N.p. N.p., 1922-1927. Archive 163 vintage photographs by Ernest B. Schoedsack detailing expeditions taken by him and filmmaking partner Merian C. Cooper between 1922 and 1927, while the pair were also filming their groundbreaking documentary films Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925) and Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927). With handwritten captions identifying most of the photographs. Also included are two drafts of an article by Cooper about their travels, and a typed letter signed to Cooper from Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, as well as other ephemera.
Schoedsack and Cooper are best known as the co-directors of King Kong, an idea Cooper based on their real life travels, with the pair also serving as the basis for the characters of John Driscoll and Carl Denham. Prior to their work in Hollywood, the two helped pioneer the field of ethnographic documentary film, with only Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North predating Grass, something that they were not aware of as they were on location filming at the time of Nanook’s release. Like Flaherty, Schoedsack and Cooper used a mix of candid filming and reenactments of traditional ways of life for the people they filmed. Chang was nominated for Best Unique and Artistic Picture at the first Academy Awards, the only year that award was presented, and 15 years before the creation of the Best Documentary category, while Grass was selected for the National Film Registry in 1997.
The photographs are tipped onto the pages of five albums, each with a paper spine label and number. The first volume contains photographs of Siam (Thailand), where they filmed Chang, with the bulk of them either of the iconic shot of a tiger leaping directly at Schoedsack’s camera, or the equally iconic elephant stampede from the film. A clipping of a New York Times article about the making of the film is also included.
The second volume contains portraits of Schoedsack, Cooper, and Cooper’s family, two approximately five inch strips of unidentified 35mm film, and two typescript drafts of an article by Cooper about the Siam expedition, published in the February 1928 edition of National Geographic as “The Warfare of the Jungle Folk: Campaigning Against Tigers, Elephants, and Other Wild Animals in Northern Siam,” the first with numerous holograph corrections and notations by Cooper.
The third volume contains photographs taken on the Solomon Islands and in Egypt. The Egypt photographs focus on the royal court, and include images of Haile Selassie. These are accompanied by a one page typed letter signed from Selassie to Cooper, the text of which is in French. In Polynesia, Schoedsack and Cooper served as cinematographers on Edward A. Salisbury’s documentary features Gow the Head Hunter (1928) and Gow the Killer (1931), and the photographs here, mostly of native islanders, are likely from the first of those journeys. The fourth and fifth volumes contain photographs of the Middle East.
The fourth features numerous photographs of French Foreign Legionnaires, in addition to locals, and are taken in Saudi Arabia, primarily in and around the city of Jeddah. The fifth is located mostly in Turkey, and, in addition to images of tribespeople, includes shots of Sufi mystics, an all-girls school, and the tomb of the poet Jalaluddin Rumi. Turkey served as the origin point for Schoedsack and Cooper’s film Grass, which traced the seasonal migration of the Bakhtiari people from Turkey into Iran in search of grazing land for their herds, and similar images of a long overland journey are featured here, although the people are identified in the captions as “Beduin” (sic).
Altogether a comprehensive and detailed look at the travels behind two early landmark documentaries by a pair of filmmakers who would use these experiences as inspiration for one of the greatest adventure films in the history of cinema.
Photographs variously sized with most being either 4.75 x 6.5 or 8 x 10 inches (12 x 17 or 20 x 25 cm). Generally Very Good plus or better. Albums about Very Good with some pages and captions loose.
For more details, please inquire.