21 October 2007

jesus, help me find my proper place, help me in my weakness 'cause i'm falling out of grace

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 that he was gonna' 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 worked in wars and built 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.
--from David Gordon Greene's film George Washington

If you haven’t seen George Washington, you should check it out. It’s one of the better films I've seen in a while--a poetic, meditative look at the lives of a group of young friends as they try to make sense of a world where they (like the empty warehouses and derelict parks they spend their days exploring) have largely been abandoned--by Hollywood, history, and mainstream society.

Greene wrote and directed the film while he was a student at The North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC, and the kids who play in the film are non-actors from the surrounding community. Greene (and the actors) bring an authenticity and honesty to the film that’s usually lacking, even in other independent films, which are often trying to be cool or clever rather than risking honesty and complexity.

Near the midpoint of the film, Greene breaks away from the main plot with a scene of bulldozers climbing huge mounds of trash while unsettling ambient music plays in the background. As the camera moves down from the blades of the dozers, it focuses on a mangled snake wriggling in the dirt, presumably a victim of the unknowing dozers. The camera stops on the snake for a few seconds, forcing us to watch. It's a powerful image, one that's stayed in my head since watching the movie a few weeks ago.

While this scene certainly isn't easy viewing, I think it forces you to pause and consider things that most Hollywood films are designed to keep us from thinking about--not only marginal people and places, but also complex ideas and emotions that mainstream culture routinely discards and turns away from. Nevertheless, Greene doesn't preach to us--the film shows us that the lives depicted, with all of their struggles and traumas, are nevertheless beautiful and worthy of our attention.

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