Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bound For Glory


Dir: Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude; Shampoo; Coming Home; Being There)

In the annals of American folk music, few names resonate more strongly than Tom Joad and Woody Guthrie (Jesus is higher up there, at least). These icons stand for the common man's political awakening in the face of oppression. As chronicles of the Dust Bowl and its effects in California, no documents are more powerful than The Grapes of Wrath and Dust Bowl Ballads.

Bound For Glory is a biopic of folk singer Woody Guthrie, hero of Dylan and a whole generation of American musicians. But rather than focus on the rise of Guthrie's career, reminding the audience of how he got famous, Bound For Glory examines the rise of Guthrie's political conscience. Himself an "Okie" (from Texas, though) who sought the Eden of California's fruit groves, Guthrie turned his anger and sense of injustice into some of the most imporant folk songs of the century. It was his local fame as an activist that later made him famous throughout the country. So Ashby focuses more on the conditions of Guthrie's creativity than the spread of that work.

A cynic could see Bound For Glory as a rehash of The Grapes of Wrath. And I am a pretty big cynic. There is no way that this film is better than Steinbeck's book or the brilliant film adaptation of it. But this is certainly a resonable reconsideration, especially given its Oscar winning cinematography. Many shots are quite extraordinary, long shots of men riding on the top of a train and who move in front of a sunset at just the right time in the script. Much of camera work was very carefully planned, and that is the film's most rewarding aspect.

The soundtrack is of course great. It sounded to me like David Carradine did his own singing, not too hard a task since Guthrie was from the "voice of the people" school. Just about every important Guthrie song is here, as well as some other staples of folk music.

Guthrie is giant of culture and music. Anyone who is not familiar with him should get a hold of Dust Bowl Ballads. Seeing Bound For Glory wouldn't be a bad idea either.