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Bound For Glory

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    C.D. Workman
    Senior Member

  • Bound For Glory



    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: January 19, 2016
    Directed by: Hal Ashby
    Cast: David Carradine, Melinda Dillon, Ronny Cox, Randy Quaid, Gail Strickland, John Lehne, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, Elizabeth Macey, Allan Miller, Mary Kay Place, M. Emmet Walsh, James Hong
    Year: 1976
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) is a folk singer-songwriter who lives with his wife, Mary, (Melinda Dillon) and their children in Depression Era Oklahoma. Although locally respected, he's unable to eke out a living as a performer. His other talent, sign painting, is even less lucrative, so he heads for California and the opportunity rumored to be waiting there. Hitchhiking and train hopping get him to the Golden State's border, where he's stopped and informed in no uncertain terms that, nope, the area has all the unemployed it needs. Buh-bye. He pretends to turn tail and head home but instead finds his way to an unwatched stretch of border and slips into the state. Coming upon a crowded workers' camp, he meets singer and activist Ozark Bole (Ronny Cox). Ozark is a professional agitator, traveling the country campaigning for labor reform. The cause moves the destitute Woody, and the two join forces. They flee the camp when anti-union goons make trouble, but within a few months they manage to parlay their talent into a successful radio show. Woody brings his family in from Oklahoma amid offers of big money from record labels, but his sudden success comes with a catch: If Woody wants a recording career, he's going to have to tone down his politics. Despite the adverse effect on his marriage and family, Woody passes on the opportunity for big bucks, opting to hit the road and perform on his own terms.

    Named after New Jersey governor (and later president of the United States) Woodrow Wilson, Woodrow “Woody” Guthrie was born in 1912 to Charles Edward Guthrie and his wife, Nora Belle. The elder Guthrie was popular in the local chapters of both the Democratic Party and the Ku Klux Klan; a year before the birth of his son, he was one of the ringleaders in the lynching of Laura and L.D. Nelson in his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma. The Nelsons were a black family accused of cattle theft. When the police came to arrest them, the son, L.D., allegedly shot and killed the deputy sheriff. Both he and his mother were charged with the crime (the father was convicted of lesser charges and served time in prison). But before they could be tried, they were taken from their jail cells by an angry mob, Laura raped, and both hung from a nearby bridge. (Photographs of the incident were later published as postcards and sold locally.)

    Though the incident occurred a year before Woody Guthrie was born, it left an indelible mark on the young boy. He was later adversely affected by the death of his mother, who had been committed to an insane asylum after being diagnosed with Huntington's disease. Much of Guthrie's young adult life was lived during the Great Depression, and he used his affinity for music to play his guitar for spare change to help feed his family. For a time in the 1930s, he lived a fairly itinerant life and was later married multiple times and had multiple children. But it was his interest in music that defined him. After migrating to California, he became a popular songwriter of hillbilly anthems. By the time the 1940s rolled around, he had found commercial success as a folk singer, the title for which he is best remembered today. His most famous song may be “This Land Is Your Land,” but he also wrote a number of songs about the lynching his father helped perpetrate.

    Among his published work was an autobiography, Bound for Glory, published in 1943. The book later became the basis for a major Hollywood adaptation, released in 1976 to a great deal of critical acclaim. Interesting, then, that so little of it is true. Focusing as it does on Guthrie's itinerant years, it diverges from fact in favor of a fanciful take on John Ford's classic film adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1940), with Guthrie, as played by a surprisingly nuanced David Carradine, little more than a modernized Tom Joad. Not that it matters; with the energy crisis in full sway in the mid-1970s, the decade proved for many to be only marginally better than that during which the film is set. Regardless, director Hal Ashby's experiment in social commentary is a successful one, in large part due to the superb performances from everyone involved. There's also the script, which moves rapidly despite its lengthy running time and more than a little repetition.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Twilight Time has wisely chosen to release the lengthy Bound for Glory on a 50GB Blu-ray. Per the company's customary release standard, the film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p high definition, with an MPEG-4 AVC encode. Some critics have savaged the release, however, for its visual presentation of Haskell Wexler's Academy Award-winning cinematography. Granted, the transfer does look a bit dated, but much of what reviewers have decried is part and parcel to the film's original look. As was standard at the time, Wexler employed a soft focus throughout most of the film's running time, naturally lessening the amount of detail even the best of transfers can bring out. Yet, the film still offers a great deal of detail for those willing to open their eyes to it. Take, for example, the amber waves of grain that dot the landscape or the ample straw that litters the workers' encampment. The soft-focus camerawork also means that grain is pronounced at times, particularly during nighttime or darker sequences, but this is to be expected. The image still retains its original beauty, such as when a dust bowl envelopes a small town. (The special effects are better than the average CGI fest so popular in modern films.) It's true that there's mild dirt and debris in places, but this adds to the filmic charm and is never as obtrusive as some reviews have claimed. Finally, there's the issue of the film's color. In keeping with the stereotypical look of the Dust Bowl era, Ashby and Wexler have opted for very earthy look; everything is tinted brown, beige, or gold. This should not be cause for alarm for the casual viewer; rather, it's part and parcel to the film's successful recreation of an era.

    Bound for Glory also won an Oscar for Best Music, and Twilight Time's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track does well by it. Dialogue is clear, crisp, and understandable, and the film's ample musical sequences are capably supported by the track. Even better, there's a second music-only track presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, which is fairly dynamic and well worth a listen for those who love Guthrie's music. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, English subtitles have been included.

    The only other extra feature is the film's original theatrical trailer, which runs 2:38. In addition, film historian Julie Kirgo has written superb and insightful liner notes, which come in an 8-page booklet. If there's any complaint to be had about the release, it's that Kirgo, Nick Redman, and a guest didn't supply an audio commentary. The film deserves one.

    Bound for Glory is a limited release of 3,000 units.

    The Final Word:

    Bound for Glory may not be true, but it's entertaining nonetheless, and Twilight Time's presentation gives the film a look that properly reflects the film's original cinematography. It's a dusty, amber-hued affair with a nice soundtrack. Film viewers interested in 1970s cinema could certainly do a lot worse than spend 148 minutes with Carradine's likable take on an American folk institution.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Volume 2 of that series (covering the 1930s) is currently available from Midnight Marquee Press, Inc.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!





















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