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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 ****
I expect it took the counter-cultural period of the 60's and 70's to
get a slice of Guthrie's life onto the big screen. After all, the folk
singer was not only a union radical but pro-soviet as well. I can
imagine how old Hollywood would have sanitized the script on the off
chance of dealing with his life story.
Here, Guthrie's turned into a prairie populist, evolving from dust bowl hobo to union organizer, armed with a guitar and a talent for turning words into music. At 2-hours plus, the movie is drawn out but never drags. In fact, the first hour is a pip as we get an unvarnished look at the down home poverty the rickety shacks, the overloaded flivvers, the rail yard bulls, but most of all, the gritty people just trying to survive a world turned suddenly against them. It's well done, without rubbing your nose in it.
The scene that stays with me, however, is not like anything I've seen. It's the damaged fat guy who shambles up to sign-painter Guthrie and stammers about needing brushes to paint the pictures in his head. The scene's a beautifully composed blend of humanity and understanding as the human lump shambles off, with new paint brushes in hand, while we realize Guthrie's an instinctive man of the people.
No need to repeat the consensus points made by others. I'm just glad the film brought this neglected figure to popular audiences, along with his music. It's a fine period piece about an America that, despite the years, has never really left us.
This portrait of Woody Guthrie has a lot of highlights, including
Haskell Wexler's great photography).
But David Carradine is very good, not great in the lead, and the film feels a bit unfocused.
There's surprisingly little of Guthrie's music performed, and a lot of it played orchestrally as soundtrack, which seemed odd and out of character to me.
I appreciate that this is grittier, darker, and less linear than the standard Hollywood bio-pic. And I love that Guthrie is shown as a deeply flawed man, (e.g. his easy willingness to cheat on his wife). But in the end this doesn't go very deeply into his politics or his music, the two most important things about his life.
While a written biography may cover its subject's life from beginning
to end over hundreds of pages, a biopic that lasts only two or three
hours simply does not have the time to do the same. And yet the best
biopics do justice to an individual's life by offering a slice of their
existence, giving an impression of who they were and what they did.
Bound for Glory covers only a few years in Woody Guthrie's life, and
yet the portion it covers is a transitional one, showing his change
from a friendly, easygoing country boy, to a man more cynical but
firmly politicised, with his emotions shaken but his core honesty
intact, and his career on the verge of national fame.
A good biopic is often as much about tone as story, and this requires a good director. Consummate 70s filmmaker Hal Ashby is perfect for the project. His style is just so wonderfully light and tentative. He won't force an idea upon you, but he'll give you time to notice some little snippet of life which adds texture to a scene, for example a split-second shot that reveals one of the hobos being pulled off the train has only one arm. There's a lot of darkness in this movie, a lot of enclosed spaces and shuttered windows. The countryside appears achingly beautiful, but it is only fleetingly glimpsed, over the top of a railway carriage or through a gap in the swirling dust, like some unattainable paradise. The sublime cinematography of Haskell Wexler picks out every mote of dust and finds shape and definition in the swathes of black and brown.
Let's give a word a two now to lead man David Carradine. Carradine has long been one of my favourite actors, even before he was in Kill Bill and everyone had heard of him. He worked mostly in TV and B-Westerns before landing this, his greatest and most apt role, the one he seems born to play. He has no ego. He doesn't play to the camera, and yet he has such presence here, such charisma. He thereby gives a good account of the real Woody, as well as giving us the impression of a life being lived rather than a performance being played. And of course being a proper folk musician he can do the songs justice.
And the songs are crucial to this adaptation. Bound for Glory works much like a semi-musical King Vidor movie from nearly fifty years earlier by the name of Hallelujah. All the music is diagetic it makes sense within the scene, and yet it is used to comment upon the narrative and move it forward, just as a true musical does. When Woody decides to leave his dustbowl home, he never actually states his intention to do so in dialogue, but we hear him singing a lose version of "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You" with its appropriate line about "dusty old dust", which is then picked up in instrumental form as he heads out of town. Later, the scene of Woody playing I Ain't Got no Home in the radio studio segues into a shot of workers in a field as the tune continues, linking the man and his music to their social context. The songs are never merely presented while the story takes a break, the songs exist alongside and become part of story. Bound for Glory does not just show the life of a musician, it shows a musical life.
In Joe Klein's biography of Woody Guthrie, he complained that that the movie "Bound For Glory" was "highly inaccurate". It's been a long time since I read it, but after having seen the movie, I couldn't spot any glaring distortions of Guthrie's life. Besides, you can justify all kinds of changes as artistic license. One thing does bother me, though. In all the pictures I've seen of Woody Guthrie from the time frame of "Bound For Glory", he has a distinctive mane of curly hair, much like what Bob Dylan, a big fan of Guthrie's, would later sport. David Carradine's thin, straight hair couldn't be more different. It doesn't bother me that Carradine doesn't look much like Guthrie (for one thing, he's much taller), but how hard would it be to fit him with a thick, curly wig?
This is a stupefying film. Wexler's camera work brings the correct
light and intensity, Carradine's performance is solid, the sense of
America at it's worst is there. However, this is hardly an accurate
depiction of the life of Woody Guthrie. If you want to know about Woody
watch the American Masters film or, better still read Joe Klein's
amazing biography. The film lover in me recognized this as a well-made
piece, but the woody fan in me was disappointed. Why did they, for
example, speed up such perfect songs as pastures of plenty? Why does
carradine's voice crack in all the places woody's did not? And how come
they could use the name woody guthrie but not lefty lou and cisco
Still it is a film worth seeing. Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers version of so long and reuben james is great as the credits roll. I would encourage teachers to show this to students studying the depression or labor history, but for students of Woody, there is much lacking.
The Dust Bowl-oriented scenes in Bound for Glory were filmed in the Sacramento River Delta in Sacramento County in north-central California but were uncredited. Instead, Bakersfield and Stockton were credited. I should know, I was present watching these scenes being filmed. The fact that the place where I lived was in this film is the only reason I even watched it at all and eventually got the DVD - so I could point out what scenes were filmed and where. Also if some residents were extras and I recognized them I would point them out also. The January 1978 issue of Playboy had an article on movie special effects and the Bound for Glory dust storm scene was featured which included my neighborhood, and that was the only reason my parents bought that issue of Playboy despite the fact that we kids were barely in our teens at the time and this would be a must-read Article with pictures other than the Playmate Pictorial. The day the aerial shot was filmed I was inside the house, so "technically" I was in Playboy, or rather my house was!
This is a frustratingly uninvolving Woody Guthrie biopic. I felt that I learned more about Woody the person from the Billy Bragg/Wilco album "Mermaid Avenue" than this fragmented and dull film. The movie is nice to look at (probably the sole reason for its existence) and gives us one of the more realistic portrayals of depression-era life, but tells us nothing new or particularly revealing about Woody Guthrie: all it offers is "he was just a regular guy" revelations about his adultery. Hal Ashby's film is an empty and enervated postcard.
A film that depicts a Man and His Time with remarkable dust filled
clarity. There is much emphasis on the plight of the poor and the
Crusade that Woody Guthrie embraced and brought to America through
songs with an unfiltered reality like Life Magazine did through
It has a brought to life performance from David Carradine and the whole cast is in great support. The Award Winning Cinematography is excellent ditto the soundtrack but the Woody songs sung adequately by the Star are far less than the crackling creations of the real Guthrie and are only passable and infrequent.
The film is compelling and evenly and effectively paced that exemplifies the extraordinary stifling situations that are depressing the people during the depression. But there is also some hope burning beneath the Western sun and most of it comes from the Western soul of a bona fide benefactor of the working poor and a breathless voice who sang anthems with songs like...there are no liars on THIS TRAIN...and...THIS LAND was made for you and me.
There was no lie in this man...Woody Guthrie. The movie does him proud.
There are visuals in Hal Ashby's Bound For Glory so real or so becoming
that I might have to withdraw statements I've made in the past about
Ashby not being a visual filmmaker. But the subdued but all-consuming
absorption in the imagery eventually takes its toll on the movie's
intonation. Scene after scene unfolds at such a patient rhythm, with
such forecast and subtlety, that ultimately we appear to be
experiencing a moving slideshow of the Depression. The film has a
serious nobility and formality, which is fine---I found it fascinating
that Woody Guthrie seems to take a backseat through his own biopic and
that it is less about him and more about the time in which he
lived---however it doesn't tend to have much life, which would be
The film maintains thorough fidelity to that adventure. Another element I admire greatly is that there's not an ingenuous frame in it, not a moment when we sense the significance of Guthrie's life has been arbitrated in favor of Hollywood license-taking. David Carradine's performance as Guthrie finds just the correct pitch between his dignity and inborn candor. There can hardly have been a period film before it with such affectionate heed to every historical detail, to the ways cars and dresses and living rooms and roadside diners looked during the Depression. We learn so much unconsciously through the mise-en-scene. All of these attributes have been treated cautiously, and with reverence. And ironically, as much as those elements are top-heavy compared to the drama itself, they are all done with the same deliberate subtlety with which Ashby lenses his other films. The imagery never points to itself; it's just there for us to subliminally take in.
Nevertheless Bound For Glory is altogether a very sluggish experience. Each scene is organized so deliberately, is framed by immortal cinematographer Haskell Wexler with such virtuosity, is played with such gravity, that ultimately the movie feels too uniform. We want more drollery, more cheek, more of an clue that Guthrie had vinegar infused with his altruism. Anyone who loves movies or is intrigued by Guthrie should see Bound For Glory, though it'll be a rewarding affair that's very languid.
There are two shots that are especially unforgettable: One is an incredible image showcasing a dust storm nearing Woody's little home town, and another is a shot on top of a freight train, held for minutes without a cut, while Woody and an accompanying vagabond share worldviews while the train carries them past the infinite fields, into the pitch black of a tunnel, reappears, feels about to run forever. However, the movie's political text, the doggedness of Woody and a musician friend to unionize the migrant workers, is calculable and repetitious. Guthrie's politics were evidently pivotal to his music, and yet in the film they feel virtually unnecessary. The matters of state and activism could have arisen naturally from the story, rather than being wedged in.
This is not the only film I've found to be credited as the first film in which the invention of the Steadicam was used, but apparently it is, and that may account for its status as a contemporary classic. It may also largely account for the arresting fascination of the viewer with the Great Depression than the subject of the Great Depression does. So Bound For Glory isn't quite the great film it could have been. However, it is one of the most gorgeous films ever made, in its cinematography, in its locations, in its reconstruction of the America that Woody Guthrie found.
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