Grass: Untold Stories

Posted by By at 31 December, at 08 : 01 AM Print

Author: Bahman Maghsoudlou
Introduction by: Kevin Brownlow
Publisher: Mazda
Price: USD45.00
ISBN: 1-56859-221-3; ISBN 13: 978-1-56859-221-3 (hardcover)

When World War I ended in 1918, the world had changed. The face of Europe was reshaped, its boundaries altered, and Communism had taken over Russia. Many Americans were there to witness this, among them Merian C. Cooper, an Air Force pilot, Ernest B. Schoedsack, an Army cameraman, and Marguerite Harrison, a newspaper reporter. Cooper and Schoedsack had both fought in the war, and became involved in post-war events, while Harrison was recruited to work for US Intelligence, reporting on political developments in Germany and Soviet Russia. The three shared a wanderlust and a curiosity about other cultures that would take them separately, or together, all over Europe and Asia — experiencing such hardships as war and prison. In the Middle East. they came together to film the migration of a nomadic Iranian tribe, making one of the first ever documentaries, “Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life.” This volume looks at the lives of all three of these unique individuals, and at the many adventures that shaped them and brought them to their pioneering moment in cinematic history, presenting this fascinating story in its entirety for the first time.

Merian C. Cooper, born in Florida, followed family military tradition. After a shaky start in the Navy, he realized a long-held dream of becoming a pilot. During service in the U.S. Air Force in World War I, he spent some time in a German POW camp. After the war, he volunteered to help the Poles in their struggle against the invading Soviets, and formed the Kosciusko Squadron. Once again, he was captured by the enemy and spent some grueling months in Soviet prison camps before executing a daring escape. Back in the States, his thirst for adventure led to a job on a schooner sailing through the East Indies, and taking groundbreaking film in such places as Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, with his colleague Ernest B. Schoedsack. The two men then continued their quest to film far-off places when they traveled to Southern Iran with Marguerite Harrison to make “Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life.”

Marguerite Harrison began her professional career writing for the Sun, the newspaper of her native Baltimore. Her intellectual curiosity and acute political sensibilities led to an assignment covering events in Europe following World War I, which was in truth a cover for her real mission, sending reports back to US intelligence. A second such mission took her into post-revolutionary Russia, where she was eventually jailed for a year on suspicion of espionage. She was freed thanks to negotiations at top levels of US diplomacy. Further world travels took her all over the Far East and then back to Russia, where she was jailed once again, despite having given up her intelligence work. Her next great overseas adventure came when she joined filmmakers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack on a difficult expedition to make one of the first film documentaries, “Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life,” for which they followed the dangers of the migration of a tribe in southern Iran.

Ernest B. Schoedsack was born in Iowa, but made his way to California after high school. There he discovered his fascination with cameras and was able to put this to use working for Mack Sennett’s famous studio. At the outbreak of World War I, he signed up to serve and was assigned to the just-formed Signal Corps, another outlet for his photographic abilities. His work in battlefield filmmaking was not only groundbreaking in terms of the medium, but also tremendously helpful to the war effort. After the war, he and his friend, Merian C. Cooper discussed the possibility of traveling to film in exotic places but, lacking the funds to do so, Schoedsack returned to Europe to cover the conflict between the Greeks and Turks. He later joined Cooper on a schooner sailing through the East Indies. From there, the two men were able to realize a plan to travel to southern Iran, joining journalist Marguerite Harrison, to film the migration of a nomadic Iranian tribe.

Table of Contents
Foreword by Kevin Brownlow Introduction
1. America Enters World War I (1914-1918)
2. The Russian-Polish War (1918-1921)
3. Painful Years in Russia (1920-1921)
4. The Wisdom II (1922-1923)
5. Harrison Goes to the Far East (1922-1923)
6. The Making of Grass (1923-1924)
7. Post-Production (1924-1925)
8. Grass Opens in New York: Selected Reviews (1925)
9. Grass: The Remakes
10. After Grass


“Bahman Maghsoudlou has rendered a loving tribute to three intrepid individuals—Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoesdack and Marguerite Harrison—whose adventurous lives intersected on three continents in the turbulent years between 1914 and 1925, the years of the still-amazing documentary, Grass, and in 1933, the year of the epochal King Kong. In the course of his conjoined narratives, Mr. Maghsoudlou takes us into Soviet prisons, spy missions in Moscow, the Greco-Turkish war in Asia Minor, and the far reaches of Japan, Siberia, Korea, China, Mongolia, Ethiopia,Saudi Arabia, and Persia.

“Indeed, the book reads like a dozen adventure movies rolled into one except that every spectacular incident was true. Mr. Maghsoudlou has helped us fill many gaps in our understanding of the direction taken by the world in the early years of the 20th Century. It is a book to be read, savored and treasured by the enlightened and curious reader.”

—Andrew Sarris

“‘Grass,’ the legendary documentary by the King Kong of filmmakers, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack and the remarkable adventurer/spy Marguerite Harrison, remains one of the most incredible records of man versus nature in cinema history. The even more astonishing story of how they accomplished such a feat has now been told with great skill and affection by Bahman Maghsoudlou.”

—Dennis Doros, film historian/archivist.

“The making of GRASS has always been shrouded in mystery; now, Bahman Maghsoudlou has lifted its veils and not only told us how the film was made, but also why it deserves its unique place in film history.”

—Richard Peña, Program Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Professor of Film Studies, Columbia University.

“As riveting and action-packed as a great adventure novel, ranging from the trenches of World War I to the icy mountain passes of Persia, Bahman Maghsoudlou’s account of the personalities, passions and perils behind the making of the legendary documentary GRASS brings to brilliant life one of cinema history’s most daring exploits. In filmmakers Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison, the author sketches three of the most extraordinary characters to ever grace a movie, behind or in front of the camera. This book would make a fascinating movie itself.”

—Godfrey Cheshire, Film critic, Filmmaker

“In 1923, spurred in part by the success of Robert Flaherty’s landmark film ‘Nanook of the North’ two years earlier, an unusual trio of Americans set off for another equally distant spot to make their own documentary about the harrowing seasonal migration of Iran’s remote Bakhtiari tribesmen. Since nearly a hundred years later, the region to which they traveled so arduously is still almost unknown to and unvisited by people from anywhere else in the world, their remarkable film “Grass” has retained an undimmed interest. In addition to providing an unusually detailed “Making of,” as it might be called today, this book recounts dozens of remarkable stories, and suggests many others. Hanging over the whole project is the irony that the first feature film to be shot in Iran was made by Americans, six years before the first Iranian-produced feature.”

—Peter Scarlet, Artistic Director, Tribeca Film Festival Review excerpt from :

also see:

Houshang Kavousi, Film Magazine, Number 452, Daymah 1391
Bukhara magazine, #84, 1390, Tehran, Iran
Farasu magazine #15, Fall 1390, Tehran, Iran
Tajorbeh Magazine, Iran, October 2011, Farsi
William O. Beeman, MIDDLE EAST JOURNAL, Summer 2011
Firouzeh Khatibi, Voice of America
Alaf by Mohammad Abdi ,BBCPersian
Ardeshir Seraj ; Interview with Bahman Maghsoudlou, Baran Magazanie ,# 28-29 ,Winter,2010-Spring 2011
Alaf – Mohammad Tahaminejad, Film Magazine, Number 426, 2011 [PDF]
Mohammad Tahaminejad-Iran (word)
Daniel Bradburd , Clarkson University, MESA Bulletin ,2009 (PDF)
Bidoun Magazine-New York Spring 2010 (PDF)
Amir Taheri-Asharq Alawsat (English Edition)
Khosrow Shakeri, Ulterior Motives–
Persian Heritage
Shahrvand Magazine-Canada
Iran Star Magazine-Canada
Javanan Magazine-USA
Parviz Davaie- Czech Republic [PDF]
Bahman Maghsoudlou’s Resume [pdf]
Bahman Maghsoudlou’s Biography and publications (Persian) [doc]
Publications by Bahman Maghsoudlou


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