Criterionís original DVD edition of David Gordon Greenís George Washington presents the film in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc. The widescreen transfer has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Though it looked fine at the time (especially on standard 4:3 televisions) the transfer has not aged well at all. Itís very problematic in terms of compression and noise, which is a shame because the base of it looks fairly decent. The film has a yellow tinge to it that I believe is intentional, giving the film a hot look, but colours offer decent saturation levels and look fairly natural. Black levels are a bit off and darker sequences experience some heavy crushing unfortunately, wiping out details in darker areas of the screen.
Unfortunately the transfer is severely harmed by compression artifacts. Blocky patterns and pixilation form around just about all objects that appear on screen. The filmís grain structure is also rendered more like noise, creating artifacts dancing around the screen. Edge-enhancement is also visible, and can get pretty bad when dark objects are in front of light backgrounds.
At the time of the original DVDís release back in 2002 the film was only a couple of years old, so unsurprisingly damage is minimal but still present: specs of debris show up in places and a few stains, including possible hairs, show up in a few odd places. Otherwise the print is fairly clean.
Iím pretty sure the compression problems are an issue with the encode, which is further suggested by Criterionís recent release of a dual-format Blu-ray/DVD edition of the film. The Blu-ray presents an adequate presentation (hindered mostly by a dated transfer) and the new DVD found in that release presents a far cleaner standard-definition transfer lacking the artifacts found in this one. Though it may upset people who havenít gone Blu-ray yet to pick up a dual-format edition for the DVD, thatís the route I would suggest. The DVDís transfer in that edition looks far better than what we get here, even though it technically comes from the same master. 6/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion did a nice job putting together supplements for this newer film (at the time,) starting with the audio commentary featuring Green, director of photography Tim Orr, and actor Paul Schneider. The track was a pleasant surprise when I initially listened to it as I was expecting a stuffy, overly technical track. Itís far from it; instead itís a loose and rather funny track. The three share stories from the shoot, sometimes veering off-topic (which is actually somewhat refreshing,) and Green goes over his many influences. Orr can be a little more technical as he gets into the process of capturing the look of the film, but it keeps it engaging, while Schneider simply fills in spaces and adds some more levity to the whole thing. Itís informative but manages to also allow you to appreciate certain aspects of the film a little more. Itís also rather entertaining.
The remaining supplements are then divided into two sections. The first section, ďFinding CluesĒ presents a number of short films, the first two made by Green while attending North Carolina School of Arts during the late 90ís. The first film is Pleasant Grove made in 1996. Shot on video it focuses on a young boy who has the same condition as the boy in George Washington (a soft skull) and his interactions with his community. Itís basically a 15-minute version of George Washington, with a lot of the same scenes playing out here, and even a few of the same cast members. Itís very rough around the edges unsurprisingly, with some rough photography that I think is trying to go for what would ultimately be captured in George Washington, but an interesting first attempt. Criterion also includes an optional commentary by Green, Orr, and Schneider, who talk about the production, Schneider seeming to be especially embarrassed by his performance.
The second short film, Physical Pinball, is a more polished piece shot on 16mm. Candace Evenofski (who played Nasia in the feature film on the disc) plays a young girl being raised by her single dad. Her father always thought of her as a boy, and treats her as such, so he is thrown off once she has her period and is lost as to what he should do. Like Pleasant Grove it seems to try to capture a sense of community but is more focused on the girl and her fatherís relationship, as well as what she has with her cousin. This one is more story driven than Grove and Washington but one can see Greenís style developing.
The third film is actually a 19-minute short film made by actor Clu Gulager and shot by Laszlo Kovacs in 1969, called A Day with the Boys. The sort of trippy, heavily stylized film follows a group of boys over the course of a day, as the title suggests, and then takes a fairly surprising turn to the macabre once they come across a business man. It apparently heavily influenced Green and itís not hard to see how. Stylistically there are similarities to Washington (and even Physical Pinball) and I swear some shots have been directly lifted. Itís a great and thoughtful addition on Criterionís part.
Criterion then focuses on George Washington in the second section, ďMysteries Made.Ē First is an 8-minute deleted scenes that focuses on a town meeting. According to the optional commentary, which again features Green, Orr, and Schneider, the scene was completely improvisational, gathering together a group of people who were simply told to express concerns. The style of the scene is very out-of-place, more like something out of Medium Cool as Green mentions in the commentary, and doesnít really fit the rest of the film (also, in my personal opinion, it would bring the film to a complete stop if it was still in place.) Interestingly Green wanted to keep the topics fairly timeless, and wanted to keep discussion on gun violence in schools (this would have been filmed around the time of Columbine) out because it would have dated things (sadly it probably wouldnít have.) On its own itís an interesting scene, but was rightfully removed.
A 16-minute cast reunion is next, featuring interviews with the four principal young stars, Candace Evenofski, Donald Holden, Damian Jewan Lee, Rachael Handy, and Curtis Cotton III, filmed in 2001. The cast recalls auditioning, being cast, and then working on their characters. A lot of rehearsals were done, taking up a lot of time each day, and there was also a significant amount of improvisation done as well. They also talk about their reactions to the film, as well as their familiesí reactions. Handy seemed to be the most surprised by it, getting something completely different from what she expected. I liked Cotton, easily the most outspoken of the bunch. Heís overly cocky but thereís something sort of endearing to it, even having the gumption to basically say that he could out-act Denzel Washington. Sadly Cotton doesnít have any a credit other than George Washington, at least according to IMDB.
Criterion next includes a 15-minute clip of David Gordon Green on Charlie Rose. Here Gordon goes over what he was trying to do with the film, touches on the filmís reception and the reactions to it from around the world. He also talks about the various films that have influenced him, with Terrence Malick being a key influence unsurprisingly. Rose asks some decent questions and Green, seeming quite relaxed, comes off open and charming. A lot of the material is either mentioned or alluded to in the commentary but itís still worth viewing.
The disc then closes with the filmís theatrical trailer. The included insert features and essay by Armond White and then a note on the film by Green.
Overall, itís lacking an analytical approach, which is something I usually like, especially from Criterion, but theyíve still put together a nice selection of extra material. 8/10