Saturday, December 04, 2004

The cinema of David Gordon Green

You may ask yourself who the hell is David Gordon Green? If so, I urge you to seek out his three films- "George Washington" (2000), "All the Real Girls" (2003), and his latest called "Undertow". The name of Green has been thrown around casually as the premier torch carrier for the isolationistic and beautiful films of Terrance Malick. And it doesn't hurt that Malick has assisted with the production of "Undertow". Like Malick, Green looks at his subjects with innocent eyes."George Washington" follows the idyllic days of a group of teens in a dirty southern town. A little bit of plot impedes the atmospheric tranquility that Green steadily builds, but the film is a revelation because of its natural inclination to simply document the transcendent beauty of this town's gray skies."All the Real Girls" also charts the mood and atmosphere of two young people falling in and out of love (the remarkably graceful Zoeey Deschanel is pitch perfect). A lot has been made of the unnatural dialogue between the characters, but that's the way Green works. He masks everything in his films with a touch of child-like innocence. But there is nothing artificial about the emotions that jump off the screen in his ode to young love.And that's precisely what makes "Undertow" less of a film than his previous works. While still a highly impressive and fine film, "Undertow" bogs itself down with a ponderous narrative. It starts off promising enough, utilizing a mesmerizing Philip Glass score, over-lit freeze frames as the titles roll and a kinetic romp through the fields after a doomed rendezvous of young love. It feels a little like "Badlands". But then, the mechanisms of the plot kick in and the film turns into a rudimentary thriller, full of dangerous uncles and greed-filled murder. Chris (Jamie Bell) and Tim (Alan Devon) are brothers living with their father in the Georgia backwoods. Their somewhat mundane life is shattered when Uncle Deel (Josh Lucas) returns home and opens up old wounds that send Chris and Tim on a flight from home. "Undertow" might have worked brilliantly as yet another film that loses its concentration on any one idea and lingers on the mood and atmosphere of its setting. The best scenes in the film involve the brothers acquaintance with a homeless girl who takes them into her vagrant village full of concrete, busted doors and camp fires. The brothers come across Violet and her female friend quickly after being beaten up by a man. The minute they look up into the camera, you see how downright wasted and weary these girls appear. Until I did further research, I assumed these girls were natural inhabitants of the location Green decided to film around. I was surprised to find out that both are studious actors. And that is the beauty of Green's cinema. He surveys the 'real'. Unlike Harmony Korine who also examines the 'real' (and maybe slightly fucked up) Green carries a distinct amount of admiration for his subjects. "Undertow" shines in that regard. Moments like these, along with the introduction of an African-American couple who briefly take the boys in and a cashier in an auto shop who flirts with Uncle Deel, crackle with immediacy and energy because they are not things you would normally see in a film. Green allows space and even rejoices in the the idiosyncrasies of life. All three of his films are small miracles, not unlike the cinema of Paul Morrissey- both men who shy away from typical storytelling and revel in the hidden beauties of trashy places and inarticulate people. I just wish "Undertow" would've loosened its plot and allowed for a more lyrical advancement of a mood and place that is rarely seen on screen.

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