Switch and Baby Doll
Sarah George, 2003

Wild boys and girls of the road
Perhaps the only person more in thrall to the romance of train hopping than the latter-day hobos profiled in this great looking documentary from first-time director Sarah George is George herself. Accompanied by her intrepid director of photography, Pallas Weber, George became something of a hobo herself, shooting much of the film from freight cars as they coursed their way through the scenic hinterlands of the United States. From what they've collected, it's clear just why "catching out" hobo slang for illegally hopping freights has become part of an essential American myth; one avid rider describes it as a genuinely American experience, like jazz. And George does little to dampen the enthusiasm. There's no historical context, so railriding's roots in the extreme poverty and desperation of the Great Depression can't spoil the mood, nor is there any serious discussion about why so many young people today choose the dangerous life of a hobo over life with their families. As it stands, George does provide a few entertaining profiles of men and women who, for one reason or another, have given in to their wanderlust and are proud to call themselves tramps. Jessica, who dropped out of Berkeley as an undergrad, hopped her first train at 18, and found the ride such a thrilling, "ego-shattering" experience that she spends much of the year on the road. Switch and his companion, Baby Girl, were both long-time riders before meeting in a soup kitchen. They've stayed together both on the road and off, building a shack in the forest and even trying the straight life in suburban Connecticut after their baby son is born. When he's not hopping freights, Lee, an environmental activist who's plugged into the larger railriding community through his zine Hobos From Hell, retires to the cozy squatter's nest he's made for himself deep in the northern California forest, proving you don't need a lot of money to live free. It's interesting to see the directions these purposefully directionless lives eventually take over time, but George never gets far beyond the personalities involved, most of whom regard catching out as an alternative to our consumerist culture. Viewers wanting a more incisive sociological treatment of contemporary hoboes would do well to seek out the excellent Travelers , Liz Garbus's troubling profile of teenaged railriders produced for the MTV documentary series Real Life. Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys' superb RIDING THE RAILS, meanwhile, offers an invaluable and tremendously moving historical account of the grim reality behind what has evolved into a colorful American myth.  ?nbsp; Ken Fox

Country of Origin: U.S.
Color or b/w:
Production Co(s).:
Oddyssian Encounters; Worthy Entertainment
Released By:
Seventh Art
MPAA Rating:
Parental Rating:
Cautionary; some scenes objectionable
Running Time:


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