There are differences between hobos, tramps, and bums, even if each of them lives a harsh life on the fringes of society. The bum is a salesman of sorts stationed on city streets, emitting the equivalent of spam e-mail in his quest to raise money. The tramp travels around mooching off of other people's goodwill. Hobos, meanwhile, aim for self-reliance, forgoing a fixed address but always willing to work for a meal or pitch in to help a social situation.
Hobo culture is inextricably linked with Depression-era images of train yards, riding the rails, and men with a five o'clock shadow and a bindle. Back in the '50s, the Beatniks romanticized rootless travel across this vast country of ours, and today certain experimental filmmakers (Bill Brown, Roger Beebe, Martha Colburn, among others) pack up and travel with their wares (instead of a bindle they carry a projector or just their films).
The latest filmmaker to ride into our rail yards is Portland-based Bill Daniel. His great and engaging new film, Who Is Bozo Texino?, delves into the subject of graffiti on boxcars, and along the way illuminates the self-made myths of modern-day tramps and hobos. The mythologizing begins with how they're quick to drop their real names in favor of road monikers, often given to them by "the bulls" or other travelers, but sometimes inherited or stolen from others. These road names are often tagged onto the rail cars, an image that will ride the rails across the country. One such image is a smoking cowboy with the name Bozo Texino written beneath it.
Bill Daniel has been working on Who Is Bozo Texino? for more than 16 years, beginning after he discovered the enigmatic world of boxcar graffiti art. Since then he's ridden the rails looking for the secrets behind the enigmatic tags and, in particular, the identity of one Bozo Texino. His quest has turned him into the foremost authority on the subject.
"It is literally the only film on the subject," Daniel told me, adding, "It's extremely unlikely that this film will get picked up by PBS or HBO, and it's absolutely certain that it won't get commercial distribution." Which is a shame because it's a movie that should be seen, and one that will definitely be enjoyed.
The run of the film at the Central Cinema may very well be your only chance to see this piece of cinematic art. The screenings start on Wednesday, August 31, and run through the weekend, but I recommend that you go on opening night, as the filmmaker will be in attendance. Plus, that'll give you plenty of time to recommend the movie to friends and family.
I'll give the final pitch to Daniel: "Seattle audiences should turn off their TiVo and leave their houses and gather together with their fellow citizens and enjoy the communal experience of real independent cinema." Amen.