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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Grass
Grass
Image // Unrated // March 28, 2000
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted November 7, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack are most famous for their 1933 film King Kong.  Before that influential movie though, they started out making travel films, a popular genre of film that has all but died out.  These weren't documentaries per se, but fictional stories that were set in remote corners of the world and integrated natives and their local customs into the story.  They were educational, and also entertaining.  The first two films that Cooper and  Schoedsack directed have been released by Milestone: Grass (1925) and Chang (1927).  This review discusses the former picture, and you can read about the later one here.

When Cooper and  Schoedsack set out for present day Iran, they were looking for an adventure, and they found one.  Accompanied by journalist (and US spy) Marguerite Harrison, they found the Bakhtiari tribe and recorded their twice yearly migration to pasture grounds for their animals.  (The 'grass' of the title.)  This was no stroll either.  The tribe, 50,000 people and half a million animals, suffered many hardships on the journey, and viewers marvel at their stamina and determination to complete the migration.  They have to cross rivers, up to half a mile wide, on rafts buoyed with inflated goat skins and walk across a 15,000-foot snow covered mountain.  All in bare feet.
 

The path was often treacherous.  Note the man and goats on a narrow trail in the lower left corner.

This is an impressive movie, but there isn't a plot or much narrative to it which may bore some viewers.  I was amazed at the hardships the natives faced, and was impressed that Cooper and  Schoedsack accompanied them.  There were several times in the film when I thought to myself "I'd turn around and go home if I were there."  This is the story of 'man verses nature' where nature sometimes wins.  The journey certainly takes its toll on the people and especially the animals.

This is a documentary, but shouldn't be confused with the modern definition of the word.  Cooper and  Schoedsack had no qualms about staging scenes or suggesting that the tribe take a more dramatic route, something that wouldn't fly in a serious documentary today.  Even so, this film captures an event that took place for centuries, but has stopped now.  It is a very interesting anthropological document none the less.

One qualm I did have with the film is that the intertitles, trying to be hip or amusing, really detracted from the feel of the film and only served to remind the viewer that they are watching a film.  It's a small critique though, and shouldn't stop anyone who is interesting from seeing this unique film.

The DVD:


Audio:

The stereo soundtrack of traditional Iranian music fit the movie well.  Unfortunately it wasn't scene specific, but it did give help create the right mood for the film and the performers were very good.  The recording was clear and there wasn't any hint of distortion or other audio defects.

Video:

The full frame video has been restored and looks good.  The image is generally clear and has a good amount of contrast, though some scenes are faded a bit.  The highlights are washed out in several places and there are some scenes that have a lot of scratching but these are the exception rather than the rule.

This film probably never looked outstanding, due to the strenuous filming conditions.   Cooper and  Schoedsack only had enough film stock to film sparingly, and they had to carry it all with them across the desert.  Not the best conditions for nitrate film.  In any case, this print looks better than it has any right to look.

Extras:

This disc has a great extra: an audio only interview with Merrian C. Cooper from 1965.  Director and film scholar Rudy Behlmer talks with Mr. Cooper for nearly an hour and forty minutes.   Cooper talks about his extremely interesting life and his films.  The interview meanders a little, but it's still very engrossing.

Final Thoughts:

This film about the migration of a large tribe across Persia is amazing.  The things that these people had to go through in order to survive in a hostile environment is just astounding.  Since there wasn't a plot necessarily, just a recording of the journey, some people may find it a little on the slow side, but I thought it was fascinating.  Recommended.
 

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