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The team of Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack produced a documentary of 50,000 Bakhtiari people and their animals on the Summer migration to winter grazing. The basic worth of this film today is as a time capsule of a "forgotten people" and how they lived during what we in the West knew as the "roaring twenties." A more drastic contrast could not be imagined. Raging river and barefoot mountain crossings are brutally realistic and the animals that disappear under the water do in fact die. To make sure that the audience of the time believed that the story took place, a signed certificate of authenticity is offered up at the end. The version that I saw had fascinating Iranian music that can stand alone and be appreciated without the film. Having said all this, the film is probably of more value to the anthropologist than the casual viewer in search of a good evening's entertainment. The crew had just barely sufficient stock to take the shots that they recorded and there is no fancy camera work resulting from multiple re-takes. The Western inter-titles detract from the experience but are in fact a part of the record since they demonstrate how Hollywood tried to put their spin on the lives of an indigenous peoples lives so that they would be appreciated by the audience of the day. Off-duty entertainment by desert police becomes a "policeman's ball." The producers went on to make the docu-drama Chang (1927) and the totally commercial King Kong (1933). The migration theme is used again in People of the Wind (1976) and in Himalaya (1999). Recommended for those who know in advance what they are getting into -- and then highly recommended for them.
This 1925 silent, inspired by "Nanook of the North," is the story of an
incredible people, the Bakhtiari, who annually move over 50,000 people and
half million animals between their summer and winter grazing pastures in
Iran. They ford raging icy rivers and climb/descend a 15,000 foot
Incredible footage; the filmmakers nearly froze to death.
A remake of the story is "People of the Wind" (1976), which is beautifully done. "Grass" is the story of the trek from the winter to the summer pastures; "People" is the reverse trip. Both are available (at last!) on video from Milestone Films.
This was soul-provoking! I am an Iranian, and living in th 21st
century, I didn't know that such big tribes have been living in such
conditions at the time of my grandfather!
You see that today, or even in 1925, on one side of the world a lady or a baby could have everything served for him or her clean and on-demand, but here 80 years ago, people ventured their life to go to somewhere with more grass. It's really interesting that these Persians bear those difficulties to find pasture for their sheep, but they lose many the sheep on their way.
I praise the Americans who accompanied this tribe, they were as tough as Bakhtiari people.
The first collaboration between Schoedsack & Cooper is a compelling documentary on the migration of the Bakhtiari tribe of Persia. Twice a year, more than 50,000 people and half a million animals cross rivers and mountains to get to pasture. You'll feel like a pampered weakling after watching these people herd their animals through ice cold water and walk barefoot through the snow to cross the mountains while trying to get their animals to walk along steep and narrow mountain paths.
This was incredible, meaning that it was hard to believe, that the
"forgotten tribe" would make this astounding migration twice a year, and
that the filmmakers, Cooper and Schoedsack, didn't stage some of the
and shots. But what shots they are! The cinematography, under mostly
extreme conditions, is brilliant, and the score of Iranian music added to
the video release give this memorable documentary an added richness.
I had the pleasure of seeing this and "Kon Tiki" on the same weekend, which was a thrill and certainly made me see how tough and hardy and brave people can be, whether for primitive survival or the need for adventure or in the name of science.
Fantastic documentary of 1924. This early 20th century geography of today's Iraq was powerful. Watch this and tell me if Cecil B. DeMille didn't take notes before making his The Ten Commandments. Merian C. Cooper, the photographer, later created Cinerama, an idea that probably hatched while filming the remarkable landscapes in this film. Fans of Werner Herzog will find this film to be a treasure, with heartbreaking tales of struggle, complimented by the land around them, never has the human capacity to endure been so evident. The fact that this was made when it was shows not only the will of the subjects, but of the filmmakers themselves.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am actually outraged at the comment I read stating that this movie
was "boring" and the beautiful scenery was marred by the black and
white footage. It was made in 1925!!!! I think it absolutely incredible
for it's time!
The journey that these people had to go through is utterly remarkable. It took them a week just to cross a river. The women carried their children in heavy wooden cradles on their backs climbing up a solid sheet of rock, sometimes barefoot in the snow. I would like to see Anybody do that now!
I thought it was a wonderful film with some truly amazing shots and an incredible story.
Thanks TCM for bringing this piece of history to a broader audience.
And what a slice of the past it is. This is living next to the land, in
spades. That thousand-mile trek through Arabia and the Caucuses is not
just long, but harrowing, as well. It's men, women, kids, donkeys,
cattle, goats, sheep, all winding their way through impossible terrain,
with a few skinny dogs tagging along. Sure, it seems they do it every
year to get to the mountain grassland, but I can't see it ever gets any
easier. When I backpack in the snow, I've got good warm boots and heavy
socksthese folks, however, do it in, uh, bare feet!!!-- for better
traction, I guess. Anyway, I'm still shivering from that footage. Then
there's the river crossing. That alone is worth the price of admission.
You've got to admire their herding prowess in the rapids with nothing
more than inflated goatskins. In fact, I have a whole new appreciation
for the lowly sheep and the gutsy herders who tend them.
As good as the footage is, questions do arise. What, for example, do they do with sick people. It seems they can't stop the trek, so I guess they just pack them along and hope for the best. Also, we don't see them eating along the way or building fires (if they do) or setting up tents. Instead, Cooper & Co. track the snaking caravans only, but then that's more than enough. However, someone should have given second thoughts to some of those ridiculous title cards. But all that is merely incidental to a filmed record of a people who reach far back in time, and ones I would be proud to have as forebears. Then again, I guess I won't be complaining about having to walk to the store, any time soon.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It all started with two guys having the ambition to create a movie as
successful as Flaherty's "Nanook of the North". One of the two guys was
Merian Cooper: a passionate promoter in both aviation and movie
industry, a bomber pilot in WWI, twice shot down in fight. The other
was Ernest Schoedsack: during the WWI a cameraman on the front,
recording infantry actions under shell fire. The two had met for the
first time in Poland, during the war with Soviet Russia. They would
meet again in the early 20's and start collaborating in making movies.
Meanwhile Merian Cooper had been made prisoner by the Red Army and
managed to escape.
Flaherty had gone to the Eskimo. Cooper and Schoedsack set their target to Kurdistan. The expedition started in October 1923 in Angora (today's Ankara). There was a fellow-traveler with them: journalist Marguerite Harrison (she too had the taste for danger in her DNA: risky missions in Germany, Russia Japan, China, imprisoned for a period in Soviet Russia).
It was during the expedition that they decided to go further, to reach a nomadic community of Bakhtiari, some place in central Persia, and to follow them in their seasonal migration in search of grass for their herds.
Twice a year the Bakhtiari have to migrate with their animals, once Eastward, then Westward, between their summer and winter quarters. That means crossing the Kārun river (some identify it with Pishon, one of the four rivers of Eden, as mentioned in Genesis) and escalating Zard-Kuh, the highest peak of the Zagros Mountains. By those times there were no bridges over the river, and all people were barefoot. They had to pass this way over the heavy snowed mountain. As for crossing the river, the animals had to swim, of course many of them were drowning. There were about 50,000 people and half a million animals.
The decision of Cooper, Schoedsack and Harrison to join the community of Bakhtiari proved fortunate: by filming their journey they created a masterpiece.
The movie has two distinct parts. Firstly it chronicles the trip from Angora towards Kurdistan, with a picturesque description of a caravanserai, and some other interesting moments, like the sudden meeting with a troupe of desert police, occasion for the filmmakers to shot a surreal scene with the policemen executing a complicate ballet while on their horses! But it is the second part of the movie that is a masterpiece: simply filming the journey of barefoot people with their animals across the river and over the mountain transmits a great epic sense. It is there the whole drama of this ethnicity struggling for life, rendered with simplicity and greatness.
Many critics have compared "Grass" with "Nanook", giving to the work of Flaherty a better mark, and obviously the merit of having been the first. I found an interesting remark in an essay by Richard Griffith (who was a curator at MoMA Film Library between 1951 - 1965): "Flaherty was an explorer filming a population he knew, while Cooper and Schoedsack were adventurers attracted by the unknown".
The images in "Nanook" could be more skillful worked, while what you see in "Grass" is the "real thing": the epic on the screen is "live".
I watched Grass on Netflix and I give total credit to its admirers: this movie is fascinating.
The copy available on Netflix includes some evocative pieces of Iranian music, composed and performed by Gholam Hosain Janati-Ataie (santur and daf), Kavous Shirzadian (tar, tombak and oud) and Amir Ali Vahabzadegan (Turkish tambur, setar, dohol, daf and voice). I found this very touching: a tribute paid to a courageous community who struggles with nature for their life. Now their herds are carried in trucks and they are no more barefoot, still it's hard.
They probably could have skipped some of the beginning - I'm not sure
why this starts out in the Asian part of Turkey. If it was because
starting in the Mediterranean, they could have gotten closer starting
in modern day Lebanon.
One the cameras and crews get to the Bakhtyari tribe, it's the beginning of an amazing 48 day journey. 50,000 people with about 250,000 goats, camels, cattle, and horses make this amazing trek across what seems to be a very fast moving Karun River. They use rafts that are kept afloat by inflating goat skins - you can see where the head and legs were removed. The other "bank" of the river was very steep - I'm guessing about a 60 degree rise.
Just watching that was incredible, but there was much more to come. To get to the pastures, they also had to cross a major mountain that had about 4 feet of snow, if not more. Being able to climb this mountain was pretty amazing in and of itself, but they (and all of the animals) climbed this mountain barefoot! Yes, barefoot.
The one drawback to this documentary were some of the inter-titles with poor attempts at humor.
If you want to see a documentary from the silent era, or the incredible challenges that this tribe not only face, but conquer. This is just an incredible document of a little known group of people facing all kinds of challenges.
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