George Washington’s Birthday | Watch ‘George Washington’
Today is George Washington’s birthday, and we all know what to do today: Gently stroke the bark of a cherry tree, tell no lies, hum numbers from the musical 1776, and send out good vibes to one of the Founding Fathers of this great nation of ours. Washington himself was, according to some reports, a dour and serious individual, but this may just be because he never smiled in portraits – he did have wooden teeth after all.
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Since all of the patriotism is covered, I offer an alternative way to celebrate the life of our first president: By watching one of the best films of 2000, David Gordon Green’s George Washington.
George Washington is, as you may be able to guess from the above and below photos, not about George Washington at all. Indeed, the film makes no explicit reference to Washington, and its connections to the famed politician may only be gleaned through critical conjecture, although one of the main characters is named George. George Washington is about a group of children – all under 17 or so – growing up in a horribly impoverished area of North Carolina. The main character, if there is one, is Nasia (Candace Evanofski) who breaks up with her boyfriend Buddy (Curtin Cotton III) and begins pursuing – kind of – a kid named George (Donald Holden) who has to wear a helmet at all times because his skull never hardened.
While playing around one afternoon, George accidentally kills Buddy. The kids try to hide Buddy’s body rather than ‘fess up.
This is no melodrama about plot and retribution, however. George Washington is a gentle, naturalist drama about the way kids interact with the world, and how poverty shapes (or in many cases does not shape) the childhood experience. There are dark paths in this world, but more often, kids just hang out being kids. In the Hollywood factory, childhood is too often fetishized as a place of candy-colored rambunctious innocence; kids in movies rarely if ever behave like real children. Childhood, if mainstream movies are any indicator, is difficult to depict correctly. Films like George Washington remind us that it is at least possible.
David Gordon Green has an ear for the way children speak. They may be living in an impoverished area of the world, but the kids in George Washington still move and behave like real kids. When they laugh, it is real laughter. When they panic, it is real panic. David Gordon Green does not take children’s innocence for granted, finding sophistication in their dunderheaded, sweet, emotional honesty.
George Washington, Green’s first feature, was shot on a very low budget (reportedly only $42,000) and was released at a time when “risky” indie films were just about to contract in popularity in the eyes of the studios. As the 2000s continued, mid-budget indie dramas gave way to blockbusters, and studios refused to finance littler movies like this one that would only garner modest returns. In many ways, this film (along with other contemporary films about children, like Lynne Ramsay’s equally brilliant Ratcatcher) was the final hurrah of the 1990s indie boom.
David Gordon Green would go on to make other amazing indie films like Snow Angels, All the Real Girls, and Undertow, along with a few baffling stoner comedies like Pineapple Express and Your Highness. The young actors can be found here and there, but none of them want onto to major acting careers. In a way, George Washington is pure. It is small, honest, beautiful, and contained.
Happy birthday, George Washington. Now watch George Washington. You can find it on Hulu.
Top Image: Cowboy
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.