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Things We Like: “Bound for Glory,” “Reefer Madness” and “Parallel Lines”

29 May 2010 Things We Like 3,478 views No CommentPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Elliott Bay Book Company’s Suggested Reading: “Bound for Glory” by Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie’s autobiography is his other contribution to culture, kind of like Bob Dylan’s “Tarantula” or Will Oldham’s acting. Like these works, there is no threat of “Bound for Glory” supplanting the songwriter’s colossal musical achievements as the reason we know who he is. And also like the aforementioned examples, Guthrie’s book is something that is arguably impressive taken on its own.

“Bound For Glory” was first published in 1943, which was late in Guthrie’s career — yet it covers only the very early part of his life, ending with him gaining his first popular media attention. Nearly half the book takes place when Woody was a nappy-headed toddler running around in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma with his dirt-poor family. It has a couple of great hard luck tales involving jumping trains and dodging the “bulls.” There is even an entire chapter of Guthrie’s life story which he claims not to be proud of at all, in which he lived as a faith healer in a shack in the woods. It is not hard to see why he treats the beginning of his notoriety as an ending, because he knows that it is going to pull him away from this drunken, dusty world he clearly loves.

There are allegations that he made it all up, or worse, that he took other people’s stories and claimed them as his own. But even if that’s the case, it’s not so bad, because it is far better than if these stories were never recorded at all. The book is a portrait of the poorest people in America during the Great War and the Great Depression, and it stands as a first-hand account of the s— and sunshine that in those days existed in abundance. – Christopher Sabatini

Scarecrow Video’s Pick of the Week: “Reefer Madness” (1936), directed by Louis Gasnier

A longtime staple of midnight movies, pot parties and campus screenings, this 1936 film was funded by a church group and was ostensibly intended to warn the public of the purported dangers of marijuana. Unfortunately, the filmmakers had absolutely no idea of the effects of pot smoking, and present some delirious reactions to the “devil weed.” Scenes of a crazy piano player lighting up a joint in a closet and another of a crazed piano fan demanding a song be played “faster…faster!” are hilariously misguided, and have delighted stoners and camp movie fans for the past seventy-two years. Despite the intention to create a shocking exposé, the filmmakers cram the film with gratuitous leg shots and vintage sexual situations. Much like Howard “Kroger” Babb, the producers were actually making an exploitation movie rather than the drug scare film that “Reefer Madness” claims to be. It’s no surprise that the film has remained a cult favorite.

There is a colorized DVD out there, and “Madness” is one of the few films that benefits from the process as the colors are quite appealing and emphasize the silliness of the proceedings. For example, the dope smoke is given different hues and everybody’s clothes, especially those of the drug dealers, are pretty wild. The original cinematography was quite bland and the colorization really jazzes things up. I don’t normally approve of such technological “enhancements” but, hell, it works this time as most viewers are probably going to be “enhanced” as well. – Spenser Hoyt

“Parallel Lines” by Philips/Ridley Scott Associates

“What is that?”
“It’s a unicorn.”
“Never seen one up close before.”
“Beautiful.”
“Get away, get away!”
“I’m sorry.”

Consumer electronics company Philips hired producer Ridley Scott and five filmmakers to make five films to promote a new high-definition television. Most of them are little more than pretty demo reels created solely to show off what the TV can do — with the notable exception of Carl Erik Rinsch’s spectacular “The Gift,” which seems to rest atop the cold depths from which Kubrick drew inspiration. (Reportedly, it got Rinsch the job of directing the long-gestating “Logan’s Run” remake.) But the five films have one thing in common: All of them contain the dialogue I’ve quoted above, word for word. Not another word is spoken. Discovering the ingenious ways in which each filmmaker incorporates the dialogue into their narrative makes the five films of “Parallel Lines” worth watching, though the Rinsch film is undeniably the best of the bunch. I’ve no idea if the television set is any good or not. – Geoff Carter

WOODY GUTHRIE PHOTO: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

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