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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

Bound for Glory
Directed by Hal Ashby
MGM Home Entertainment 12/76 DVD/VHS Feature Film
PG

Speaking out for freedom, celebrating life, proclaiming the dignity and rights of the underdog — Woody Guthrie communicated through his folks songs. This crusty and creative wanderer was not afraid to express his opinions. Above all else, he was a humanist who never got out of touch with people.

In his fifty-five year lifetime, Woody Guthrie wrote over 1000 songs. He sang about Dust Bowl refugees, love and hate, migrant workers, children, peace and war, hoboes, work and play, unions, bad times and good times. Through all his tunes runs a basic respect for the mystery and glory of the human adventure.

"Woody Guthrie, our own made-in-America product, ranks with Scotland's Robert Burns, with the American Negroes' Huddie Ledbetter and Bill Broozy, and the famous Shakespeare himself as one of a handful of the world's greatest all time balladeers," says Studs Terkel. Woody shares with these charismatic souls a love of poetry that gladdens the heart and stimulates the mind. His music is a kite to lift up our spirits and a sail to catch the onward rush of the winds.

Pampa, Texas. 1936. Hard times during the Depression. Woody Guthrie (David Carradine), his wife Mary (Melinda Dillion), and their two small children hardly have enough money to get by. Woody's one marketable skill is sign painting but he enjoys music more. And just being with people. Occasionally, he plays dance halls and bars. For a while, Woody even sets up a practice as a fortune teller, helping out a dispirited widow and a social outcast from a nearby town.

Confident that better things are to be found out West, Woody leaves a note — "Gone to California — will send for you all" — and hits the open road. Hitching rides and hopping railroad freight trains, he learns something essential about the despair and dreams of jobless men. Songs take shape in his subconscious. Arriving in California, Woody finds that it is not the Garden of Eden. Thousands of Okie farmhands are turned back at the border and those who have fifty dollars to gain entry discover all too soon that there are very few jobs available. They are crammed into migrant labor camps.

Woody meets Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox), a radio performer who gets him an audition. Before long he's got a steady job singing on the radio. In his spare time, Ozark tries to organize the farm workers into camps. But whereas he can separate his career from his politics, Woody can't; he gets in trouble with the station when he refuses to submit to censorship of his protest songs about the Dust Bowl refugees. Woody's commitment to these impoverished folk also wreck his romantic relationship with a wealthy volunteer worker.

Bound for Glory adapted from Guthrie's autobiography has been scripted for the screen by Rober Getchell (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore). The film pays homage to its folksinger's social conscience but does not cover up his flaws: he was an irresponsible husband and a poor father. Director Hal Ashby (Shampoo, The Last Detail, Harold and Maude) translates this story of Guthrie's early years with a sharp eye for details and a vibrant aestheticism that bypasses the Scylla of sudsy biography and the Charybdis of tedious political platforming.

The film scores high marks in every department: lush cinematography by Haskell Wexler, authentic sets by Michael Hller, and excellent music adaptations by Leonard Rosenman (including "This Land Is Your Land," "So Long It's Been Good To Know You," "Union Maid," and "This Train is Bound for Glory"). David Carradine convincingly conveys Guthrie's bohemian spirit and his love for the underdog. And Randy Quaid is especially good as a poor worker who introduces Woody to the plight of the farm laborers.

 

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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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