Redes Film History
Ned Scott's first movie assignment called him to a distant location from his residence in New York City, a small fishing village on the Gulf Coast of Mexico called Alvarado. Henwar Rodakiewicz, his friend from the New York Camera Club and his mentor, Paul Strand were both involved in the production of the film. They wanted to document their efforts with movie production stills, and they selected Ned Scott to serve in that position during filming. Ned accepted the offer, and travelled at his own expense to Alvarado where he employed his 5 x 7 Graflex camera in film still creation from June through December, 1934. The name of the film was "Redes". It became known as the Redes film. This was the only movie Ned was to film for free during his career as a film still cameraman.
In his own personal photograph collection Ned Scott saved most of the negatives from the Redes film as well as all the personal prints he made for himself. As of this writing, 109 negatives reside with the Archive. Out of a total of 170 prints from available negatives Ned Scott made for his personal collection, 80 prints were printed on platinum paper and 90 prints on silver gelatin papers, all in December, 1934, or within four years of his return to the United States. Research has shown that Ned Scott made platinum prints as gifts for close friends only, never for market or public use.
The Archive has recorded the existence of groups of silver gelatin prints from Redes film which Ned Scott made in December 1934 on station in Mexico City as gifts for his production crew friends. These people were producer Paul Strand (88 prints), writer and director Henwar Rodakiewicz (92 prints), director Fred Zinnemann (78 prints), and film editor Gunther von Fritsch (43 prints). Paul Strand's girlfriend, Bobbi Hawk, received a group of prints as well (29 prints).
These original negatives and prints from Redes film comprise the total of Redes film original material in possession of the Ned Scott Archive or with remaindermen of the principals named above. An unknown quantity of original Redes film negatives, created by Ned Scott during filming, resides with the Chavez family in Tijuana, Mexico. How these negatives came to be possessed by this family leads to a story of political intrigue, deception and fraud. This historical account will discuss this matter in detail along with a chronological accounting of the movie production and subsequent happenings surrounding the completed movie and related film material. To nobody's surprise, this story still reverberates today in the world of photographic art, and considerable misconceptions about the film material abound in art circles. The Ned Scott Archive finds itself in the unique position to clarify these misconceptions with incontrovertible fact, both historical and artifactual. Such is the intent of this historical rendering.
Augusin Velasquez Chavez appeared on the Redes scene very early in the story. He was the nephew of Carlos Chavez who was a composer and Paul Strand's friend. At the time of Strand's arrival in Mexico in 1932, Carlos Chavez was serving in the Mexican government as Direcftor of Fine Arts under the Secretariat of Public Education headed by Narcisso Bassols. Both Bassols and Chavez were key figures in supporting Strand in 1933-34, providing him access to various art institutions for exhibitions and then financial support as well. It was under these auspicious conditions that the Redes project was conceived in 1933. Young Velasquez Chavez, being related to his well-connected uncle, became involved in the Redes project from the start, accompanying Strand as translator and guide to various states in Mexico and finally to Alvarado as an eager acolyte to pursue the art of filmmaking. As 1934 progressed, the film made its way to the end of production. But the political fortunes of both Secretary Bassols and Director Chavez changed and they were ousted, causing Paul Strand to lose his footing and ultimately causing his departure from Mexico under a cloud in January, 1935. While these men met with a reversal of fortune, not so did Velasquez Chavez who became the favored of the new regime, so much so that he was allowed to run the entire Redes operation to its conclusion, controlling the production, budget and negatives.
Thus the stage was set for the big grab. Chavez, with the mantle of state bureaucracy on his shoulders, caused the entire production team to halt their departure from the country and wait in Mexico City while certain matters were sorted out. The chief issue was the disposition of the original material for the film. According to Gunther's later letters, the negative for the film was being edited in Los Angeles, and that process was slow and deliberate. When it was finally completed, it was sent back to Mexico and Gomez Muriel continued to work with it to its final form. For Gunther, that was a fortunate outcome. But as far as Ned's original still negatives from the onset production, there was a controversy. Paul wanted these to depart with the crew for the United States. But Chavez, working behind the scenes, confiscated these for the Mexican government. It was not done immediately, however. There was a period of nearly 45 days, according to Gunther, in which these issues were negotiated. He and Fred took several trips to nearby destinations to kill some time, and one of those places was Acapulco. They used Paul's car. Ned was busy in Mexico City making prints of these negatives which were to be confiscated. Each member of the crew selected their favorites from the group of images, and this is how these prints were created. It is not known how many of these original production negatives there were at the outset because neither Paul nor Ned kept records. However, Ned was allowed to leave Mexico with all the other negatives comprising individual portraits, Alvarado town scenes and religious and architecture studies.
After moving to Los Angeles, Ned made platinum prints of his favorite images from the Mexican film effort. He mounted these and stored them in dust and humidity proof boxes. However, he never made an exact record of them. Thus, there is no clear record of how many portrait negatives Ned created. Nor is there a record of the quantity of any other negative type. This is unfortunate from the vantage point of 2013, looking back on events. This writer can only make an educated guess by compiling a numeration of the prints which Ned made for his own collection right after he became settled in LA. It is possible, however, to get close to an overall accounting of negatives which escaped Mexico, thanks to Henwar and his persevering loyalty to Ned and his work.
It was during the mid-'60's that Henwar took the initiative, spurred on by Leo Hurwitz, to group the original material from Redes in one place. Of course, Henwar was not attempting to recoup the negatives which the Mexican government had confiscated in 1934 because he was unclear about that arrangement. He was chiefly after the material which he knew existed outside Mexico. This material included Ned Scott's negatives and a copy of the film tape. Henwar contacted Mrs. Ned Scott, living in La Canada, California, for help. He pointed out that his goal was to centralize the Redes material in one place for perpetuity, and that he had chosen MOMA in New York. Mrs. Scott sent all the negatives which Ned Scott had saved from the film effort to Henwar through the mails. Henwar replied that he had reviewed them and he found that the crucial images which told the story of the movie, i.e., the ones which the Mexican government had confiscated, were not among Ned's negatives. He was disappointed. But he did mention one important thing: there were 130+negatives in all. This is the only account of the number of negatives which Ned Scott had brought back with him from Mexico in 1934. Because Henwar was hoping for better things from the group of Ned Scott negs, he supplied to MOMA his own group of images in print form which Ned Scott had made for him in 1934 in Mexico City. The letters between Mrs. Scott and Henwar do not reveal whether these prints were left with MOMA or were subsequently retrieved. There the matter stood. Henwar's group of prints has not been recovered or located since, but MOMA made dupe negatives of them which are on file with that museum.
Fast forward to summer, 1979 when Augustin Chavez approached Mrs. Scott at her residence in California for a visit. Chavez wanted to use the original negatives for an exhibit he planned for 1980 at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. This exhibit was to be a joint display of Ned Scott's images and Paul Strand's images from Redes. Mrs. Scott made the decision to loan Chavez 87 negatives for this purpose, but she failed to inform either myself or my sister, Mrs. Penny Sing, of her decision. It was two weeks later that she and I got the news. Both of us were naturally upset. We wanted to retrieve the negs right away. That was not possible, however, as Chavez was adamant that he was going to create the exhibit at the Palace, and no further progress was possible at that time. We did hire a lawyer, however, and letters were exchanged between the lawyer and Chavez which clarified restrictions on the use of the nagatives, and reaffirmed that they were to be returned at the earliest opportunity.
Chavez does produce an exhibit at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City in 1981. He did return the negatives after he was through with the exhibit. This was something which he agreed to do in writing, and which he was further urged to do by Mrs. Scott's lawyer. However, he ignored his agreement to use the borrowed negatives only for the exhibit. Instead he made a number of portfilio's with these negatives, and offered them for sale. These portfolios included 32 photographs each. A number of these were claimed to be Paul Strand platinum prints printed on paper from the Platinotype Company of London. Others within the portfolio were claimed to be Ned Scott prints made on silver gelatin paper. These claims were all fraudulent. And here begins the saga of fraud which created controversy and confusion for Strand print collectors The proof of this fraud is that those claimed to be Paul Strand prints were created from Ned Scott's own negatives wich Chavez had borrowed. But no one was on hand to dispute this fact, and these portfolios sold for high prices to unsuspecting customers. They can still be found for sale today, but at very decreased prices due to the fact that his fraud has been exposed. The creation of these portfolios was not the only misuse to which Chavez put the borrowed negatives. Chavez also auctioned single prints at various auction houses around the USA, and presumably within Mexico as well. These were sold as Paul Strand prints. Buyers of these fraudulent prints included Manual Alvarez Bravo, Mexico's best fine art photographer.
James Krippner in his 2010 book Paul Strand in Mexico, 1932-34 discussed a print sale which took place at Christie's in the USA. On page 86, he discusses this point. "...Some of Ned Scott's film stills were mislabeled as Paul Strand photographs--causing much confusion some five decades later among Strand collectors. One photograph, now known to have been taken by Scott, was auctioned for a high sum at Christie's in 1991." Chavez even signed the back of the print, thus personalizing it and providing irrefutable proof of his fraud. It is unknown if this print was one previously auctioned in the early 1980's. That's most likely the case since Chavez died in 1986.
The 2009 Restoration
As for the film itself, viewings were confined to the folk art circuit for many years. Reels were difficult to obtain. As a result, the film going public had little knowledge of REDES. Therefore, it is very fortunate that Martin Scorcese's World Cinema Foundation undertook the restration of the film in 2009. This restoration was well done, bringing this wonderful film to a world-wide audience. The film is now availale on DVD/BlueRay. The release of the DVD has already occured in Europe and is scheduled for release in North America in December, 2013. In both of these releases, the Ned Scott archive has participated by providing licenses for photographs used in DVD extras which are both educational and entertaining.
This restoration process had brought to the forefront all the facts about the inception, creation and production of the film. The World Cinema Foundation, the WCF, collaborated with Filmoteca de la UNAM to obtain an original surviving film negative and to provide the crucial facts about the originators of the film. It is unfortunate that some of these facts provided by Filmoteca were in error, and these errors persist today in official renderings of the chief participants in the production of the film. Perhaps this is inevitable considering how the film was produced.