Born in Little Rock, raised in Texas, film-schooled in North Carolina and now based in New Orleans, David Gordon Green proved he could be more than a critic’s darling, an authentic voice of the South and an heir to the poetic/mystic naturalism of Terrence Malick with his fifth feature film as a director, the Judd Apatow-produced, California-set hit stoner comedy “Pineapple Express.” The movie has collected more than $86 million at the U.S. box office since its Aug. 6 release.
Ticket sales aren’t a reliable measure of a film’s quality, of course. I mention the financial success of “Express” just so I can point out that Green’s four previous feature films — “George Washington” (2000), “All the Real Girls” (2003), “Undertow” (2004) and this recent “Snow Angels” — earned a combined total of less than $1.4 million in theaters. So “Pineapple Express” represents a huge change in Green’s fortunes, even if the film’s improvised, laid back characterizations, its observational approach to storytelling and its wide-screen imagery — which transforms the quotidian into the marvelous — are of a piece with his earlier work. (What likely would have been Green’s breakout film, an adaptation of “A Confederacy of Dunces” with Will Ferrell, fell through before shooting could begin.)
Although hardly a Spielberg, Green continues to support even needier filmmakers. Green produced last year’s “Shotgun Stories,” a modest but powerful Arkansas-made film from debuting feature writer-director Jeff Nichols, brother of Memphian Ben Nichols, who scored the film with the help of his band, Lucero. (Memphis also is represented in the cast, in the persons of actresses Glenda Pannell and Coley Canpany.) After earning praise on the festival circuit, “Shotgun Stories” made its DVD debut this summer on the Liberation Entertainment label.
Green also produced director Craig Zobel’s intriguing, similarly micro-budgeted “Great World of Sound,” a North Carolina-made movie about unethical traveling record “producers.” The movie screened at the 2007 Indie Memphis Film Festival, and is now on DVD.
It’s no surprise Green’s critically acclaimed earlier films didn’t earn much money; subject matter aside, they never had a chance: When “Snow Angels” opened at Malco’s Ridgeway Four on April 25, it was the first of Green’s films to receive a theatrical booking in Memphis. (My 3 star review apparently didn’t help much; the movie lasted no longer than a week. It arrives on DVD today — Sept. 16 — from Warner Home Video.)
“George Washington” — notable, among other things, for a cast made up mostly of children — is the only other Green film to get a public screening here, when it played at the Orpheum during the 2001 Indie Memphis festival. Modest in presentation, epic in vision, complex, inspiring and heroic, “George Washington” — which tells, in part, the story of an African-American boy who wants to be president (an idea that seemed quixotic just seven years ago) — remains the finest film to screen at Indie Memphis to date.
If I were to make a list of the Top Ten movies I’ve reviewed at The Commercial Appeal, “George Washington” probably would be near the top.
“Shotgun Stories” would have been a natural for Indie Memphis, an event devoted to “The Soul of Southern Film,” but apparently Green and Nichols had bigger (cat)fish to fry: The movie debuted at the Berlin Film Festival before moving on to cinema showcases in such cities as Austin, Seattle and Chicago, where Roger Ebert called it “the great discovery of this year’s festival.”
To read the entire story, including a Q&A with Green, click here to go to The Bloodshot Eye.