Catching Out: Social Fugitives on Wheels

By Prairie Miller
Arts Magazine []
Aug 10, 2003, 13:28

Catching Out
A documentary by Sarah George
At the Film Forum, August 20-26th
209 West Houston Street, N.Y.

It's funny and weird, but writing a review of Catching Out while riding the railroad does give rise to a tendency to glance uncomfortably over one's shoulder. That's because this distinctly subversive travelogue is about riding the rails for free.

We're not talking the more typical short haul scam of hiding out in the john until the fare collector moves on to another car. Catching Out is about dedicated long distance rail surfers who hop freight cars as determined vagabonds, fleeing the working stiff complications of civilization. Or, for the sheer, narcotic-like thrill of a short term forbidden adventure.

Filmmaker Sarah George started out with a government grant to make a documentary about modern day hoboes. But she soon caught the 'nomadic bug' herself while putting the film together, and has now been accepted into the fold by the hobo masses as 'San Luis, Knight of the Road.'

George infuses Catching Out with the visual splendor of Western landscapes to be found only along the freight car routes carved out of untouched wilderness. And also the unrushed, lyrical reflections of the articulate adventurers entranced by these secret voyages along mountains, plains, and Mohave desert expanse, with never a billboard in sight.

It's difficult not to get caught up in the euphoria of these 21st century, mostly young bands of wanderers hopping freights up and down the West Coast. They range from Lee, a career freight hopper who splits his time between the rails and doing the hermit thing in a custom built hut deep in the woods of Northern California; Jessica, a college dropout who was born into the life, tagging along at the side of her roving hippie mom in modes of permanent transportation like a WWII high seas tanker and converted postal truck; Switch and Baby Girl, a couple who met on a freight car and have reluctantly taken time out from roaming the land to raise their newborn; and activist vagabond Lee, whose passion for wandering the wilderness and simultaneously preserving it whenever he can, is environmentally based.

Catching Out is simply lovely to behold, and George is adept at vicariously relaying the intoxicating fusion of railway rhythms, the poetic thoughts of these nomadic philosophers, and the continuous enchanting flow of majestic landscapes that the most elaborate hi-tech special effects would find difficult to match.

What the documentary lacks is balance, a day in the life kind of sense of the hardships these riders most certainly face now and then. Can freedom from civilization really be so idyllic and tidy? What about rain, cold, sickness, lack of toilet paper or a tub, and the pervasive threat of itinerant psychos on board?

And there is never a coherent explanation as to how these suspiciously clean, cheerful and well fed looking subjects of Catching Out breeze through a kind of theme park pursuit that was once a dreaded necessity for the hordes of starving and jobless Depression era rail hoboes desperate to survive somewhere. Perhaps George herself has been caught up a little too much in the romance of the life she's supposed to be documenting.

Prairie Miller, Co-host
WBAI Arts Magazine
Tuesdays 2-3pm

Check out the actual article here:

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