The Criterion Collection upgrades their previous release of David Gordon Greenís George Washington to a new dual-format edition. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 the film is delivered in a 1080p/24hz high-definition digital transfer on the dual-layer Blu-ray while the dual-layer DVD presents a standard-definition version of the film. The latter version has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The high-definition transfer found on the Blu-ray is fine but underwhelming, and I suspect theyíre simply reusing the same high-definition master used for the original DVD release 12 years ago. The same print flaws are still here by the looks of it, so further restoration work hasnít been done. Definition is decent but rarely exceptional, and there seems to be at least an ever-so-slight haze to the image, so even close-ups rarely expose any fine details. This could be a product of the photography but I suspect it has more to do with a dated transfer.
Colours lean more on the yellowish side, but Iím pretty sure this is intentional and looks exactly the same as the old DVDís transfer. Black levels are a bit off and details get crushed out during darker scenes. Film grain is present but doesnít look entirely natural, and some longer shots look noisy creating a fuzzy look. All of this still looks far better than the original DVD, which was a bit of a compressed mess with a nice dose of edge-enhancement. That heavy pixilation and edge-enhancement is now gone and the picture now looks far cleaner in comparison.
Since Criterion appears to be using the same transfer used for the old DVD I suspected that they may simply just port the old presentation to their new DVD included here, but it appears Criterion has actually given it a whole new encode. The basis of the transfer looks the same in comparison to that DVD but the heavy compression noise and pixilation that plagued that version are now gone and this transfer is substantially cleaner as well. In comparison to the Blu-ray itís still weaker, with even less detail (for example a long shot of a diary is at least somewhat readable in the Blu-rayís presentation but illegible in the DVDís) and there is still some noticeable edge-enhancement, but for a DVD presentation it looks adequate enough and upscaled it manages to hold its own.
Ultimately, whether looking at the DVD or Blu-ray, both offer improvements over the original DVD edition, delivering cleaner presentations. The unfortunate thing is that the transfer, at least on the Blu-ray, could look better. 7/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion carries over everything from the previous DVD edition, 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 then start off with a number of short films (all upscaled from standard definition masters,) 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 specifically with their next few features. First is an 8-minute deleted scene 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. I really wish Criterion or even Green filmed maybe another follow-up all these years later, but this is a charming enough collection of interviews.
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 ports over Armond Whiteís essay and then a note on the film by Green.
The DVD presents all of the features but lays them out a little different under sub menus. ďFinding CluesĒ presents the three short films while ďMysteries MadeĒ contains the remaining supplements.
Sadly nothing new but altogether theyíre a nice collection of supplements going over Greenís influences and process. 8/10