Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life. 1925. USA. Directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
These notes accompany The Documentary Expands, which screens on March 10, 11, and 12 in Theater 3.
Calling Merian C. Cooper (1893–1973) and Ernest B. Schoedsack (1893–1979) auteurs may seem like fudging a little bit, but I don’t think it is. Yet the doubt creeps in on two levels. First, while film is undeniably a collaborative medium, the auteur theory argues that there is a singular dominant creator. The bond between these guys, however, seems so seamless in their films as to be almost unique. The other reason for hedging is that they first made their collaborative mark in documentary film, a form that presupposes that the director cannot mold his material as freely as can the maker of narrative films. (It has become obvious in subsequent decades that even the most “pure” cinéma vérité is subject to manipulation at the hands of masters like Jean Rouch or Fred Wiseman.) And it is, of course, true that immediately after Grass, Cooper and Schoedsack began to move away from authentic actuality.