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"Bound for Glory" is a dramatization of the early career of Woody
Guthrie--particularly his wanderings around the country and the
establishment of his career as a folk singer. However, the film does
NOT cover his later years and his affliction with Huntington's.
Have you ever seen a movie that is well made and you are supposed to enjoy it but you didn't? That's my experience with "Bound for Glory". While I could see it was a fine film and David Carradine did a fine job, I found my attention wandering throughout. Part of it is because the film is VERY deliberately paced (i.e., slow). Part of it is because I just don't happen to care much about the subject matter. This is sad, I know, as I am a retired history teacher and I should love seeing the dust bowl and the history of Woody Guthrie but I still didn't. Part of it is because Guthrie was a pretty selfish guy (leaving his family and just going on the road for months or years at a time with little regard for them). Regardless, I just didn't enjoy the experience. Well done but I had a devil of a time with "Bound for Glory"... But, I am NOT saying it's a bad film or that you shouldn't see it--it's just that I was not bowled over by it like nearly all the other reviewers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"I've seen lots of funny men in this world. Some will rob you with a
six-gun and some will rob you with a fountain pen" Woody Guthrie
Set during the Great Depression, Hal Ashby's "Bound for Glory" follows folk singer Woody Guthrie as he evolves from a lowly sign painter in Texas to a popular radio singer in California. Guthrie's cross-country journey was itself commonplace during the Dust Bowl years. This decades long period saw dust storms and droughts ravaging the American panhandle, conditions which led to an exodus of farmers, most of whom lost their land and travelled West, eventually settling in California, where they were ruthlessly exploited by land barons who pitted worker against worker.
Like most of Ashby's lead characters, Woody's thus a non-conformist with a strong sense of moral outrage. Ashby paints him as a wandering artist, hopping from town to town, riding trains, hitching rides, meeting folk and developing his conscience. It's not long before his songs become weapons; a means to rally men against social injustice.
And so as the film progresses, Woody begins to inspire people to unionise and organise (against farm barons and landlords) and morphs into a kind of romantic anarchist-socialist figure who lives to fight and loves to sing.
Like John Ford's "Grapes of Wrath", "Bound for Glory's" view of the Great Depression mixes inappropriately cosy postcard images with gut wrenching hardship. Families struggle to make ends meet, food is scarce and jobs are few. But where Ashby and Ford differ most is in the latter's sense of optimism; things will be better, if only we keep singing. If only we keep chanting, our guitars in hand. Ashy, you sense, is a bit more pessimistic. Understandable, considering the era in which he was active.
The title of Ashby's 1979 film, "Being There", was perhaps inspired by German philosopher Martin Heidegger's magnum opus "Being and Time". In his book, Heidegger coined the term "Dasein" or "Being there", which referred to existence in the most minimal sense. By using the expression "Being There", Heidegger called attention to the fact that a human being cannot be taken into account except as a being existing in the middle of a larger "fabric". To be human is to be fixed, embedded and immersed in the physical, literal, tangible day to day. But Heidegger believed that certain people could escape this fabric, or perhaps be more attuned to it via a heightened self reflexivity, thought most were too preoccupied to do so.
In "Being There", Ashby had actor Peter Sellers essentially play a brain damaged child called Chance. Depending upon one's reading of the film, Chance's innocence either represented a kind of perceptual freedom which allowed him to unknowingly see beyond the delusive forms that mask everyday reality, or the exact opposite, Chance a figure of "chance", of lawless, nonsensical irrationality. Regardless, "Bound for Glory's" Guthrie is obviously intended to be juxtaposed with Chance. Gutherie's a simple man with few possessions and few ties. But while others are on their hands and knees, working and toiling in the dirt, Woody stands upright and sees the world both as it is, and in terms of possibilities instead of limitations. Whever someone tries to force their frameworks upon him, Woody rejects them (marriage, family, job, class, money etc) and goes in search of better paths. These path may not be visible, or indeed even exist, but what matters most is that Woody inspires others to join him on his search.
8.5/10 - Though Ashby fails to delve deeply into Guthrie's life, preferring to reduce him to an archetypal "wandering artist" character, this is nevertheless a fine, era defining film, and features some stunning cinematography by the legendary Haskell Wexler. Worth two viewings.
Enjoyed this film from beginning to the very end because it was so down to earth and told a great story about Woody Guthrie played by David Carradine. Woody Guthrie left his Texas home and headed for California and along the way he experienced riding the railroad in a box car and even on top of them from town to town and was beaten up by the railroad workers. Woody meets up with some very poor people who were trying to make a living by picking crops in the fields for penny's a day and children deprived of food and shelter. Ronny Cox,(Ozark Bule) meets up the Woody and they play music for a radio station and at the same time try to get a union established for the working people on the farms. David Carradine did a great job of acting and this is a very outstanding picture to view more than once. Enjoy
I think that Woody Guthrie came along at the right time for his music
to be played and become popular. The 30s, the years of the Depression
of economic want and deprivation, Guthrie was a voice for the homeless
and dispossessed, for those just wanting a small slice of the American
dream. Guthrie would not go over in the Reagan years and surely not in
the age of Trump.
One really should see Bound For Glory back to back with A Face In The Crowd. The real Woody Guthrie is not all that far apart from the fictional Lonesome Rhodes whom Andy Griffith played in that latter picture. Both represent differing strains of American populism just that Griffith's character Lonesome Rhodes represents the dark side. And we've recently seen the dark side triumph.
Guthrie didn't want people to just feel good, he wanted for them to be healthy and happy and prosperous. It's not enough as I think people who voted for Donald Trump in the last election will find out soon to deprive those 'others' whomever they be of what you think they're stealing from you. Subsisting isn't living. Enough to pay your rent or buy home, see your kids get educated with the hope they'll do even better than you, that's what it's about. And you get it by organizing. Putting the sweat of the working man on an equal footing with the buying power of the bosses. An ethic that's being challenged now.
David Carradine plays the rambling and rebellious Guthrie who got the cook's helper's tour of America via the freight trains and the migrant labor camps. It would have been the easiest thing for Guthrie to just pack it in and just become a hillbilly entertainer on country music stations. He was after far more than that with his songs. Carradine captures Guthrie's rebellious spirit perfectly and gets great support from Melinda Dillon as his loving wife who is also concerned the next meal for their growing family.
Bound For Glory got an Oscar for Best Adapted Musical score and when you have Woody Guthrie's voluminous writings to work with it must have been a labor of love. It was up for Best Picture and a flock technical awards as well.
Woody Guthrie's most famous song was This Land Is Your Land and listen to the words carefully. It's not just patriotic pablum the benefits and responsibilities of this land called America is for all of us to take care of and leave in good condition for the next generation.
After all this land was made for you, me, all of us.
This slow-moving film isn't bad, but it feels rather formless, interested in giving you a sense of what Guthrie saw (even though it turns out it's entirely fictionalized) more than what he did. Perhaps you get a better sense of Guthrie in the second half of the film, but I had trouble keeping with it. I could have kept watching without minding it, but I wasn't remotely invested in it. It didn't help that Guthrie turned out to be pretty selfish early on, and yes, a lot of famous people are flawed, but if you were to watch the first half of this movie without knowing who Guthrie is, you would wonder what the movie was about besides some random guy living through the dust bowl days. And the movie isn't an interesting enough version of that sort of movie.
"Bound For Glory" is a great deal more than the story of Woody Guthrie.
It is a virtual experience of living through the Great Depression.
This is the ultimate historical-based re-creation of life in America in the 1930s. From the unemployment to the box car hopping, dust storms, soup kitchens, migrant workers and their union organizing, the film takes you into the eye of the Great Depression hurricane that devastated life in America.
It provides a first-person perspective as the story builds upon the life of folk music legend Woody Guthrie.
Teachers from 5th grade through college can use this as a valuable instructional tool, and not even have to worry about any bad language or erotic scenes.
Where "Grapes of Wrath" was once used as Hollywood's contribution to showing the Great Depression, "Bound For Glory" surpasses it with a compelling storyline that keeps you riveted, production design and sets that are as stimulating as they are accurate, and superb acting and cinematography.
If you somehow missed this film because most of the attention that year was going to "Rocky," "Network," "All the President's Men" and "Taxi Driver," find out for yourself why this was the "other" film nominated for Best Picture.
This was one of the first biographies of a music star. Woody Guthrie
was also the most famous communist in American history. This made just
doing the movie an act of extreme courage on the part of everybody
The movie is as much about the depression in the 1930's as it is about Guthrie. Evoking the atmosphere of the 1930's Midwestern United States is what the movie does best. "Bonnie and Clyde" is really the only other movie that succeeds as well as this one.
When I saw it thirty-two years ago, I thought it was beautiful, but politically tepid, downplaying much of the politics of Guthrie and the period. It seemed to also show Guthrie as inarticulate, rash, self-destructive, egocentric and foolish.
Looking at it now, the cinematography is not great, some of it is quite grainy. It is fine, but not brilliant.
More importantly, I appreciate now that it does not romanticize Guthrie. No doubt in the coming century, he will become an icon like Che Guevara. One gets a vision of a real flawed and down-to-earth person and not a white-washed myth in Carradine's brooding portrayal. It hurts the drama, but that is something I think Guthrie would have appreciated.
Some have noted that David Carradine never did anything better. This is true. Still, he has worked steadily as an actor, now with over 200 movie and television roles. He is in no less than ten movies this year. If you include over 120 episodes of his two Kung Fu television series, he has been in as many productions as his legendary father, John Carradine (339). It is ironic that his father was best known for his role in "Grapes of Wrath" and he will be best known for his role in "Bound for Glory,"
Altogether this is a beautiful, laid-back, easy-going version of the Woody Guthrie story. One expects that soon, in the future, a much more passionate version will appear.
Woody is hitchhiking to the do-re-mi state of California when he is
picked up by a middle-aged couple in a camper trailer automobile. The
driver, M. Emmet Walsh, babbles incessantly about all the sites he and
his wife have visited across the nation. Woody, in the backseat, is
finally given an opportunity to speak. He blurts out, "The more you
eat, the more you s**t." Immediately, Woody is hitchhiking once more.
This one scene epitomizes Woody's attitude and character. He is the
common man writ large, no pretense, no fabrication, just plain talk.
This movie is based on Woody's book, "Bound for Glory," the title coming from the old spiritual, "This Train is Bound for Glory, This Train." A popular song of the day was "Born to Lose" by the western swing band, Ted Daffan's Texans, much later a big hit for Ray Charles. Woody hated the words to the song, with its pessimistic, fatalistic outlook on life and love. Partly in response to this song, Wood wrote his "Bound for Glory." The book like the movie is a look inside Woody's mind. It's about his philosophy and how it relates to his music and songwriting. It is thereby not much of a biography, dealing with a few episodes in Woody's odyssey across American and his rather brief career as a professional musician.
All Woody's best songs are showcased in "Bound for Glory." "I Ain't Got No Home," "Talking Dust Bowl Blues," "So Long It's Been Good To Know Ya," "They Laid Jesus Christ in His Grave," "Howdjadoo," "Deportees," "Hard Travelin'," "Pastures of Plenty," and his most recorded ditty, "This Land Is Your Land." About the only ones missing are "Pretty Boy Floyd,""Vigilante Man," and "Take Me For a Ride In Your Car-Car (Riding In My Car)."
When one imagines an actor portraying Woody, Preacher Casey (John Carradine) from "The Grapes of Wrath" comes to mind. In 1976, John Carradine would have been too old to fit the part. Why not his lookalike son, David? A good choice. David Carradine not only acts the role, much like George C. Scott in "Patton," he becomes Woody. Added to the believability is David's ability to play the guitar and harmonica and to sing in Woody's style. Modern ears have difficulty listening to the rough, often grating, primitive singing and playing of Woody. Woody wanted it that way. He desired to sound like the common man, not like some radio crooner. The movie highlights this when a cocktail lounge singer is auditioning with "I'm In The Mood For Love." Guthrie follows with a "hillybilly" rendition of "Pastures of Plenty," much more sophisticated than it appears to be. Caradine captures the sound perfectly, without over playing it.
Maverick director, Hal Ashby, and his cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, by studying Dorothea Lange's famous photos of the Great Depression and by utilizing inspiration gained from watching John Ford's "The Grapes of Wrath," are able to capture on film the essence of hopelessness, frustration, and misery of those caught in the maelstrom of starvation and unemployment. One telling scene has a horde of migrant workers slowly walking toward the camera, their heads bent in quiet desperation, having been rejected from fruit-picking work because only thirty hands were needed. In the midst of this swirl of despondency, Woody walks tall against the flow, his head in the air, as much a maverick as Ashby. Only two other Hollywood films equal "Bound for Glory" in their depiction of the Great Depression on the big screen, "The Grapes of Wrath," and Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde."
Even Woody's ambivalent attitude toward women is not glossed over. Woody was at heart a drifter, unable to stay in one place too long, always breaking free from the ties that bind. Keeping with this accurate presentation of the bard, The film shows Woody's concept of labor unions as being for fair treatment of workers with a decent wage, not the compromising fanaticism of Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox), demanding all or nothing until the chips are down; then backing up on his principles. A similar outlook causes Woody problems with being a professional musician. When agents, managers, and producers--all in it for the money--try to groom Woody for the big time, he throws his guitar over his shoulder and heads for New York Town where he would find, "People going' down to the ground, Buildings going' up to the sky," as Dylan would later sing, in homage to his mentor.
Rabble-rousing kid from 1930s Oklahoma heads west with his guitar for a better life, using the hardships of the roadside vagrants and field-pickers for his musical material. Talented Hal Ashby directed this Depression-era dramatization of folk singer Woodrow "Woody" Guthrie from a screenplay by the estimable Robert Getchell (adapting Guthrie's autobiography). However, Ashby allows the narrative to drift and ramble; while some may feel this approach appropriate, the lackadaisical overall feel--coupled with David Carradine's somewhat lachrymose lead performance--fails to lend the film the big emotional heart one longs for it to have. There are certainly compensations, particularly Haskell Wexler's cinematography and Leonard Rosenman's music-adaptation, both of which won Oscars. Guthrie's romantic life plays out like a series of rerun episodes (which each of his women seen smiling from the bedroom), yet there's a great deal of beauty in Ashby's presentation and several witty passages in Getchell's script. **1/2 from ****
Forget 'the grasshopper' guy. Carradine outperformed himself and showed
he was truly his father's son. The way he responded to the bullying and
attempts to package him were great. However, he must have interacted or
found a way or an agent to interact with the music business enough to
get his music known all over the world.
The expressions on his face as he listens to the humiliating demands of the show business people mirror the attitudes of the thugs who were trying to get him to stay away from the workers as he tried to unionize them. So much of this is true today, where the media are forced to tell only the 'news' the corporations want out there in our own National Pravda. Actually, the coercion is so profound in this country that either you wouldn't even get hired if you were detected as a liberal, or you would be forced to read the managed news the network prostitutes had written.
As our country becomes more and more corrupt, you can't help but love these movies where Americans actually trusted one another. Woody asks to borrow the worker's car and he says, "Sure, will you come back?" And Woody says, "That's where I've got to sleep." Which isn't an answer as he could steal the truck and still sleep in it on the other side of the country.
The sight of the railroad goons shooting the guy at the moment he's so exhilarated about getting into L.A. was quite a surprise. YOu really expected that to happen at the beginning of Woodie's riding the rails experience, when they lined all those folks up, women and men, and threatened them.
And we're heading for those rough times again, as people begin to wake up from the lies the corporate media have told us about the 'bailout'. At least Rolling Stone has it right: we gave the money to the banks, and it was like giving the bankers an ATM account into the taxpayers pocket. Of course, we'll never see that money again. The bankers and their Congressional goons/whores will see to that. This movie was about a similar time in our country's history.
It is too bad that his own family had to suffer from his wanderings. Although his wife was a nag, one can't blame her. Wonder if Arlo has ever opened up about that, since effectively he chose a very similar lifestyle to his father.
Despite the bad review I read in "The Thousand Best Movies Ever Made", this was a beautifully made film.And in fact, the book itself is quite funny as much of the reviews pan the movies that are 'the best'!!!!! Rent it. Buy it. It gives you a lot about our country to remember and love, even if it's gone forever. Unions forever!!! Organize or the middle class is dead; and so I do what Woody got fired from the station for doing: speak of something controversial that will irritate our corporate 'massas'.
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