evident. The film demonstrates the skills Green had learned in a year, and his focus on writing everyday moments with ordinary people. Shot in 16mm, the film shows some wear, and in addition to visible grain, flashing from light leakage affects a few early scenes. The mono soundtrack is adequate, and the location sound occasionally affects certain dialogue portions.

Before embarking on their first feature film, Green and Orr sought out and studied the pacing and atmosphere of a little-known 1969 film written, directed and produced by character actor Clu Gulager. Originally released by Universal, this little twisted gem evokes the carefree moments of a group of pre-pubescent boys as they engage an IBM-styled man into wandering with them for a few hours before a Shirley Jackson-inspired finale. Laszlo Kovacs' cinematography formed the basis of Green and Orr's colour and compositional schemes, and Michael Mention's impressionistic score certainly implanted the notion of a textured soundscape. Rescued from oblivion, this gem (sometimes screened at film schools) is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and though worn in spots, the grain and solarization effects look strong. The mono soundtrack, however, is pinched, and suffers from distortion as the score and sound effects kick in. David Gordon Green contributes a few text notes on the film's influences, but some biographical material regarding Gulager's rare directorial effort, studio involvement, and original release history would have been of interest.

The feature-length commentary track for the first half offers some incisive observations on low-budget filmmaking, but the real standouts are Green's views on working with actors, evoking performances from his young cast (pretty much all non-actors), and his efforts to write poetic yet natural sounding dialogue. The three participants also discuss their influences, which include the films "Walkabout," McCabe & Mrs. Miller," "Medium Cool," Charles Burnett's "The Killer of Sheep," and Terence Malick's "Thin Red Line" and "Badlands."

A deleted town meeting scene with optional commentary (from Green, Orr and Schneider) follows a lengthy sequence - derived from two long takes - involving hand-held footage and real town inhabitants that was ultimately not included due to the sequence's look, the flawed dialogue, and the actors' wandering focus which went against Green's intentions.

The post-theatrical life of "George Washington" comes in the form of Green's appearance on the Charlie Rose show, where then 25-year old director answers questions about the film's international receptions, and his future goals. Often showing some unease at all of the high praise and attention, the short segment is from an adequate video source with no artifacting, but contains soft focus.

The disc finishes off with a cast reunion, assembling most of the young actors in a cozy living room setting in 2001, with questions from an off-camera Green concerning each actor's take on their characters, working together, and their assessment of the film and their contributions. The full frame video is intercut with some film footage, and a short "musical" outtake follows the colour bars at the end of the film as a kind of Easter Egg.


© 2002 Mark R. Hasan

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