Grass: Untold Stories

Series: Bibliotheca Iranica: Performing Arts Series 8
Availability: In stock
Published: 2009
Page #: xxii + 348
Size: 6 x 9
ISBN: ISBN 13: 978-1-56859-221-3, 1-56859-221-3
bibliography, index, notes


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Quick Overview

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.


Bahman Maghsoudlou

Film scholar and critic Bahman Maghsoudlou is the recipient of Iran’s prestigious Forough Farrokhzad Literary Award for writing and editing a series of books about cinema and theater (1975). These include the widely acclaimed “Iranian Cinema,” which was published in 1987 by New York University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and is used around the world as a resource on the history of Persian films. He has also authored “Love & Liberty in Cinema” and published a collection of interviews with eleven major filmmakers entitled “This Side of the Mind & the Other Side of the Pupil.” Maghsoudlou’s activities involving international cinema further include participation as panelist, juror and lecturer at a wide variety of film festivals, including the San Francisco Film Festival, the Tri-Continental Festival (in Nantes, France), the Margaret Mead Festival in New York, and the Message to Man Festival in St. Petersburg. As a filmmaker he wrote, directed and produced the short documentary film “Ardeshir Mohasses and His Caricatures” (1972), which was shown at the Leipzig Film Festival in 1996, and “Ahmad Mahmoud: A Noble Novelist” (2004), about the important Iranian novelist, made as part of a series about renowned Iranian artists (it premiered at the Berlin Asian Pacific Film Festival and was selected for ISIS and MESA in 2004 and the 15th Annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema at the UCLA Film & Television Archive Film Festival in 2005. As a producer Maghsoudlou’s films have been selected for more than 100 major film festivals and include “The Suitors” (Cannes, 1988), “Manhattan by Numbers” (Venice, Toronto, 1993), "Seven Servants" with the legendary star Anthony Quinn (Locarno, Toronto, 1996), and “Life in Fog” (1998)--the single most awarded short documentary film in the history of Iranian Cinema. His most recent production, “Silence of the Sea,” won the Ecumenical Prize at the Mannheim Film Festival in 2003, Best Film and Best Screenplay at the Croatia Film Festival in 2004 and Best Music at the Asia/Pacific Film Festival, and was also selected for more than 20 other film festivals including the Sundance Film Festival in 2004. Maghsoudlou is currently producing and directing a feature-length documentary on the history of Iranian Cinema entitled “Iranian Cinema: Searching for the Roots (1900-1979)” and another documentary, “The Life & Legacy of Mohammad Mossadegh.” Having organized the first-ever Iranian Film Festival in New York in 1980, he originated the International Short Film Festival: Independent Films in Iran, which was held in October 2007 in New York. Bahman Maghsoudlou lives in New York.

Foreword by Kevin Brownlow


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’s GRASS : UNTOLD STORIES is one of the most exciting book I have read over the last 5 years (and I read a lot). Though I have seen thousands of films made all over the world and consider myself a « film fan », I had never seen GRASS and had faintly heard about it
But that is nothing compared to the life story of its filmmakers. The book is so well written, so well researched that you better have a long weekend in front of you when you start reading the first page ! Hopefully Mr. Maghsoudlou will find the financial backing necessary to turn this book into a primetime TV series and/or an epic feature film to be surely enjoyed all over the world for many generations to come
-Rock Demers, Producer and President of Les Productions La Fête


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 Persi
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 reade
—Andrew Sarr
"'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/archivis
“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 Universit
"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, Filmmak
“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 Festiv
Review excerpt from : www.mazdapublisher.c
More Review
Houshang Kavousi, Film Magazine, Number 452, Daymah 139
Bukhara magazine, #84, 1390, Tehran, Ira
Farasu magazine #15, Fall 1390, Tehran, Ir
Tajorbeh Magazine, Iran, October 2011, Fars
William O. Beeman, MIDDLE EAST JOURNAL, Summer 201
Firouzeh Khatibi, Voice of Americ
Alaf by Mohammad Abdi ,BBCPersia
Ardeshir Seraj ; Interview with Bahman Maghsoudlou, Baran Magazanie ,# 28-29 ,Winter,2010-Spring 201
Alaf - Mohammad Tahaminejad, Film Magazine, Number 426, 201
Daniel Bradburd , Clarkson University, MESA Bulletin ,200
Bidoun Magazine-New York Spring 201
Amir Taheri-Asharq Alawsat (English Edition
Khosrow Shakeri, Ulterior Motives– www.iranian.co
Persian Heritage Magazin
Shahrvand Magazine-Canad
Iran Star Magazine-Canad
Javanan Magazine-US
Parviz Davaie- Czech Republic
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