What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this dramatization of hardship and poverty in the 1930s includes several scenes of violence -- mostly fistfights and beatings of pro-union activists by company thugs. One minor character is shot, perhaps fatally. Though nothing explicit is shown, it's clear that Woody Guthrie has slept with various women, not just his wife. The political angle of the film is very pro-union, with bullying characters equated with corporations (railroads and agricultural, mainly) who exploit and underpay poor workers.
What's the story?
During the1930s Great Depression, Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) is a young husband and father in stricken, small-town Oklahoma known for his freehand sign-painting, guitar playing and good nature. Woody decides privately to flee for California and earn a living there for his family with his brushes. Hitchhiking and train-hopping, he sees more poverty than he ever imagined, as thousands of other families are on the same road. In California he finds the migrants used as cheap, nearly slave labor by orchard growers. Guthrie hooks up with a politically oriented folk singer trying to unionize the workers, and the two talents wind up a hit on Los Angeles radio. But Guthrie's insistence on doing union-oriented material directed at the poor workers is offensive to the sponsor, and Woody starts to feel like he's betrayed his ideals. Even with his family arrived at his new L.A. home and offers of national music exposure, Woody turns his back on success to travel the backroads, singing of unionization and resistance to injustice.
Is it any good?
The surprising thing about this biography of an American music legend is how little performance there is in it, at least for the first hour (and it does feel like quite a long trip). Instead of rustic-nostalgic song-and-dance production numbers, the point is a pitch-perfect dramatization of the Dust Bowl days of yesteryear, with a mammoth, ruinous dust-storm front moving in (which is definitely not CGI) and the convoy of vintage cars, piled with family heirlooms, waiting to get into California but turned away at the border.
While the 21st-century national climate is less friendly towards labor unions, this movie shows vividly the harsh and unfair conditions that existed for America's working poor when they had no power. Both the unforced, easygoing Carradine and the film were nominated for Oscars.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about how Woody Guthrie puts his activism and a life of uncertainty ahead of having an easy existence as a music superstar. Can you imagine doing that yourself? Is Guthrie a role model?
What is this movie's message about unions? Do you think it is an accurate representation of the issues? Are there any stereotypes in this film?