George Washington Blu-ray Review
The mildly esoteric (yet meaningful) title aside, George Washington is an exemplary directorial debut by David Gordon Green. A story of 5 kids living in the economically parched side of a North Carolina town who, following the death of friend as they play in a dilapidated bathroom, choose to cover up the tragedy. This defining moment sets each of them aside from their whimsical and wasted summer days. We follow George, a quiet and, to some extent, isolated young boy who is unable to partake in the rough and tumble of his friends play (due to a dangerously soft skull that he must protect), as he contends with feelings of an outsider, the affections of a young girl, and the desire to be considerably more than is affliction allows. A wonderful and beautifully shot film worthy of your time.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 30 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
Clear Criterion case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/11/2014
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
“They used to get around, walkin' around, lookin' at stuff. They used to try to find clues to all the mysteries and mistakes God had made. My friend George said that he was gonna live to be 100 years old. He said - He said that he was going to be the president of the United States. I wanted to see him lead a parade and wave a flag on the Fourth of July. He just wanted greatness. The grown-ups in my town, they were never kids like me and my friends. They had worked in wars and build machines. It was hard for them to find their peace. Don't you know how that feels? I like to go to beautiful places where there's waterfalls and empty fields. Just places that are nice and calm and quiet.”
In the dense abandon of the North Carolina’s decaying industrial glory, a small group of kids, black and white, waste their summer days exploring, talking, and picking through the discards of yesterday. Buddy (Curtis Cotton III), a likeable 13-year old is heartbroken following the breakup with his 12-year old girlfriend, Nasia (Candace Evanofski). He is dumped because he isn’t mature enough. Nasia soon shows an interest in Buddy’s friend, George (newcomer Donald Holden), a quiet young boy who must wear protective gear for his head (typically a football helmet) as his skull had never closed and hardened after birth. This relationship complication is more a distraction than a defining moment, however. The oldest of the five friends, Vernon (Damian Jewan Lee), looks out for Buddy, and tagging along with them is the scraggly Sonya (Rachael Handy), a blonde-haired little girl who barely speaks a word.
A tragic turn changes these friends forever when buddy is accidentally killed. Afraid and remorseful, the friends keep the death a secret and react to the event in very different ways. George, following a freak accident in a nearby pool where he saves a young boy from drowning - at great risk to his own life - embraces the role of hero. Nasia is drawn to that heroism, telling George that “Sometimes I smile and laugh when I think of all the great things you're gonna do. I hope you live forever.” Vernon and Sonya find comfort in the friendship of each other, but both look for a way out of where they live.
George Washington is about youth in the corners of the world neglected by the world. Though set amongst abandoned industrial sites, derelict buildings, and the run down homes of the economically disadvantaged, there is great beauty in every scene. Framed against the remnants of a productive industrial past is the lushness of nature. Often intruding, overtaking, reclaiming man’s abandoned constructs, nature exerts quite the presence throughout the film and softens the harshness of the environment these impoverished yet grounded children abide.
Visually poetic and intimate, David Gordon Green makes an impressive directorial debut here. Surrounded with colleagues and friends with whom he knew growing up and attending the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), Green also wrote the film and took his modest crew to the near-forgotten corners of a few North Carolina locations. He constructs an almost elusive narrative, pausing at times to be meditative, but artfully maintains sufficient cohesion not to drift into the ether of his own thoughts and narrative pursuits. Influences from directors such as Terence Malick and Haskell Wexler are apparent, but not dominant. Green forges enough of a voice here through his writing, pacing, camera work, and subtext that the gentle flow of the film, with its organic textures and patient structure, draws us in.
Ruin is a theme that runs through this impressive debut. Though it isn’t necessarily ruin as an outcome, but rather the response or reaction the characters have to ruin; to the decay of parts of the industrial south; to the ruin of life following tragedy. George’s emotionally distant uncle, with whom he lives along with his Aunt, is frustrated and angered by the decay and his feeling trapped by it. The kids however, respond to the ruin of a life (and the threat of ruin of their own lives) first by cover-up, but then by the desire to find solace and escape in their actions. It’s a fascinating approach.
The cast of unknowns and non-professionals is particularly striking. Effective and affecting, these young boys and girls deliver wonderfully natural performances, wholly believable and compassionate, with an almost documentary-like realism at times. George, played by Donald Holden (who has not acted in film since) is standout. Of the adults, it is George’s uncle, Damascus – played by Eddie Rouse, and Rico Rice – played by Paul Schneider, who make the most indelible mark. Rouse for his worn and frustrated worker, impatient of George’s approach to life, and Schneider’s almost comedic and jolly turn as he takes a sympathetic line with the kids.
George Washington is a triumphant debut and a film that belies the work of David Gordon Green today. That isn’t an indictment on his current form (directing films such as Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Sitter and HBO’s terrific Eastbound & Down) but rather a genuine appreciation of the depth of his cinematic understanding. Green’s time at the UNCSA, (which is just down the road from where I live), gave him exposure to the poorer sides of Winston-Salem, NC, where the UNCSA is based. Rusted railroad tracks, unoccupied buildings, and the occasional wastelands of industrial sites long past their former glory can be found just off the beaten path in that city. In addition to filming in the great city of Winston-Salem, Green and crew took in locations around Spencer, NC and even the town where I live now, Kernersville, NC – and Green’s intimate appreciation of the locations is apparent in every scene as he finds exactly what they seek to share and hide, and shows what they hide.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
Seriousness and maturity of filmmaking were sought when the filmmakers decided to shoot George Washington in 35MM anamorphic. This affords the film a professional look and feel that is then truly earned by the substance of the story captured and shared.
The transfer retains the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, digitally transferred at 2K from the interpositive. As the accompanying booklet outlines, thousands of instances of dust, debris and other detritus were removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean. The result is excellent, with a lovely film grain texture throughout, resplendent, vivid and saturated colors (greens, rust, soiled whites, and bold colors dotting the frame from time to time – such as the 4th of July parade), along with natural flesh tones and solid contrasts.
Some debris on the transfer remains, perhaps most noticeable towards the end of the film at the train tracks, however.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Criterion presents George Washington with the original 2.0 surround soundtrack, remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm Dolby A magnetic track. Dominant in the film is the contemplative score by Michael Linnen (Manic) and David Wingo (Mud). The score whispers at times, and hums with slow movement across scenes giving an almost surreal feel. The realistic approach to shooting balances the score, creating a marvelous tone to the film.
Dialogue is crisp and although there is generally little excitement in the audio, this presentation serves the film very, very well with distinction between the layers.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
A fine collection of special features, ported over from Criterion’s 2002 DVD release, allow for a deeper appreciation for cast, crew and film. The audio commentary provides sufficient enlightenment from those involved and the Charlie Rose interview from 2001, though showing director Green at perhaps his most awkward, expresses an understanding of the importance of the film and provides some insight into Green’s approach.
Audio commentary by director David Gordon Green, cinematographer Tim Orr, and actor Paul Schneider
Deleted scene, with commentary by Green, Orr, and Schneider
Two student shorts by Green: Pleasant Grove (1997), with commentary by Green, Orr, and Schneider; and Physical Pinball (1998)
Charlie Rose interview with Green from 2001
Interviews with cast members from a 2001 reunion
Clu Gulager’s 1969 short film A Day with the Boys, which influenced George Washington
Accompanying booklet featuring an essay by critic Armond White and a director’s statement
DVD version of the film
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Despite the tragic nature of the plot, George Washington is a story and film that is in no way designed to leave you sad and as gloomy as the concrete and steel decay depicted, for there is so much beautiful authenticity, even among the destitute dwellings and surroundings, and ultimately so much hope found in these children.
George Washington shares the joy of youth. The invincibility of young friends at play who discover the tragic fragility of life. And combines a wonderful embrace of filmmaking with characters that fascinate, superbly portrayed by non-professional actors, with both grounding and surreal power.
Reviewed By: Neil Middlemiss
Support HTF when you buy this title: