director Hal Ashby
Bound for Glory is a fine film, an epic-length adaptation of Woody Guthrie’s autobiography of his time as Dust Bowl migrant, musician, and his political awakening. Most remarkable is Haskell Wexler’s Oscar-winning cinematography and Michael Haller’s production design. From the opening in the small North Texas town, the air shrouded in dust at the clearest of times, overwhelmed by massive storms at others, to the open roads and trains westward to California, to the 1930’s Los Angeles and migrant labor camps, it’s as if the images of Dorothea Lange have been brought to full color life. Beautifully, gorgeously rendered.
David Carradine delivers an affable performance as Guthrie, the multi-talented humanist musician and activist, who evoked the soul of America at one of its bleakest times. The film is so beautifully shot, it’s almost easy to forgive some of its lesser qualities. The one that I found the most stringent was the consistent use of slow fades from scene to scene in the editing.
The Great Depression has been interesting me a lot lately, in particular, its context of how it came about, the impact it had on the country and the world, and the reforms and programs that were crafted to draw America out of it and protect against it recurring. There is a blindness to the history so often here. And the significance that union organizing had in protecting workers and the poor.
Guthrie is a noble figure here, though this version of his story is a highly fictionalized one. He’s all folk hero here, and it’s easy to figure him as such. He was indeed a spokesman and poet of his time, one who continues to resonate, and has value to us today, if we’d care to listen.
I’ve decided to try to work through more of Hal Ashby’s films. This was the first I’ve seen besides Harold and Maude (1971). More to come.