Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (Merrian C. Cooper, Ernest Shoedsack) ***

Merian C. Cooper, Ernest Shoedsack

Cast: Kru, Chantui, Nah

Background: Inspired by the 1920 film Nanook of the North, which is considered the first documentary, directors Shoedsack and Cooper collaborated on the 1925 documentary Grass. This film followed the long journey of a Persian tribe through the mountains. Grass was very successful, leading the filmmakers to rejoin two years later for Chang.

Story: Chang follows the story of a farmer in Siam and the hardships he faces in trying to protect his family, his livestock, and his home from the many dangers lurking in the jungle.

Thoughts: Definitely some interesting stuff going on here. Much of it is certainly faked, but Shoedsack and Cooper do a good job at making everything look authentic. There's an expertly handled extended sequence where Kru sets a trap for a tiger. There's also what I assume must be the first talking animal. We get several title cards throughout the film informing us what Bimbo the pet monkey is saying. It's an interesting and sometimes amusing technique, but perhaps calls more attention to the dramatized nature of the events than Shoedsack and Cooper had intended. Can't really argue with the artistry of the final sequence, which is a bravura depiction of an elephant stampede.

Postscript: Chang was successful, making Shoedsack and Cooper major players. They would go on to direct one of the most well known films of all-time, 1933's King Kong. This would be Cooper's last film, but Shoedsack continued directing through the 40's, including The Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young.

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