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David Gordon Green wants to make movies with soul that play to a mass market

Undertow, the new movie from David Gordon Green, looks in some ways more like a '70s exploitation flick than the intimate dramas for which he has become a critical favorite `see review, "Fleeing Through the Woods," November 18-23, 2004`. While that might throw some arthouse audiences, it's in keeping with the legacy of American mavericks (Altman, Terrence Malick, et cetera) who inspired Green. Green spoke with the Current last month while on a promotional tour in Atlanta:

John DeFore: How much of the story is factual?

David Gordon Green: We don't know, actually. It came from a runaway hotline, but the factual story was always very embellished; it always seemed very non-factual, and a lot of those elements were things that me and my co-writer Joe Conway were really drawn to - to make it a distinctive, almost dream-like naturalism.

JD: This may be a silly question, but do you see Undertow as a personal film or a genre movie?

DGG: Hopefully it's both. It's very personal in its execution, but hopefully entertainment-wise it can fit into a genre. I tried to use a lot of genre conventions to give it that sort of accessibility, but my idea is to try to root it in a dramatic reality. It's based on a real horrific circumstance, of what happened in those kids' lives, so I wanted to do that justice. Beyond that, I wanted to personalize it within myself, so I could invest in it.

JD: When you set out, did you have the idea that it might play in multiplexes?

DGG: Yeah, that was the goal. We did an interesting thing: We opened in New York and L.A. and Chicago; in New York we opened it in mainstream theaters, and in L.A. we did the art houses, to see which place it played better. Actually, it was kind of surprising even. The hope is that it has that crossover - has the integrity of an art film, but can play to please a crowd that likes to see people get their asses whupped.

JD: How have your movies been received in the South, in cities that might resemble your films' settings?

DGG: It depends on who you ask. If you ask somebody who's looking for the huge opening weekends and blockbuster mentality of Hollywood, then we don't make much money. But if you look at what our movies cost and the scale of our productions, then we're great. Everybody wins: They're financially successful in a very modest degree, and allow us to make other films. The reaction critically is always mixed, and the audience reaction is typically love-or-hate, but I find that a lot more satisfying than making a film that rides the middle, you know?

JD: The way you approach the settings of your movies - trying to keep them a little vague and not time-specific - how long can you do that before it starts to feel a little forced? How many movies can you do that way?

DGG: Seven. `Laughs`

JD: Ask a stupid question...

DGG: Each of these movies has been a totally different design. This movie, I wanted it to be a time and place as if pirates still exist, but they cook on George Foreman grills. And I wanted us to be in more of a savage, rural, impoverished community, you know? All the Real Girls had more of a blue-collar and George Washington had more of an industrial, rusted-out place, you know, a place that was once thriving and had now deteriorated. So this certainly, at least in my head, had been distinctively different.

What I'm reluctant to explore, because I'm not interested in it, is the kind of beige, strip-mall, vinyl-siding housing developments of America. I'm more interested in distinctive places that have texture and soul and character. I'm forced in much of my life to be surrounded by soullessness, so I try to explore in my films, and give people a window to a kind of utopia. I design places I wish I lived in; people wear what I wish they would wear. They don't necessarily behave as I wish they'd behave, but that's where the story comes into play, to take us off on the adventure.

By John DeFore

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