Saturday, November 15, 2014

“Freeload” DVD (director: Daniel Skaggs)

Harsh look at modern day hobos

A relatively brief (65 minutes) but startlingly honest documentary here dealing with something most of us consider little more than a romantic anachronism — railway hobos. It’s difficult to imagine, in modern times, people who hop trains and travel as a lifestyle. “Homeless” could also be used to describe these folks, but this designation sometimes misses the mark. Often, today’s train riders do so out of choice. They’re renegades who buck the modern system of menial labor and expectations, and often seek adventure and a “live free or die” attitude and lifestyle. 

Skaggs’ documentary focuses on several young vagabonds, most of whom, at least on the surface, ride trains by choice. Their “fuck everyone” attitudes come straight from a subcultural or punk rock playbook. Some are good people who just don’t fit in. Others seem to be troubled characters, with alcohol or drug problems that are only encouraged by what can be a lonely and frightening future. I was left fascinated by the characters and way of life, though “Freeload” certainly doesn’t romanticize the lifestyle. There are moments of refreshing freedom and joy nestled among other moments of depressing nihilism that I can’t help but feel are a harbinger of doom for some of these people. If anything, it’s a realistic portrait of an outsider viewpoint that some don’t even realize still exists. Well-done, but not something I’d ever want to see again.

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