Zardeh Kuh to King Kong
A great filmmaker's early start
By Darius Kadivar
January 11, 2001
Merian C. Cooper is well known in the motion picture industry for his
long list of pioneering ventures. He met Ernest B. Schoedsack in Poland
during World War I and the two intrepid travelers decided to collaborate
on making Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life (1925), showing the
migratory habits of' the Bakhtiari tribe in Iran.
Grass begins with Cooper, Schoedsack, and
their third colleague, Marguerite Harrison, photographing themselves. Cooper
is seen smoking a pipe, and a title card identifies him as "The engineer
who conceived the idea of recording the migration."
In the next shot, Cooper consults with Schoedsack, "whose camera
recorded the experience." Lastly, we are introduced to Harrison, dressed
in safari gear, looking like a cross between Marlene Dietrich and Marie
Dressler. She is identified as an "author and traveler."
After this moment in the spotlight, the two men disappear behind the
camera. But the meaning is clear -- this is their film, their version of
Grass sets out along a caravan rout "worn by the passing
feet of centuries." Moving east through ancient villages and blinding
sandstorms, the filmmakers reach a primitive settlement of goat-hair tents.
Here, the village chieftain, Haidar, and his son become the focus of
the film. A drought has parched the plains, so Haidar gives the order to
pack up and begin the journey to feed their flocks in greener pastures.
Men, women and children laden with tents and supplies herd their animals
across immense distances, across raging rivers and up steep rocky mountain
slopes. Barefoot, they climb through the snows of Zardeh Kuh where the
camera captures amazing images.
The filmmakers exposed audiences to scenes they didn't want to see,
such as young animals drowning in the current of a river. These scenes
seemed too harsh and perhaps that's why the film wasn't as commercially
successful as Robert Flaherty's Nanoonk of the North (1922).
However far from being discouraged, the collaboration between Cooper
and Schoedsack extended into feature films with exotic backgrounds, the
most famous of which was the legendary King Kong (1933), a classic
in the fantasy-horror genre.
Grass can be purchased here