Friday, December 28, 2012

Bound for Glory




Directed by Hal Ashby, Bound for Glory is the story about the folk singer Woody Guthrie and how he came to prominence during the Great Depression as a voice for the people suffering from the Great Depression. Loosely based on Guthrie’s autobiography and adapted into script by Robert Getchell, the film explores the evolution of Guthrie’s music just as he tries to help out a group of Dust Bowl refugees in California during the Great Depression as Guthrie is played by David Carradine. Also starring Melinda Dillon, Ronny Cox, Gail Strickland, and Randy Quaid. Bound for Glory is an extraordinary film from Hal Ashby.

It‘s 1936 in Pamba, Texas as Woody Guthrie seeks to find work and money for his family while dealing with the Dust Bowl. With no jobs available, Guthrie leaves his family to go to California where he would meet all sorts of characters during his journey as he eventually reaches California by train and car where he meets a group of Dust Bowl refugees. Upon meeting folk singer Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox), Guthrie would eventually find an outlet for what he sees through folk music and eventually become a hero of the people through the radio. Yet, when radio sponsors want Guthrie to not sing controversial material and be compromised. Guthrie would make a drastic decision that would make him a hero to the world of American culture.

While most bio-pics often showcase how a person became famous and such, what makes this film different is that it only places to a certain part of the life of Woody Guthrie. Largely in how he would become a folk hero to many during the Great Depression and spread his voice to the people while having to deal with the responsibility of taking care of his family and being there for them. At the same time, he has to deal with what people want him to sing and in places where he has to sing to those who have no idea or any care about what he’s singing about.

While a lot of the events of the screenplay are fictional in order to tell the story of a man trying to fight the system as he has to deal with all sorts of forces and authority. It also shows a man who is flawed since he is neglectful towards his family at times though he doesn’t mean to. It’s a story that allows Woody Guthrie to be humanized rather than make him into a bigger icon as he’s just a man that wants to help people out and not ask for much in return. While the people he meets in his journey would definitely shape his outlook into the world, some would be helpful while others would just steer him into a direction that would have him rebel.

Hal Ashby’s direction is definitely stylish as well as engaging for the way he re-creates late 1930s America during the Great Depression. Notably as he sets the film in California as parts of Texas and the American Southwest where it’s a world that is wide open where people are moving all over the country looking for work. Ashby’s direction is often ever-moving where he uses all sorts of hand-held cameras to capture the crowd moving around including the first-ever use of the Steadicam for some of those scenes. There is something freeing and loose in those scenes along with the scenes where Guthrie hops on the train where he’s left to his own devices and deals with whatever he has to face. By the time he’s in California, it’s a place where there’s opportunities but also hard-ship as he realizes what is going on and is able to do something about it.

When he sings songs on the radio and for shows in places where he is extremely out of place, the direction shows a sense of claustrophobia where it feels like a different film of sorts. Even as the confines of the environment of where Guthrie has to do this and that has him acting out. Notably late in the film where he brings his family from Texas to California only to abandon them again where it shows that he is definitely lost and unsure of what to do. The film’s ending is poignant for not just the decision Guthrie makes in this very beautiful environment that he doesn’t belong. It’s where Guthrie goes afterwards as with the songs he sings where each song is served as a device to tell a story. Overall, Ashby creates a very fascinating and uncompromising portrait one of American music’s great figures.

Cinematographer Haskell Wexler does exquisite work with the film‘s very beautiful cinematography to complement the landscape of the American Southwest while utilizing soft lenses to play up its beauty. Editors Robert C. Jones and Pembroke J. Herring does wonderful work with the editing to use montages for a few scenes of Woody‘s road trips as well as more straightforward cuts for the rest of the film. Production designer Michael Haller, along with set decorator James Berkley and art directors James Spencer and William Sully, does brilliant work with the set pieces from the look of the camps to the homes and places that Woody encounters.

Costume designer William Theiss does nice work with the costumes to play up the look of late 1930s period where the men wear ragged clothes and the women wear something that‘s classy but also ragged. Sound mixer Don Parker does terrific work with the sound to capture the raucous nature of the impromptu concerts and atmosphere of the camps. Music supervisor Leonard Rosenman creates a unique soundtrack filled with a lot of the folk music of the times as well as many of the songs by Woody Guthrie that is performed by David Carradine along with some additional orchestral pieces to play up orchestral versions of Guthrie’s songs.

The casting by Lynn Stalmaster is excellent as it features some memorable appearances from James Hong as a diner owner, Brion James as a pick-up truck driver at the border, M. Emmet Walsh as a driver whose wife was offended by a comment Woody makes, Bernie Kopell as Woody’s agent who tries to get him big gigs, Ji-Tu Cumbuka as a hobo that Woody meets on the train, John Lehne as the radio station manager who tries to get Woody to play it safe, Elizabeth Macey as the wife of a young migrant worker, and Randy Quaid as the young migrant worker who befriends Woody in California. Gail Strickland is terrific as Pauline who befriends Woody in California as she would become someone who would confuse Woody in his own journey.

Melinda Dillon is great in two different roles as the folk singer Memphis Sue whom Woody would duet for songs on the radio and as Woody’s first wife Mary who tries to deal with Woody’s new role and his abandonment. Ronny Cox is amazing as folk singer Ozark Bule who gets Woody to spread his music all over California through the radio only to deal with the troubles Woody has to deal with as he tries to help him to compromise. Finally, there’s David Carradine in a magnificent performance as Woody Guthrie where Carradine displays a great sense of charm and wit to the man while proving to be a very engaging singer that can bring a lot of the attitude that Guthrie is known for.

Bound for Glory is an outstanding film from Hal Ashby that features a superb performance from David Carradine as Woody Guthrie. The film is definitely one of the most compelling music bio-pics for deviating from convention and tell the story of how Guthrie became a voice for the people. It’s also a film that revels into the world of Guthrie’s music and how is still manages to connect many years since they were made. In the end, Bound for Glory is a remarkable film from Hal Ashby.

Hal Ashby Films: The Landlord - Harold and Maude - The Last Detail - (Shampoo) - Coming Home - Being There- (Second-Hand Hearts) - (Lookin’ to Get Out) - (Let’s Spend the Night Together) - (Solo Trans) - (The Slugger’s Wife) - (8 Million Ways to Die)

© thevoid99 2012

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