Bound For Glory (1976)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1976Screenplay by , based on the autobiography by Cinematography by Produced by , Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by ,  

Hal Ashby looks at the early years of Woody Guthrie, though by all accounts this is a heavily fictionalized adaptation of his autobiography. ably plays the famous folk singer who aligned himself with the fight for land labourers in the American west, having traveled to California when his prospects for finding paying work in his own Oklahoma town proved impossible.

His peripatetic experience starts with him riding the rails, composing songs on his guitar while befriending victims of the Depression who have come from the dust bowl looking for their own living. His talents eventually get him onto local radio stations where he makes enough money to bring his wife (Melinda Dillon) out to live with him in the house he buys. The radio bosses want him to stick to uplifting hits and are constantly frustrated by his insistence on singing songs about greedy capitalists and downtrodden folk being taken advantage of, and his wife wants them to enjoy the pleasures of his monetary success, but Guthrie feels the need to wander.

Is it that he cannot reconcile his guilt over having survived the struggle that others still undergo, or is he just indulging himself to avoid the responsibility that comes with middle-class success? Ashby’s film isn’t interested in trying to solve that ambivalence one way or the other, he plays it safe by capturing the downside of the American dream through one of its most observant artists while also employing the gorgeous, Oscar-winning cinematography by Haskell Wexler to fetishize it.  He could be a little more sensitive to Dillon’s character, though, the idea that an artist is held back by a wife nagging him about actually starving to death is an unfair jab at someone whose struggle is as important as her husband’s.

It’s a compelling and visually dazzling film whose weighty running time goes by quickly despite its very unhappy setting. Carradine performs a number of Guthrie’s best known hits, including “Deportee” and “Hard Travelin’”.

Academy Awards:  Best Cinematography; Best Original Song Score and its Adaptation or Adaptation Score
Nominations: Best Picture; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing

Cannes Film Festival:  In Competition

Golden Globe Award Nominations:  Best Picture-Drama; Best Actor-Drama (David Carradine); Best Director (Hal Ashby)


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