GRASS: A NATION’S BATTLE FOR LIFE (director/writer/producer: Merian C. Cooper/Ernest B. Schoedsack; screenwriters: Marguerite Harrison/Terry Ramsaye/Richard Carver; cinematographer: Ernest B. Schoedsack; editors: Terry Ramsaye/Richard Carver; cast: Marguerite Harrison (Herself, a Journalist), Merian C. Cooper (Himself), Ernest B. Schoedsack (Himself), Haidar Khan (Himself, Chief of the Bakhtyari Tribe), Lufta (Himself, Haidar Khan’s Son); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jesse L. Lasky; Milestone Film & Video; 1925-silent)
“A visually fascinating silent documentary that is dated but nevertheless striking.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A visually fascinating silent documentary that is dated but nevertheless striking. It’s about the bi-annual migration of the 50,000 Bakhtiari poor nomad tribal people of western Iran and a half-million of their animals, as they seek the Promised Land of summer grass for their survival trekking across the rugged deserts, snowy mountains and fast-flowing rivers of Persia. The film is directed by Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack in cooperation with journalist Marguerite Harrison, the men also went on to be the codirectors of the 1927 documentary Chang and the acclaimed 1933 fictional King Kong.
Grass has the look of a Rudyard Kipling tale in its grand scope and also of a mere travelogue. Reports filtered back that the odyssey was made more difficult at the urgings of the filmmakers for dramatic effects, and it should be noted the documentary doesn’t meet the filmmaking standards of the modern documentary. Nevertheless, in this pioneering work with only Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North as a guide, there’s a lyrical thread running across its theme of living with nature without destroying it–a lesson the modern world should certainly pay attention to. The wonder is watching the heroic efforts of barefoot nomads as they cross the rough terrain and eventually some icy streams and climb a 12,000-foot snow-covered mountain with the film crew there to record it. The narration was cut and dry, hardly explaining all that was happening on the trek. But the visuals captured the enormity of the migration in this two-month-long journey.
The most involving scene was watching a healthy portion of the 50,000 nomads and 500,000 animals cross to the other side of a raging river by using rafts made out of goat skins.
REVIEWED ON 2/1/2004 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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