With any luck, the marvelous new Criterion Collection DVD of George Washington will familiarize a whole new audience with one of the best American films in recent memory.
First-time director David Gordon Green's movie is a spare and lovely little piece of minimalist filmmaking about kids living in that last gasp between childhood and adolescence. The kids, poor and mostly black but with a few white stragglers in the color-blind mix, live in a small Southern town and spend their days hanging out, shooting the breeze (albeit shooting it with a series of eloquent, intimate monologues that sound composed in their perfection) and not really doing much of anything important. George Washington is concerned with the languid rhythms and rich textures of its characters' lives than with what actually happens or doesn't in its elegant wisp of a narrative.
In all, the kids in this dreamy meditation seem less like real-life human beings and more like poetic representations. They're aging children living in an American Neverland where disadvantaged kids are aware but not hopeless or mean-spirited. Just as the stunning camerawork transforms the rural landscape into the stuff of myth (you've never seen fields of weeds and vacant lots look so beautiful), so does the film transform its characters into figures of nobility and grace.
The Criterion DVD gives George Washington its due in almost every way, beginning with a knockout of a digital transfer enhanced for 16-by-9 TVs. The imagery is crucial to fully appreciating Green's film, and the picture on the DVD is both lush and finely detailed. Director of photography Tim Orr discusses the cinematography at length on a fascinating audio commentary.
A wealth of other supplemental features flesh out Green's comments and provide even more context: a deleted scene that, while somewhat incongruous with the rest of GW, is intriguing in and of itself; an extensive interview with the director from The Charlie Rose Show; a wonderfully entertaining cast reunion, featuring Green-directed video interviews with the young actors; Clu Glager's 1969 short A Day With the Boys (a wordless memory piece that, along with Terrence Malik's The Thin Red Line, was a primary influence on George Washington); and, best of all, two short films directed by Green back in film school.
As with the best Criterion DVDs, this one creates a total cinematic environment, inviting us into a strangely dreamlike world that springs from many sources but is essentially unique to this movie. Hypnotic, sensuous and ultimately visionary, George Washington transforms the banalities of small town life into something extraordinary.