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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'.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unravelling at a leisurely pace and featuring some of the best folk
music of the 20th Century, this film takes a look at the early life of
Woody Guthrie, from his days scraping a living painting signs in Texas
to his small-time success on L.A. radio and his labor activism. Thanks
largely to the deft but light hand of director Hal Ashby and a well
modulated performance from David Carradine, the film manages to get its
ideas across without seeming sentimental or cloying.
Guthrie has a complicated relationship with his wife (Melinda Dillon) and forms close friendships with strange men (and women) everywhere he goes. One of his closest friends is Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox), a semi-successful folkie who brings Guthrie along to the radio station and inspires him to help with the union, but who balks at Guthrie's extreme sense of anti-commercialism. The film overall does a pretty good job of showing how Guthrie had some real weaknesses, and that his anti-authoritarian stance wasn't just a case of righteousness but more one of personal conviction.
Haskell Wexler's photography should be applauded, because the film's slow pace allows us to drink in the beauty of so many landscapes and dustbowl worker's camps. The musical selections are excellent. I only wish the film could have gone on longer, and showed us some of his real success that led to him becoming world-famous. It's too bad there wasn't a chance to do another film about his time in NYC and his eventual illness.
If you would've asked me, what I thought of the movie, right after I
saw it, I would've probably gave it a lower rating. But the movie grows
on you. Carradine's performance is mesmerizing to say the least and his
underdog is more than likable. You can see that he has his priorities
straight, even if they get him in all sorts of trouble, be it at home
or at work.
The problem of the movie is, that it tries so hard to depict a historical character in a short period of time. Well "short" might be a stretch here, seeing that the pace of the movie itself is pretty slow, which make you think, the movie is longer than it actually is. Not really much is happening and the same issues get played twice or more times, with almost the same conclusion. The stoic Carradine character remains the same. This might be truthful (I can't say, because I haven't read any bios on the real man portrayed here), but could also become boring after awhile for quite a few people.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Hal Ashby's screen presentation of Woody Guthrie's autobiography is cinematic pleasure. Bleak and heartfelt, sympathetic and proud. Guthrie(David Carradine)as a young man was trying to support his wife Mary(Melinda Dillon)and two small children by painting signs during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Just like a multitude of Okies, he left Texas thinking salvation would come from the fields of California. He left his wife and kids with her family and jumped on a west bound freight. Riding the rails with others like him, the protest singer he was gathered more ideas for his mournful and sad songs of protest. As a migrant worker in the San Fernando Valley, he continued writing songs about the sights he had seen and the sorrows he shared. He joined up with Ozark Bule(Ronny Cox)on the radio. He not only sang his songs of union organizing, he was proud of his share of brawling against union-busters. His radio job in shambles, Guthrie hit the rails again heading east to New York and a bigger audience to present his songs of protest to. If anything good came from the Great Depression it was Woody Guthrie. Carradine did his own singing which is impressing itself. This movie captured the feel of America and her people during a deliberate and testing time. Also in the cast: John Lehne, Gail Strickland, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, Elizabeth Macey and Randy Quaid.
How did I miss this movie all those years ago?Beautifully photographed,and too,a story of a Great American;acted simply and straight-forwardly...it has production values that makes the movies of today pale in comparison.Could have used a little more editing in some scenes,particularly in the first half.Still a fine film.AMC or some movie channel should be showing this every 6 months or so.The thing that struck me as genius was,at the very outset of the film,the storyline has Woody leaving his guitar behind as he begins his adventure west.How true to life that he finds it again,only much later,by observing its powers through the ears and eyes of a listener.Bound For Glory should be viewed by every American,papers or no,rich and poor.In todays world climate,it has relevance.Surely,a movie that needs to be rediscovered and shown often.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
David Carradine, looking suitably gaunt, tattered and worn-out (and
doing his own astonishingly tuneful, subdued, rawboned singing with a
hoarse, but sturdy baritone, plus playing a pretty mean acoustic
guitar), gives a terrifically tenacious, touching and totally
believable performance as legendary folk singer/songwriter Woody
Guthrie in this excellent, engrossing, ruggedly authentic biopic about
Guthrie's tough, but eventful formative years during the Great
Depression. The late, great Hal Ashby does a sterling job directing
this lengthy (it's two and a half hours long), ambitious, prodigiously
expansive, but never dull or meandering film: the meticulously telling
recreation of the downcast, financially and emotionally troubled,
spirit-wrenching Dust Bowl era never strikes a single false note, there
are many acutely observed, often wryly humorous vignettes (Guthrie's
encounter with a likable, allegedly "insane" overweight man is a small
gem), the pacing slogs along at an ingratiatingly insouciant, leisurely
clip that's completely in sync with that decade's intrinsic dreariness,
the hard times of the 30's are neither cloyingly sentimentalized nor
grossly simplified, and the movie overall successfully creates and
maintains a delicate, heart-melting poignancy that's made all the more
affecting because it stems naturally from the characters and the
grueling ordeals they courageously face throughout the film.
Although Carradine's exemplary portrayal -- simple, sincere and sweetly moving while effortlessly radiating a durable, dignified inner strength that's quietly overwhelming in its very humility -- is the main thespian showpiece featured herein all the other actors in parts major and minor alike are equally outstanding: Melinda Dillon as Guthrie's loyal, pushy, long-suffering wife, Ronny Cox as a kindly, willful itinerant minstrel, Randy Quaid as an earnest union organizer, Gail Strickland as a thoughtful, caring soup kitchen proprietor, Ji-Tu Cumbaka as an amiable train-jumping hobo, M. Emmet Walsh as a gabby motorist who ejects Guthrie from his car after he says "s**t" in front of his wife, Brion James as the needy father of several hungry kids, John Lehne as a strict, repressive radio station owner, James Hong as the peppery, peevish chili cook at a roadside diner, and Robert Ginty as an impassive fruit picker. Robert Getchell wrote the fine, colorful script. Both Haskell Wexler's beautifully evocative, golden-hued cinematography and Leonard Rosenman's flavorsome, understated country and western score deservedly won Oscars. A lovely, touching and quite wonderful film.
For realistic images of the 1930s dust bowl in Oklahoma and Texas, this
is the film to see ... the shabby, frame houses, the dilapidated autos,
the dreary clothes, the grinding poverty, and all that dust. Although
the film was shot in color, the lighting is muted, even in daylight. I
suspect that was on purpose, to show how the dust blotted out much of
the sunlight, and thematically much of the optimism.
"Bound For Glory" is the story of folksinger Woody Guthrie (David Carradine), whose life as a sign painter and hobo during tough times led him to write many songs, the most famous being "This Land Is Your Land". The story begins in Texas, with Woody already married and with children. Eventually, all that dust and dreariness causes him to forsake his wife and kids, as he hitchhikes and rides the rails westward to the promised land.
But the promised land doesn't want any more Okies. And Guthrie ends up eating in free soup kitchens and living in ugly migrant worker camps. He writes music about life as a poor man. He identifies with the problems of migrant workers, stuck with poverty wages, if they're lucky enough even to get a job. He and them resent the cruelty of their arrogant bosses and rich, powerful corporations, which leads him to write songs of protest.
Despite the film's lengthy run-time, only a small part of Guthrie's life is shown here. We never learn anything about him once he becomes famous. Nor do we learn anything about his upbringing in rural Oklahoma. The film is more of a year-in-the-life-of, rather than a comprehensive bio.
"Bound For Glory" looks good, visually, with terrific period piece production design and costumes. And the cinematography is impressive. But the plot pace is very, very slow and deliberate. Everything is understated. And not until the film's end do we get to hear his most famous song. David Carradine is reasonably persuasive as Guthrie. Other performances are fairly standard.
For all the great visuals, the script is somewhat of a letdown. I would have preferred a more conventional biography, with a faster clip. As is, genuinely certified fans of Woody Guthrie are the only viewers likely to have the patience and forbearance to sit through this toilsome and sluggish, though realistic, story.
Bound for Glory breaks the trends of the usual bio-pics on musicians
because Woody Guthrie, unlike most, sincerely wasn't out for fame in
the usual sense. He liked recognition from time to time, and to be able
to get his voice out to as many people as he could. But- and this is
from the looks of the film and from what else has come up about
Guthrie- he never sold out. He wasn't a political figure, but his songs
had that driving force of politics, of something inspirational, that
couldn't be reached through typical rhetoric. When Guthrie goes through
the fields of workers picking artichokes or workers at a factory and he
goes on and on singing his protest songs until the bosses beat him up
and wreck his guitar, it's about as close as a political act as one has
ever seen a singer/musician in a based-on-a-true-story picture. But at
the same time Hal Ashby isn't out to make an entirely explicit
'message' heavy movie, even if there is, of course, messages to be
taken to heart.
It's about the man himself, and the times and circumstances that drove Woody Guthrie on his own, apart from his family, in mid 1930s depression era America. One could look at the film as an examination of a man caught in such dire times, of a country where the line between rich and poor was so significant there was barely any middle ground. But one can also look at it as the story of a wanderer, someone who- as his protégée Bob Dylan would later make as his proclamation in Like a Rolling Stone "with no direction home"- always felt a little restless. His journey is what really counts and shapes his music and outlook. It almost comes close to what it must be to have faith; if you want to sing, just sing, as Guthrie tells a bunch of kids (a little simplistic but with a kernel of truth), no matter what it's about. To suddenly find more meaning in the songs from the circumstances becomes part of the narrative, of a man who could be a hero in the historical sense while not being the kind of man who would be entirely one to aspire to be. He's happy to just walk down a road and sing his songs for anyone who will hear, as his family leaves him behind and any chance of conventional success floats by the wayside.
It's hard not to make messages in a film where its character in real life once had the ultimate f***-you to the establishment right on his guitar case ("This machine kills fascists"). But it's the high skill of film-making, and the performance at the lead, that enrich what is already potent, awesome material. Haskell Wexler, the late-great cinematographer behind Cuckoo's Nest and Medium Cool, puts his stamp significantly as a work of Americana of the traditionalist sense: a dust-storm is like something both alien and beautiful, while the train scenes are exciting, lush with vibrancy with dirt all around. Ashby, too, has a mark here from his editing days; there's not one transition from scene to scene that doesn't have a fade, making it a step removed from the usual lot of films at the time (even Ashby's) where just a straight cut-to or a jump-cut would suffice. He could've made this film, in the technical sense, twenty years before and it wouldn't of made much of a difference.
And finally, David Carradine. If Kill Bill is the guiltiest pleasure of his career, Bound for Glory is his serious triumph as an actor. He's got that quality, which may or may not have been like the real Guthrie, that sucks a viewer in even when the character does something or says something that shouldn't feel like it's the thing to do as the protagonist of the story. He's a character led solely by his convictions, and Carradine enriches that through the performances of the songs, and his own self-confidence radiating just walking down a road or going to do something out of the goodness of his soul. From every moment he's on screen, as if in some kind of folk-rhythm mode out of Kung-fu, he's mesmerizing, in a performance that should've been nominated along with De Niro, Finch and Giannini in the best actor race (albeit more low-key than the others). Bound for Glory is a blissful epic of conscience, and a kind of eccentric story a man who lacked any cynicism in his being. Plus, of course, the songs are great, as they're played on the spot without any over-dubbing.
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