Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Catching up with a singular, hard-working prince

David Gordon Green has had one of the more prolific and peculiar careers in 21st century movies. Born in Arkansas and raised in Texas, he made George Washington (2000), his feature debut, after graduating from the North Carolina School for the Arts. Green was still in his mid-20s, yet his craftsmanship, film literacy, attention to landscape and behaviour, and ability to draw captivating naturalistic performances from a cast comprised largely of non-actors indigenous to his rural location seemed preternaturally mature while running on pure instinct. Somewhat entranced with its own awkwardness, an unkind viewer could call it precious, but George Washington is a film I find impossible to be unkind to; it’s gorgeous, warm, curious, race-blind and age-blind, inherently timeless and flowing with tenderness. It remains Green’s strongest work, though many of its successors make such an appraisal easy.

Your Highness

All the Real Girls (2003), Undertow (2004) and Snow Angels (2007) retained the authentic regional flavour, sensitivity to character and obvious affection for the maverick directors of the 1970s (Altman, Ashby, Malick, et cetera), but they also used genre and semi-famous actors in ways that felt self-consciously quirky. By the end of Green’s string of box office-oriented, high-concept comedies Pineapple Express (2008), Your Highness (2011) and The Sitter (2011), it was easy to forget that he might be one of his generation’s most distinctive filmmakers. (Though it would be misleading to limit an assessment of Green’s career to his feature directorial credits; he’s also the producer of a numerous independent films and produced and directed episodes of Eastbound and Down.) When praising Green amongst discerning film buffs I’ve often received glances of incomprehension, but I can’t shake the integrity or promise of his early work. I don’t believe for a moment that anyone trying to forge a steady and diverse career in the industry is necessarily going to remain in full control of everything they work on, nor do I believe that Green has ever knowingly sold out. I’ve interviewed him twice, and, for what it’s worth, I don’t detect a cynical cell in his grey matter.

Prince Avalanche

Which brings us to the present and two reasons to feel vindicated for keeping faith in Green’s cinematic vision. With some luck, Joe (2013), Green’s absorbing adaptation of the eponymous Larry Brown novel, which stars an excellent Nicolas Cage, will find its way to local screens soon. Prince Avalanche (2013) meanwhile has already had its brief, limited theatrical run and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Loosely based on the Icelandic film Either Way (2011), Avalanche—the title an endearingly goofy amalgamation of its twin protagonists names, Alvin and Lance—stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as two guys—one older and engaged, the other younger and preoccupied with getting laid—who spend the summer painting lines on a remote stretch of highway, camping along the way and forging an unlikely but perfectly plausible bond.

Prince Avalanche, again, obviously

The film was prompted by the Texan band Explosions in the Sky, who proposed collaborating with Green on a project to be made in Barstop State Park, which was recovering from a massive fire. Avalanche was then hastily developed and put into production, and the urgency seems to have brought out Green’s inventiveness and his capacity for crafting story and character from the simplest ingredients. (The film also exhibits Green’s enduring affection for pre-digital culture, since I can’t figure out any other reason for setting the story in 1988.) The focus is squarely on the rhythms of work and downtime, on the funny way time has of transforming misunderstanding into its opposite, or the way men can be oblivious to their own bullshit. Alvin is uptight and pompous and poor Lance is, well, a few quarts short, but it’s adorable, not to say frequently hilarious, to observe their struggles to communicate, to express vulnerability and imagine their respective futures. As for Green, Joe and Avalanche give us plenty of reason to believe that his future holds many more works of idiosyncratic beauty. 

No comments: