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Zardeh Kuh to King Kong
A great filmmaker's early start

By Darius Kadivar
January 11, 2001
The Iranian

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 the events.

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 at

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