Walking on screen

Bill Bryson’s visit this week to Australia to promote the film “A Walk in the Woods” – based on his 1998 hit book about walking the Appalachian Trail – brings renewed attention to that oldest of human past-times, walking (what did you think I was going to say?). The film stars Robert Redford as Bryson, and Nick Nolte, playing Bryson’s dissolute walking mate and childhood friend, Stephen Katz. Emma Thompson provides support as Bryson’s British wife. Now that’s cool: Bryson never imagined that Redford would play him on screen. The film opens in North America and Australia the first week of September, following its premiere at Redford’s Sundance Film Festival early this year.

There’s a problem with this casting, as ABC Radio presenter Michael Cathcart pointed out on ABC Radio National “Books and Arts” program (click here to listen to the delightful interview): Bryson was just 44 when he “walked the woods”, and Redford was 78 when the film was shot in 2014. That casting changed the theme from a “reconnecting with America” theme – Bryson’s ostensible reason to undertake the walk – to two ageing men battling infirmity in their trek. (Click here to watch the “7.30 Report” interview with Bryson.)

But no matter. I am a great fan of Bryson’s work (like me, he is an expatriate American who has spent the majority of his life living overseas – in his case, the United Kingdom) and of Robert Redford. So the pairing, for me at least, will be irresistible.

Unlike most Australians, I have actually walked short parts of the Appalachian Trail: some bits in North Carolina (the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; my friend Dave lived nearby in Knoxville while studying at the University of Tennessee) and some in New Hampshire and Vermont, near Hanover, New Hampshire when I attended Dartmouth College in my undergraduate university days. Not much, mind you, but just enough to claim some personal knowledge of the Trail. Local Knoxville newspaper “The Daily Times” reported this week that the Great Smoky Park is gearing up for another invasion of walkers, following the release of the movie in a few weeks’ time.

Tales of walking are popular on screen, and are some of my favourite recent films. In “Wild”, based on the best-selling book by Cheryl Strayed (love that name), Reese Witherspoon dramatises Strayed’s adventures walking the Pacific Crest Trail in western USA. “The Way” with Martin Sheen, follows a (fictional) pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (the Catholic Way of St. James) in France and Spain. In “Tracks” (one of my favourite Australian films of 2014), based on Robyn Davidson’s memoir, Mia Wasikowska plays the main character’s solitary walk from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean in Western Australia.

Other books about walking – possibly less filmable – are on my “read soon” list: Rebecca Solnit’s essays in “Wanderlust: A History of Walking” and Martin Fletcher’s “Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation”, about walking the Mediterranean coast of Israel from Rosh Hanikra to the Gaza border.

(below an image of Bryon’s book)

A Walk in the Woods image

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