A Wild Card Made for You and Me
The United Artists distribution team had quite a winning hand of cards to deal to theaters for the 1976 holiday season, all in their way rabble-rousers. The Sidney Lumet-Paddy Chayefsky collaboration Network was a subversive and bitingly funny satire about media obsession and manipulation. Teammates Sylvester Stallone and John G. Avildsen served up the emotional underdog boxing saga Rocky. The Pink Panther Strikes Again paid another audience-cheering visit to Inspector Clouseau’s slapstick universe courtesy of Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards. But perhaps the wildest card in the deck, premiering December 5, was the film which looked back on America’s troubled past with both a burnished glow and a flinty defiance – and also blessed with a songbook right out of the tempest-tossed heartland: director Hal Ashby’s pictorially gorgeous and uniquely stirring screen version of Woody Guthrie’s autobiography Bound for Glory. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who knew Guthrie (1912-1967) and others in the singer’s orbit, tried to get a film adaptation of the memoir made but could not get a workable script. When Ashby and screenwriter Robert Getchell (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) came aboard the project, Wexler agreed to shoot it. Who could play the rebel tunesmith who chronicled America’s glories and deficiencies in Chisholm Trail, Dust Bowl Blues, This Train Is Bound for Glory, Union Maid and This Land Is Your Land? Big-name actors and singers were sought to embody the poet and folk balladeer during his Depression-era heyday of crossing the country. But Ashby saw something particular in the Kung Fu star and acting family scion David Carradine. “He had the right rural look and the musicianship,” Ashby would later say. “And he had a ‘to...hell...with...you...attitude.’ I wanted that attitude, but it did cause me some problems.” Whatever problems he alluded to were not captured on screen because this was to be a warts-and-all portrait of a musical agitator whose love of common folk and their struggles was counterpointed by disdainful treatment of his family, as he was often on the road championing the masses and not taking care of personal business. The troubadour’s travels are lovingly recreated across scenic California locations and photographed by Wexler in painterly detail that invests the film with an epic sweep and a nostalgic intimacy that decisively makes the case for his hero as a vagabond man of the people. Carradine was the National Board of Review’s choice as the year’s Best Actor. Wexler and musical adaptor Leonard Rosenman each won their second Academy Awards® for their work here, and the film garnered four other Oscar® nominations, including Best Picture. Wexler also won Los Angeles Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics Awards for his cinematography. Ronny Cox, Melinda Dillon, Gail Strickland, John Lehne and Randy Quaid excel in supporting roles. Bound for Glory is bound for Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray to mark its 40th anniversary on January 19. For its visual splendors and its emotional charge, deal yourself in. Preorders open January 6.