Who is Bozo Texino?
For the record, a hobo is not a bum nor a tramp. Tramps and bums will eat your food and drink your liquor and warm themselves by your fire, but they won’t help gather up firewood. They won’t throw some money into the pot to get some beers. They won’t try to help out. Hobos contribute. They work. They pitch in. And Bill Daniel’s fascinating documentary Who Is Bozo Texino? delves into the hobo subculture with an inquisitive, romantic verve.
Just don’t expect a PBS-styled infotainment. Shot entirely on black-and-white film, Bozo is more akin to sensory immersion, plunging you into this world from the get-go. Daniel interviews hobos in train yards, on moving cars, on the side of the tracks, wherever, as his camera catches scenery ripping by as seen from a boxcar, the whir of tracks underneath the cars, smiling faces and waves as trains pass by. One moment the mountains sleep off in the distance with dusty badlands spreading out in the foreground, the next snow covers everything as far as the eye can see. Voice-over interviews don’t always synchronize to the gorgeous on-screen imagery, with hobos regaling Daniel about life on the rail and how it has changed over the years or remembering catching a railroad company’s last train out of El Paso sometime in the 1970s. This approach may not yield the documentary’s typical sociological overview, but it succeeds with something far greater—an almost expressionistic portrait of a distinctly American lifestyle. At times, Bozo feels like a book of Robert Frank photographs come to walking and talking life.
Daniel’s attention soon zeroes in on the chalk or oil crayon doodles, aphorisms, and drawings that dot the sides of boxcars called hobo graffiti, focusing on one tag in particular: a smoking cowboy formed by a sideways, elongated figure-eight shape perpendicularly pierced by a ovoid ellipse, with a quick mark forming his cigarette. The tag is attributed to “Bozo Texino,” and many veteran hobos have their theories about who he is: a worker at the Coors bottling plant in Boulder, Colo., a railroad worker from Texas, a bored car man. Older hobos remember seeing the image for the first time some 20, even 30 years back.
Daniel finally locates an elder man who claims to be Bozo Texino, who proves such by drawing a Bozo Texino “blindfolded”—well, with tissues stuck between his eyes and his glasses. This man has his own collection of hobo graffiti, photo albums filled with tags through the years, and he claims to have, in one year, tagged 30,000 boxcars. But by the time Daniel’s Who Is Bozo Texino? arrives here, the answer to its titular question becomes less important than the wide-eyed, crisscrossing journey to get there.