Neglected and Abandoned: Bound for Glory B+
Hal Ashby's “Bound for Glory,” made with an eye for the Bicentennial, failed dismally at the box office. Episodic in structure, the narrative concerns the myth of Woodie Guthrie, the great folk singer and significant union organizer.
It's hard to tell whether artistic and/or political reasons accounted for the movie's failure; after all, American movies about folksingers and labor activists have never been too popular.
Message-oriented, without any attempt to speak to contemporary viewers, “Bound for Glory” chronicles the life of an ordinary individual who became extraordinary. It begins in a small and impoverished Texas town, where Woodie works as a sign painter, and ends with his CBS Radio contract in New York, focusing on his labor agitation and politicization of radio programs.
The film shows, however, the tension between public and family life, and between showbusiness career and political commitment. Woodie succeeds as a public leader, but fails as a family man. When his suffering wife complains, “You're always tryin' to fix the world, but you don't care nothin' 'bout your family,” his response is mythic, “I can't sit still. I always feel like I should be somewhere else.”
In the lead role, David Carradine, until then best-known for the TV series “Kung Fu,” gives a strong and credible performance as the penniless Oakie, who rises to fame. The role had been previously offered to Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert de Niro, and even Bob Dylan, but they all rejected it for one reason or another.
Brilliantly and evocatively photograped by Haskell Wexler, the movie has many touching moments, and unlike many Hollywood biopics, shows its hero’s warts and all.
Younger audiences may not have heard of Guthrie, a uniquely American artist, deeply committed to liberal political ideology.
“Bound for Glory” was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay (Robert Getchell), Editing (Robert Jones and Pembroke J. Herring), and Costume Design (William Theiss), and won two: Cinematography for Haskell Wexler and Original Song for Leonard Rosenman.
The big winner, however, was “Rocky” starring Sylvester Stallone, indicating that the public was in a nostalgic mood for old-fashioned and conventional fare.
Who knows, it might have been the excessive running time (two and a half hours), which worked against the commerciality of the film, suitably released for the Bicentennial.
Woodie Guthrie (David Carrdaine)
Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox)
Mary Guthrie (Melinda Dillon)
Pauline (Gail Strickland)
Locke (John Lehne)
Slim Snedeger (Ji-Tu Cumbuka)
Luther Johnson (Randy Quaid)
Liz Johnson (Elizabeth Macey)
Agwnr (Allan Miller)
Running time: 147 Minutes
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