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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.
Bound for Glory (1976)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Excellent biography of Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) who leaves his Oklahoma home when he sees no future there and travels to California where he sees nothing but poor workers being mistreated and underpaid. Guthrie finally picks up a guitar and begins to write songs about what he's seeing in hopes that it can change how things are. Hal Ashby's BOUND FOR GLORY is a very slow-paced film that really doesn't appear to be about anything. As with most of Ashby's films, this one here takes its time getting told and if you barely looked at it you'd think that there wasn't anything going on and that there wasn't any life to the film. The movie takes about ten minutes for the viewer really to settle in and from here on it's quite a powerful movie with a classic performance by Carradine, some terrific movie and some truly wonderful images. The cinematography by Haskell Wexler is among some of the best that you're ever going to see and it perfectly blends with Ashby's masterful direction, which really puts you in the time and place that all of this takes place. The beautiful images of Guthrie riding on the top of trains or the work camps where violence often erupts if "union" is mentioned is perfectly brought to life and you really can't help but feel as if you're watching an actual documentary from the 1930s about the Depression, the Dusk Bowl and this small man who would rise up to do great things. Carradine certainly deserved all the praise he got for his performance because there's not a single moment where you're watching the movie and seeing an actor playing a part. Instead you see Guthrie right up there on the screen doing his thing. Many times actors can't separate themselves when they play a real person but Carradine is so into the character that you really can't help but be amazed. Ronny Cox appears as Ozark Bule, the man who brought Woody into the business and Randy Quaid also has a small role as a picker. As with most bio-pics, you really can't believe everything you're seeing as certain events are going to be changed for a wide range of reasons but that really shouldn't keep anyone from watching the picture. I know many can't stand the slowness that Ashby brought to his films but I think the slow pace actually helps the film because it just seems to fit the times and situations that were going on. At 147-minutes, the film is certainly entertaining from start to finish due to that beautiful cinematography and of course Carradine, the actor and singer.
This Woody Guthrie biopic got deserved Oscars for cinematography and
musical score but it doesn't have much more to recommend it. If you
want to watch a story about Okies and migrant workers in the
Depression, "The Grapes of Wrath" is vastly superior. While this is
probably the best role that David Carradine ever had, I found his
performance very frustrating. He was so laconic, laid back and
minimalistic that he almost faded into the background. Film biographies
are about bigger than life characters and that is not Woody Guthrie in
Honestly, I think the movie would've been better had Ronny Cox, who plays a supporting role in this film as another union-activist folk singer, had played Guthrie instead of Carradine.
Who in who's name thought that David Carradine was the man to play Woody Guthrie. His portrayal of one of America's greatest characters & song writers was empty, listening to the songs was an ordeal, they were butchered, which is a big problem when watching a film about a singer / songwriter. As a result the films attempt to tell the story of the downtrodden, misplaced masses of the time has no emotional affect, has no affect. Nothing about this film was right, there didn't seem to be any serious ups or downs, just some guy called Woody, he meets a few people and he sings some songs. I read Woody's book and it is a fascinating real life adventure story, this film seems in no way related. Damn, i'm disappointed. Maybe someone will pick up the story again some time and do it right. If you are a fan of Woody Guthrie, listen to his music and I also recommend you read his book but there's nothing for you here.
I thought this movie wasn't a true depiction of Woody when I first saw it in the 70's but looking at it again it's more about the class struggle during the depression era. At the same time author Upton Sinclair was running for governor of California as a socialists. When Woody came out there was a big campaign by the Hollywood rich to stop any socialists ideas from getting to the public. Sinclair almost won but because FDR didn't want to appear red he didn't give him any support. FDR eventually put social security through so he did have some red in him after all. Today most of the old people, like my father, who have been collecting social security vote republican. I guess on the whole it will be a long time for any real change but in the meantime there may be some more great artist, like Woody, that will sing about it.
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