1976 / Best Picture

Film #272: Bound For Glory (1976)

Throughout the course of this blog we’ve seen that Oscar has always had a good relationship with the biopic. Ever since Disraeli featured at the third ceremony not a year has gone by without a real-life tale popping up. This post deals with another biopic in the form of Bound for Glory which tells the story of Woody Guthrie.

The film follows the journey of famous folk singer Guthrie from his humble beginnings in Oklahoma to his fight for equality among the working classes. I don’t believe that Guthrie is as big a name in the UK as he is in the States and therefore I don’t feel that the film evokes the same sort of feelings as it would for an American audience. The story itself sees Woody leave his family and go on the road to California to find a better life for himself, however he doesn’t get off to a particularly good start when he stows away on a train only to be kicked off. Eventually he ends up in California and works as a fruit-picker and sign painter until his talent for singing and song writing is picked up by renowned local singer Ozark Bule. Bule secures Guthrie a gig at a local radio station in which his stirring anthems inspire low-paid workers to join unions, but at the same time Woody winds up the bosses who pay their workers very little. Woody’s wife eventually joins him in California but is unhappy when he won’t toe the line and regularly leaves her to spread the word elsewhere. Woody also irritates his boss when he continues to sing his protest songs which aren’t loved by the new sponsors of the station. Eventually, Woody is recruited by a national station but he decides in the end to go out on his own and spread the word himself.

I really struggled to get into Bound for Glory and it took me a good 45 minutes before I was fully immersed in the story. The first half of the film, concerning Woody’s life in Oklahoma and his journey to California, was meandering at best and was saved by some excellent cinematography. Indeed, cinematographer Haskell Wexler won the Oscar for Cinematography, partly due to the fact that was the first film ever to use Steadicam. This new invention was probably best utilised during the scenes on the train as Woody is forced to become a stowaway due to the fact he has no money. The second half of the film features the majority of the plot, including Woody’s recruitment by the radio station and his attempts to rally the workforce to campaign for better money. The film’s score, which also won an Oscar and songs were its other big strength and some are still stuck in my head several days after watching the movie. I personally found David Carradine to be captivating in the lead role and he really carried the film during some of its slower moments. The rest of the cast did their jobs well with Ronny Cox being the perfect mentor to Carradine’s wide-eyed novice. Overall this really is a film of two halves – one a meandering road trip and the other a biopic of a singer that really is a lot more famous in America than he is in the UK. But I can’t say I didn’t learn a lot from watching the film and I think that the biopic element of Bound for Glory definitely did its job.


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