Commentary
5:00 am
Wed July 30, 2014

Another Take On Summer Movies

'George Washington,' David Gordon Green, 2000
'George Washington,' David Gordon Green, 2000

For a lot of people, “summer movie” means action, superheroes, things blowing up, buildings falling down.

I like that stuff, too. I won’t lie about that.

There’s another kind though. And I’ll admit that these movies play to a far smaller audience than those big-budget thrill-fests. But for me, they’re the kind of movies that really capture something about summer. The heat, the sort of aimlessness some of us feel without the constraints of school, and the real rhythms of life.

'Killer of Sheep,' Charles Burnett, 1977
'Killer of Sheep,' Charles Burnett, 1977

They don’t have stories, exactly, and for a lot of people, it might seem like not much is going on. But just below that, you can see they have so much to say.

Maybe my favorite—and one of my favorite movies of any kind—is David Gordon Green’s debut film from 2000, George Washington. It’s like a tone poem of the summer, looking at a poor community in North Carolina, just being who they are and doing what they do. The adults work too hard (except when they don’t), the kids play and wander and cause problems, sometimes a little more than they should. There’s love and heartbreak, tenderness, fear and sadness.

The movie owes an awful lot to Charles Burnett’s little-seen 1977 masterpiece Killer of Sheep. If it’s possible, Burnett’s movie actually has even less of a conventional narrative than George Washington, looking at the lives of a family in Watts, watching time pass in the heat of the summer. Somehow, nothing and everything happens to these people—both at the same time, right in front of you.

Don’t fool yourself. If you need obvious movement in your movies, these probably aren’t for you. But George Washington and Killer of Sheep have deep rewards if you’re patient. More than nearly any other movies, really, regardless of the season.