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"I like to go to beautiful places where there's waterfalls and empty
George Washington is a meandering, moody, and hypnotic look at a group of black children, ages 9 to 14, during one summer in North Carolina. This was my second viewing and it remained a deeply satisfying experience. Though at times self-conscious, George Washington brings to mind Terence Malick's Days of Heaven with its voice-over narration, languid, dreamy tone, and gorgeous cinematography.
The youngsters are shown talking and playing aimlessly among the squalid junkyards and abandoned buildings of their neighborhood. They do not talk much about their hopes for the future but focus on their families and their girl friends and boy friends. The dialogue is partly improvised and, like Days of Heaven, allows the characters to speak in a manner that is slightly more poetic and contemplative than the average teenager.
The narrator, Nasia (Candace Evanofski), is a 12-year-old who has just broken up with her 13-year-old boyfriend Buddy (Curtis Cotton III) because, in her view, he's too young and immature. She's more attracted to Buddy's friend George (Donald Holden), a quiet and serious boy who always wears a helmet to protect his soft skull. They hang out with their friends, a mismatched pair of amateur car thieves named Vernon (Damian Jewan Lee) and Sonya (Rachael Handy), and also with Rico (Paul Schneider), a local railroad worker. Buddy shares his sadness with Rico who comforts him with his own story of lost love.
When an unexpected tragedy occurs, each of them must look closer at themselves and struggle to make an emotional connection with the events. They come to their realizations at different moments throughout the film and slowly begin to change in different ways. George, for one, after saving a drowning boy in a swimming pool becomes a neighborhood hero. Those realizations, however, do not provide an instantaneous fix and Green does not provide a forced happy ending.
Green has said, "One of the reasons I made this movie is because movies talk down to kids, put them as a cute little kid with a box of cereal and a witty joke," says Green. "You watch movies like Kindergarten Cop and it's like, 'Oh, a kid said something about sex. Isn't that funny?' It's just annoying and it makes me sad for their parents."
George Washington presents a view of teens that is not condescending but shows each character as a person of dignity and worth. It uniquely captures the confusion of adolescence, the need to belong, to believe life is or can be important, and the universal longing for love. Green has looked into the squalor and found beauty. Like a poem of Walt Whitman, he has expressed the divine in the commonplace.
George Washington is the kind of film I instantly respond to for the simple reason that it is pure, perfect cinema. This is what FILM can do when free of the constraints of popular movie-making. When it ended it made me think of that old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words." Well what happens when that picture moves? You get George Washington. I don't want to spoil the film for anyone reading this by needless plot exposition that I find so annoying in most professional reviews. But the film does center around a small American town, and a group of poor children during the long, hot summer months. This film has absolutely wonderful cinematography, better than most big budget Hollywood films, and the mood it sets is alternately playful, melancholy, surreal, and poignant. Many times I was reminded of my own childhood; scenes play out in a very organic way and the actors, mostly children, are all wonderful. Before I saw this film I had heard that one of the director's influences was Terrence Malick, a filmmaker I love dearly, and George Washington reminded me a lot of Malick's "Days of Heaven." He uses voiceover in much the same way Malick did in that film...alternating between narration, random thoughts, and character exposition. The voiceover use in this film, as in Days of Heaven, is spoken the way someone might hear their own thoughts. Watch the movie and you'll see what I mean. Although the movie is about children, it's not really "for" kids, but I would venture to say that any kid from about age 12 and up would be all the richer for seeing this movie. However in this age of short attention spans, and video game editing I don't hold out much hope that many kids would appreciate a film like this. But for adults, especially lovers of the cinema, this should be required viewing. It's up to us support these kinds of movies so we can see more of them in the future. I saw this for free on the independent film channel, but I plan on buying the DVD anyway...George Washington is a film I will be proud to add to my collection. I loved it.
When I first saw "George Washington" at the L.A. Independent Film Festival, I remarked to a colleague that I wasn't sure if the film was "brilliant," or if it was "a student film." He remarked, in kind, that "it was a brilliant student film." At the time, I agreed. But after repeated viewings of "George Washington," I think I am starting to encounter its sheer sublime brilliance... and in retrospect, it is one of the most beautifully realized films I've ever seen. As a Southerner, I can't recall a film that has better captured the mood of the rural South. The film's languid pacing--set amidst its plush backdrop of swimming pools, the rusted steel of dilapidated factories, children playing in the sun, immense greenery, and diverse ethnic culture--continually transports me back to the South that I experienced growing up. Its operatic photography mixes a complex cinematic chemistry that, for me, feels more and more like a documentary in tone the more I watch it. Yet for all the film's structural "looseness," there is that one story strand that seems to always hit from an unforeseen angle, which softly jerks you back to the story just as you start to think the film is losing focus. The film's pace seems centered on this hypnotic lulling style: the narrative rope slackens almost to the point of no return, until all of a sudden that rope is pulled taut by its sheer weight. Other reviews here accurately describe what "George Washington" is about, so I will defer to them for story description. Unfortunately, in many descriptions here, people (mistakenly) see "randomness" in the film's structure. But the story's elements are just so beautifully and intricately weaved that one can actually leave the film truly wondering if there was any structure to it at all. This is absolutely not a "by chance" occurance. It is the mystifying brilliance of this classical tale: the languid pacing almost fosters Southern-style "forgetfulness" to the point that the story seems to forget about itself and fold inward. All the stories fall into each other so smoothly that it's easy to forget and begin wondering "what happened?" But this style is in fact the film's structure, and is absolutely the intended hypnotic effect, which is so reflective of the mood of Southern culture (if I am allowed to state this so broadly). I've now seen the film about ten times, and I can confidently state that "George Washington"'s immense subtlety in this regard should not be overlooked. There are many examples of backstory that David Gordon-Green (the writer/director) leaves just underneath the surface, waiting to be found. For example, in the relatively minor scene where George visits his imprisoned father, it's amazing to consider just how much that simple scene reveals of George's strange circumstances. Without being obvious and saying directly to the viewer "x happened, now y occurs," we are all of a sudden introduced to George's complex emotional world. We are given an image (but not an explanation) as to why he now lives with Damascus. What's the backstory here? Did George's father murder his mother? We are told nothing directly. But after the incident with Buddy, George is able to come to some sort of terms with his father--who remains silent, smoking a cigarette behind bars. George tells his father that he once didn't believe him, but now believes him... and loves him. The film's central theme--that of George becoming a hero--is most exemplified in this moment... and is in my estimation the biggest character building moment of the film. In a quick two minute scene (which, action-wise, is relatively forgettable), we all of a sudden encounter George as a growing adolescent in a very complex adult world: as guilty, as scared, as proud, as strong, as knowing, as forgiving. It's as though his conscience were born in that moment of inner conflict, and provides the measure for his becoming a hero later in the film. (As a wise man once told me, one can only become a hero by being, at some point, the opposite of a hero.) I think the typical response that George's heroism is ironic in the film should be discredited by the depth of his character. Far from ironic, he is simply a hero who begins to grasp the price of heroism. "George Washington" is rife with little gems like this. So many subtleties abound here, like Nasia's fascinating narration told from the future perfect tense (revealed only once in a phrase halfway through the film)--told as though the story were some sort of Southern archetypal memory. Or Damascus' pre-text for quitting his job, so subtley inserted in the beginning that you forget about it by the time you realize what his phobias are. Or even George's breathtaking "admission," as indicated in the interrogation office through a jerk-reaction sniff that seems to come two paces too late. How much is revealed in that small action! "George Washington" is one of the most artful and intricately directed films I've ever seen. It is the kind of film that, like its story, will never crack the (canonical) surface because of its deep subtleties... but which, because of that, is what will always make it shine.
After only writing a few reviews, I promised myself I would not give a
film a perfect score too easily, but I cannnot resist. George
Washington is truly astonishing and touching piece of cinema. Some
people have called one of the best films of the new decade. This is
definitely not too far from the truth. As the summary had said it is
told very deceptively but we do not know the director has up his sleeve
both plot wise and emotionally.
One of the best things about this film is its realism. David Gordon Green captured the essence of how kids today speak. Often we find in the usual "tween" movies that the young kids speak perfect English, always have good posture, speak with a clear voice, and have a wide vocabulary. I sound like one of my teachers. In the real world, this is not how kids actually talk and Mr. Green should be commended for bringing this to the masses.
As many people know, this film has great cinematography and the location is an area rarely seen in movies today. It even rivals Malick's. The opening scenes in particular have great cinematography. They are a hook to the viewers that enchants them to keep watching. The sub-satisfactory location is turned into a beautiful not quite urban or rural town of mystery and intrigue.
Yes, I will say it. This film is very moving. I know I will sound like a sap but it is moving in the true sense of the word. It is never overly sentimental or sappy. It feels so genuine. Few films recently have been so affecting on this level. The film has a very provocative take on redemption I like how the director used amateurs to add even more realism to the movie. The acting was pretty good, too. Stay clear if this movie if you do not have a good attention span (most reviewers are complaining about this). It is drawn out but oh so rewarding. Highly recommended.
Don't look for a simple, linear plot line or resolutions to what you think are the problems. "George Washington" is the offspring of "Gummo" and "Stand by Me", and a very distant relative to "Eraserhead" (but with a soul). The dialog is often beyond the age, character, and scope of the kids depicted (similar to "Brick"), which can be disconcerting, yet, when suspending disbelief, remained interesting. The scoring is dark and moody and seldom lets up. On occasion, the lack of actor training can be seen in the kids, but for the most part they do a good job. The locations are full of dying and dead culture rich, textural, beautiful crumbling Industrial Revolution. This is a ponderous, sometimes overly artful film that is none the less worth seeing and considering afterwards. It has things to say and you're expected to use your own mind.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
David Gordon Green's first feature is like Gummo, only better:
characters stumble across a vast wasteland they're only semi-aware of,
but instead of just being weird and disturbing, these characters are
gentle and caring. Actually, it's worth noting that most of the dialog
is not all that un-familiar, and that if the characters were older this
movie would seem like pretentious Indie junk. Instead, it puts the
context into comedic relief to see 12 year olds discussing love like
aging veterans of break-up and loss.
As for, well, imagery: heart-breaking/rending photography. Shot in North Carolina, two people to praise would be the location scout and the cinematographer.... the town these people live in is shapeless, buildings and trash and trains and mines and forest and plants and trees and swamp all co-inhabit the same spaces. The characters seem to know their way around, but trying to track them in context to an overall map is impossible. As a background, it serves well, but also symbolically links to George's traffic directing as a true act of heroism, even after saving that kid's life.
Anyway, this movie is wonderful, and as David Gordon Green has been getting a lot of attention lately what with his new movie Pineapple Express coming out, I'd like to check out more of his work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Five days after seeing *George Washington* at the Chicago International Film
Festival, I still don't really know what to make of it. At times, the film
is reminiscent of Terence Malick's work with the use of narration,
beautifully evocative music, and mesmerizing shots of the landscape.
However, the film jolts you out of the meditative state such devices usually
inspire with bizarre turns in the plot and characters.
[A little spoiler here, so if you don't want to know anything about the film, check out here.] *George Washington* follows four young teenagers in the deep south as they lead relatively unsupervised lives. One day, when tragedy occurs, they are forced to come to terms with an adult world they had never really thought about. This is where the film gets perplexing and, I have to admit, I'm not sure if I get it exactly. I'm sure on repeated viewings, though, there will be a lot there to find.
This film is confusing, but it's confusing at its best.
Even though GEORGE WASHINGTON lacks the star power of the Reel 13
Indies of late (IMAGINARY HEROES, SUNSHINE STATE), it's still a high
profile independent film. It's legendary in the industry as the first
film from indie auteur David Gordon Green. It also already has its own
Criterion Collection Edition on DVD, so Channel 13 can hardly claim to
have made a discovery here.
As disappointing as it is that Reel 13 has gone away from bringing us films that are new to us (though not that many of them were very good), you have to acknowledge that at the very least, we get an independent film that is wonderfully cinematic and well-crafted. David Gordon Green has a pretty simple formula not a great deal of extraneous camera movement, realistic characters and scenes that are lyrically cut together with beautifully photographed landscapes. There is a certain poetry to his work that is all his own a style that he worked to even greater impact with his follow-up film ALL THE REAL GIRLS.
As similar as the feel of GEORGE WASHINGTON is to that film, it's narrative is quite different and deals with a handful of young kids in a small, poor town somewhere in the South (Arkansas? NC?) as they deal with tragedy and the unstoppable nature of growing up. The kids, whom I suspect are all untrained actors, are all quite good, albeit playing characters that are perhaps more mature than their respective ages suggest. That aspect, along with the verisimilitude and honesty of the scenes, reminds me a lot of Peter Sollett's work. Not as much RAISING VICTOR VARGAS (which airs on Reel 13 in May) than the short it was based on FIVE FEET HIGH AND RISING only Green accomplishes a similar effect without a hand-held camera.
There a couple of nitpicky things that keeps GEORGE WASHINGTON from being as effective as the previously mentioned ALL THE REAL GIRLS. For starters, it's a little slow and hard to hear at times. Paul Schneider, who is outstanding in a much more significant role in REAL GIRLS, is more of a distraction here than an asset. His character, ostensibly intended for comic relief, is like a sixth toe on one foot it doesn't stop you from walking normally, but it's really unnecessary. I also felt the voice-over was also extraneous as if Green didn't trust us to comprehend his themes. The biggest issue I had with the film, though, is the surreal turn it takes in its last twenty minutes or so. Without giving too much away, it relates to changes in the main kid character, which are personified by a radical shift in wardrobe. While I see the overarching purpose of the choice to explicate how the character deals with some of his misfortunes it is a major shift in tone for the piece and stands out like a sore thumb against the quiet beauty of the rest of the film.
Still and all, beggars can't be choosers and having sat through some very questionable indie films over the last few months, GEORGE WASHINGTON is a very welcome change.
(For more information on this or any other Reel 13 film, check out their website at www.reel13.org)
David Gordon Green's first miniscule-budget movie is strange and
disconcerting, and appears to lack a real focus; but maybe that's its theme
- the aimlessness and randomness of life in a poor North Carolina
neighbourhood. But not from the conventional point of view that regards such
lack of purpose as totally negative; but with a poetic, visionary eye that
can see meaning and even beauty in things and people that appear on the
surface to be mundane, derelict, pointless or absurd.
Ostensibly the film is about a group of kids, mainly black, who spend their time goofing around, as kids do, until there's a tragic accident, and then a heroic rescue, and George (Donald Holden) is at the centre of both the accident and rescue. And George is already marked out as an exceptional character, not only because he has a weak skull and has to wear a helmet, but because pretty Nasia (Candace Evanofski) has switched her affections to him from an apparently more attractive companion. The children are surrounded by, and inter-mingle with, a mixed bunch of adults, the most prominent being a group of manual workers, who alternately josh each other and make would-be serious statements. However sceptical he or she might have been initially, by the end of the film the viewer accepts that George is exceptional and possibly a potential hero; but whether the world in general will ever recognise this is more doubtful; though the movie ends on a hopeful note.
Technically, the film is fine; with great photography, striking visuals, and effective music. Nevertheless, it is hard to follow, because of its rough edges and loose ends; it is probably best regarded not as a narrative, but more as a series of vignettes. From a conventional viewpoint, much of the acting by Green's amateur cast, is "bad", reminiscent of early dramatised documentaries by, say, Robert Flaherty; but this crudity and stiltedness add to the surreal feel of the movie, and give the characters a grittiness that smooth "good" acting might not. Of all the movies I've seen lately, this is one I'd like to see again, when an opportunity arises.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Won't waste too many words on this one. BAD! BAD! BAD! [POTENTIAL SPOILER COMING] Aimless story a group of wandering teens and pre-teens set in a "southern" "industrial" area who attempt to cover-up the accidental death of one of their group. Watching this movie was like being subjected to 90 minutes of semi-random politically correct Public Service Annoucements with dialogue that could put an African Elephant out cold in seconds. Save your money and time.
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