Hobos, Youth Movements, & the Warner Bros. Archive

If the embed won’t work for you, watch Riding the Rails on the PBS website.

Welcome back, Recessionistas, I hope you all had a brilliant holiday and an entrance into 2012 worthy of Nick & Nora.  I might as well tell you that I somewhat unexpectedly received a television for Christmas (courtesy of Mama Fierce, who apparently reads the blog!  Hi Mom!), and while as of yet do not have cable, am very happy that my Golden Age viewing is no longer restricted to a laptop screen.

Over the past few months, I have watched many things, but been unbelievably lazy about committing the experiences to paper.  Hopefully I can rectify that, New Year’s Resolution style.  But in the meantime, I’d like to share with you a happy discovery I made last month:  PBS’s American Experience has a smattering of documentaries available for online viewing.  Moreover, their entire series on the 1930s is part of that offering!

Beginning with the Crash of ’29, it covers such events as the Dust Bowl, the formation of the CCC, the construction of the Hoover Dam, and on a more whimsical note, the tale of Seabiscuit.  In addition to these, there are two other 30s centric docs you might be interested in:  The Hurricane of ’38 and my personal favorite, Riding The Rails.  Yay, teenaged hobos!

Riding The Rails is a nice little ethnographic study of the young folk you were ought to see tramping around the country during the Depression.   From the impoverished to the adventurous, it gives a vivid description of teenage transiency hows and whys, without neglecting the ebullient, sometimes naive, aspects of hobo culture.  Of course, this sadly gives way to a heartbreaking portrait of promises unfulfilled and scandalous indifference.  Much like the characters of Wild Boys of the Road, you are left feeling that an entire generation was forced to grow up before their time.  And while Wild Boys certainly conveys a more romanticized version of life on the rails, I was pleased to find many parallels between its fictive narrative and the real life recollections of people who were hobos during this period.

Notable among these shared threads is the portrait of youth, silent and disenfranchised, as they are forced to deal with the fallout of a crisis they had no hand in creating.  There seems to be a common misperception that youth movements (of any day and age), are comprised of some inherently agitated element that is best dealt with by a swift kick in the ass.  No one wants to question whether agitation is justified in those who are powerless to affect change through traditional means, and are, ultimately, treated more harshly than those who are.  Many of these children encountered more violence by police and railroad bulls than their adult counterparts.  Even charitable organizations were instructed to provide the bare minimum of food and shelter, so as to “force” them back to their families.  Families who either could not take care of them, or no longer wanted to.

To me, it seems that adult disregard for the welfare of the young is directly corollated to a disregard for the overall health of a society.  When we rob from the smallest and most defenseless in our community, we are in essence, robbing ourselves of a future.  For there is no escaping the reality that as we move forward, so too, do the ones coming up from behind.  One day, they will overtake us, and the measure by which we can trust them with all that is shared in a social contract, is predicated upon the view of the world we have left them with.

But having said that, I’ll leave heavy socio-political arguments for other venues, seeing as how this is (allegedly) a film blog.

And to close on a lighter note, another discovery I would like to share is that Warner Brothers sells “made to order” DVDs from their archive!  I’m not sure how this escaped my notice for so long, but I’m always excited when a new outlet to support my classic cinema habit comes to light.  However, take note these films are not restored and if you read the fine print, come from what Warner Bros. calls the “best quality video master.”  I ordered Third Finger, Left Hand, a Myrna Loy-Melvyn Douglas vehicle, and found the picture to be acceptable if not extraordinary.  I assume that quality is going to vary depending on what film you order.  Also, they’re a bit pricey for something generated from a video. I paid about $23 with shipping and tax. Yet, if you’re not willing to take a chance on some dodgy bootleg DVRed from TCM, and you like having nice cases for your films, then it’s worth the expense.

In my humble opinion!

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