Redes Film Letters
Henwar Rodakiewicz, Ned Scott's close friend from the Camera Club of New York, was called to assist Paul Strand on the Redes project in 1933. Henwar had just returned from a failed expedition into the Amazon interior with the La Varre brothers and their wives. The expedition was called the La Varre Brazilian-Guyana Expedition of 1933. The following letters which Henwar sent to Ned Scott provide some first hand accounts of the travel arrangements to Alvarado, the town itself and its inhabitants, the progress of the film production, and the significance of the work they were doing. Henwar reveals in the third letter posted here that he had completed the shooting script for the film before his December, 1933 departure for the Pueblo Country to honor a prior commitment to another producer. He had convinced his Hollywood friend, Fred Zinnemann, to take his place so that Paul Strand would not be left alone on the production. The fourth letter discusses Ned Scott's agreement to serve as still photographer for the project. It is important to reference that on hand at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona are Henwar's early 1934 letters to Paul Strand in which he discusses the need for a still photographer on the project, his suggestion that Ned Scott be selected, and then Paul Strand's agreement. The archivist has personally read these letters and can attest to these facts.
Henwar Rodakiewicz, October 21, 1933
Letter from El Paso dated October 21, 1933, Henwar Rodakiewicz to Ned ScottTranscript
Henwar Rodakiewicz, November 8, 1933
Letter from Mexico City, dated November 8, 1933, Henwar Rodakiewicz to Ned Scott
Abraham Gonzales 66 Alvarado, Ver.
Mexico D.F. Mexico
We are on location in a small fishing village near Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico. Many problems of many kinds. The story is being snapped up now--and things are gradually getting into shape. But I find the place rather depressing on the whole--terribly filthy and a kind of dirty shabbiness. But it has certain qualities--certain possibilities. The facila qualities are good--but there is an appalling amount of toothlessness--and a lack of what I should call beauty--inner beauty. The town itself has color--and it picturesque in some aspects--but it requires a steady use of pretty heavy filter over one's eyes to cut through the general layer of dirt. I hate dirt. The story is about fishermen--and their oppression and life. Rather dreary. But i can be something. Things were in pretty bad shape when I arrived--but I think they are just a little better now. Paul (Strand) terribly depressed--and the scenario a very ragged, incoherent and rather whining thing. I didn't like the flavor or the feeling of it at all. But through various means--it is gradually taking a more presentable and much more vital shape. A picture has to say something and it has to move--before anything at all happens--perhaps it is all the outcome of this strange country where everything--if it acts at all--does so over a delay circuit. Jesus! If you ever thought I had lead in my fanny--you ought to come down here and see me as the cyclone! Perhaps I'm just a little sour today--it is very gray and dreary, and the water is particularly muddy. I shouldn't really write you at all--because there are some nice things to tell you about. I'll leave them for some other day. My trip down here--as I wrote you from El Paso--was rudely interrupted. But the journey from the border to Mexico City was a fascinating subtly changing panorama--from bleak desert to friendly, green mountains, flower decked. A few very hectic days in that strange place--like no other in the world--spent mostly in getting tings under weigh and the many preparations necessary. Then down here--a 7,000 foot drop past 3 17.000 foot snow capped mountains--and this situation needing solving. Life does move--and its ever changing problems keeps one alive in the solving.
I think I wrote you about Ellen--. I had another letter from her several weeks ago in which she didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. I wish her all kinds of luck, but I can't help having grave doubts. Swell girl--I'm very fond of her--
I had a letter from Delia, asking much but giving nothing. Funny kid.
Well, give me a break sometime--and write Paul, too.
Scan of original letter
Henwar Rodakiewicz, December 17, 1933
Letter from Mexico City dated December 17, 1933, Henwar Rodakiewicz to Ned Scott
Abraham Gonzales 66 Mexico, D.F.
You are an old so and so for not giving me a tumble and dropping me a line--and it does not make any difference what kind of such-and-such I am. It won't be long now--and I will be off and away--early in January--to New Mexico for the next job under consideration. I shan't have washed up here by a long shot--only finished the shooting script, without being present at any of the actual production shooting. Bu because of my agreement with the Indian thing--I must go when I am called--and I am being called. My address there, by the way, will be 1571 Santa Fr', N.M. I confess I am getting just a little tired of ever seeing it on the screen. The next thing I hope will go through to the finish. I had a letter from G.P. Putnam the other day (The Arctic venture seems to be getting fairly hot!) in which he says he has seen all the British Guiana stuff--and that it is very beautiful. We didn't get very far, but it's nice to know that what we did get was OK. I wrote Alice LaVarre the other day--and when I came to address it--it became rather ironical: c/o LaVarre Brazilian etc Expedition. I wonder where that letter will eventually land.
I haven't had much opportunity for buzzing around--since I have had my nose to the grindstone pretty steadily. You see, I have made up my mind I simply have to finish the shooting script before I go. I must leave something behind alive and compete for Paul (Strand) to go ahead on. Fortunately I have been able to get a very good and very able friend of mine from Hollywood to come down and take my place (Fred Zinnemann). I am much relieved at this--for I felt I was leaving Paul high and dry--since he came to possibly put on a one man show--and since there is no one down here who has any conception of cinema technique and its unlimited possibilities.Scan of original Letter
Henwar Rodakiewicz, April 6, 1933
Letter from Santa Fe, dated April 6, 1934, Henwar Rodakiewicz to Ned Scott
Santa Fe, April 6, 1934
Your second letter came--and a telegram--and then this other telegram to which I replied in appropriate fashion--and he answer speaks for itself--with great glee I managed to transmit that grand old Mexican word--and that speaks for itself.It is swell here that things worked out as they did--I don't think there will be an aftermath--unless from Harriet. I am a little doubtful of her--and I am glad you are seeing with a clear eye--I have only your skeleton of events--but the gaps are only details--easily supplied. The income and capital are a little puzzling--the amounts--but it is good news to hear of the legality as far as your father is concerned--But no matter how it comes out--the most important thing for you just now--as it must always be--is work--hard work--not the drifting about we had together here--the learning of each other--and others--that is very important--but should not come first--or the end--it should stand side by side--as it does naturally. Knowing Peggy was beautiful--and it beautiful--and will always be so--and that stands apart--.
And so I am glad you want to go to Mexico. Somehow I think we both need this--we need it badly--and perhaps it will come about--I have no word as yet--but I am not discouraged. Cornelia tells me she has heard that the stage director has left--temperamental difficulties--so that must leave a gap--we shall know soon--it's a grand crew down there--but it will mean real responsibilities and grueling work--and something fine to work for--which is life-giving--.
There is nothing you can do about Leonie--thanks. I feel she will come though eventually. Perhaps some of this is due indirectly to Seymour. She is considering a suit--the fool. What a wretched life he must lead--with his suspicions and petty rummaging--his spite--.
You have had a tough time--tougher perhaps than I have--and things have happened quickly to you--and I love Peggy for helping you--I was alone, and it was a bitter struggle--but that is what I needed--don't leave any loose ends--either tie them firmly--or cut them with a knife--and don't let your vision cloud--be sharp--and clear--and always understanding--.
Fred Zinnemann, 1995
Fred Zinnemann and Ned Scott were fast friends for many years while their respective careers developed in the Hollywood film industry. When contacted by the archivist in 1995, Fred Z made himself available most generously for discussion of Ned Scott, his career and his excellence as a professional still photographer. This letter discusses the main principals of the Redes/Wave production crew, giving enormous credit to Henwar Rodakiewicz while at the same time casting Paul Strand's role as a producer in a uncharacteristically poor light. Fred Z was never given proper credit for his contribution as director, and he always faulted Paul Strand for that outcome.
Letter dated March 18, 1996 from Fred Zinnemann in London to Norman Scott in Louisville, Kentucky.
In reply to your letter of March 9, I regret to say that this may be one of my last, if not the last letter I will be able to write to you, as I am deteriorating rather quickly now.
I will try to reply to each one of your points--first of all abut Henwar whom I met, together with Floyd and Aliph Crosby in New York in 1932 via Robert Flaherty's brother, David. Without a doubt Henwar was a great man, enormously generous and with a great sense of humor. He had studied (anthropology?) at Harvard, owned a Rolls Royce touring car and some beautiful Navajo silver. I spent a snowy winter's weekend with him at his cabin in Buzzard's Bay on Cape Cod and we became close friends after that. In fact he was one of the two closest friends I ever had.
At that time he was divorced from his first wife, an heiress named Garland, and he was very fond of sailing a yacht (not his) and he was also very keen about the Gloucester fishermen (as in "Captains Courageous").
Henwar had known Ned much longer than I and was of course much closer to him than I. Shortly after our return from Mexico he married for the second time to Peggy who had divorced from Curtis Bok, by whom she had three children one of whom Derek, became president of Harvard University for over ten years. Eventually Henwar divorced Peggy and went back to New York. We continued to still write to each other but gradually could not help losing day-to-day contact.
It is quite possible that there would never have been a movie if it were not for Henwar. First off I have to thank him for choosing me as his replacement and starting my career as a film director. He was absent for the first five months of shooting, but became enormously helpful upon his return to Alvarado in July of 1934 I believe, when he brought with him Ned, and my friend Gunther von Fritsch who was the editor of the film. Henwar was instrumental in maintaining a pleasant and positive atmosphere which was becoming a bit sour due to the irritating behavior of Paul Strand.
...As to the correspondence about the lost negatives--I know noting about it. I have never heard of it. All I know is that Paul Strand and his friend Leo Hurwitz behaved dishonorably when it came to the question of screen credits and attribution as to who did what in the making of the film.
Scans of Original Letter
Gunther von Fritsch, August 18,1976
Gunther von Fritsch served as editor of the film. Though he was only on hand in Alvarado for roughly two eeks, his observations of the town, the film's progress and method, and the actors and crew are very helpful for those who want to know what happened when this film was produced.
Letter dated August 18, 1976, Gunther von Fritsch to William Alexander
Dear Mr. Alexander,
The print of the "Wave" has arrived and so did your letter of August 11. I foind a review: New York Times Apr. 27, 1937 (that's how long it took for the film to get to the U.S. and an English title version to be made!) by Frank Nugent. It was uncomplimentary and set the mood in which I approached viewing the film again. To my surprise it was much better than I expected. I would say it was and still would be--good for the purpose for which it was made--for simple people in a backward country--. But of course, by now, such an audience does not exist--since the advent of the transistor radio and widespread use of television, people like the Alvarado fishermen are constantly influenced by "messages" of one kind or another which are beamed at them. My wife and a friend who viewed he film together thought it had dignity, credibility and was direct and clear. The people in it was handsome and appealing and the photography was beautiful.
In order to facilitate answering your question without without having to first quote each one I have broken the letter (of which I expect you have a copy) into paragraphs and have numbered them from 1 to 16. Five the them on the first page, the rest on page two. Wherever I quote from one of my letters this will be done in "CAPITALS".
#3: We got together on this project in this manner: Strand I understand was acquainted with Carlos Chavez. Strand knew Henwar Rodakiewicz (I presume through Steiglitz the photographer and possibly through Flaherty). Henwar in turn was friendly with Zinnemann who in turn had gone to school with me in Vienna and later in Paris where we learned our business. Also on the crew was still photographer Ned Scott whom Rodakiewicz had known for a long time. The person credited on the film as production manager was Augusin Cahvez often referred to in my letters as Augustin was a nephew of Carlos Chavez. Sylvestre Revueltas was a well known Mexican composer. I do not know how Raphael Hinohosa who played the part of the politician and was a member of our crew where he handled the paperwork and was kiddingly referred to as "el jefe de los papelitos" and Emilio Gomez Muriel who co-directed with Zinnemann got on the crew, nor do I know anything about how the cast was recruited, as this was done before my arrival in Alvarado.
First impressions of Alvarado: Oct 16/34 I'VE BEEN HERE SINCE LAST TUESDAY AND AM ENCHANTED WITH THE PLACE. JUST THINK, IT'S SO ISOLATED YOU CAN ONLY GET TO IT BY NARROW-GAUGE RAILROAD (ONE COACH), NO ROADS, NOTHING. CONSEQUENTLY THERE ARE NO AUTOMOBILES, NOT EVEN BICYCLES, ETC. THERE'S BEEN A TERRIFIC FIESTA GOING ON EVER SINCE I'VE BEEN HERE, WITH A PROFUSION OF FIRECRACKERS, DANCING MERRYMAKING. EVERY NIGHT WE GO TO THE VILLAGE PLAZA AND TO THE DANCE. HAVE ALREADY PICKED UP A LITTLE SPANISH AND BEGIN TO MAKE MYSELF UNDERSTOOD WITH THE PEOPLE WHO ARE ALL CHARMING AND NATURAL. LIKE THEM BETTER THAN IN MEXICO CITY.
"LANDED RIGHT AT THE WORK, OF WHICH THERE IS A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT. IT IS VERY SLOW THOUGH ON ACCOUNT OF THE LACK OF ORGANIZATION AND THE TERRIFIC HEAT. ONE IS CONSTANTLY BATHED IN PERSPIRATION AND THE AIR IS SO HUMID THAT WHEN YOU HANG UP YOUR WET SHIRT IN THE EVENING IT IS STILL DAMP IN THE MORNING."
We lived in a big, palace-like house, moldering with age and with humidity right on the banks of the Papaloapan River with a great view of the estuary as it spilled into the Atlantic, the location where most of the film was shot. In fact the house, distinguished by the colonnades in front is visible in many of the picture's scenes which were shot from boats.
'WE SLEEP ON ROUGH COTS, A PIECE OF CANVAS SPREAD BETWEEN TWO RODS, AND WITH A MOSQUITO NET OVER THE WHOLE CONTRAPTION. THE BED IS VERY HARD WHICH I FOUND GOOD ON ACCOUNT OF THE HEAT, AND WE DIDN'T WEAR ANYTHING, NOT EVEN A SHEET. AT FIRST IT FELT LIKE CAMPING IN THE VILLAGE PLAZA--ALL THE DOORS ARE OPEN AND PEOPLE WALK IN AND OUT ALL THE TIME, NO ONE HAS A ROOM TO HIMSELF, NO PRIVACY AT ALL. SINCE WE ARE ALL MEN AND GET ON FAIRLY WELL WITH EACH OTHER IT DOES NOT BOTHER ME. THE CONVERSATION IS RATHER VIRILE. WHEN IT'S NOT THE WORK WE ARE TALKING ABOUT IT'S JOKES OF THE TYPE OCCUPANTS HEAR IN LOCKED ROOMS. I'M LEARNING COLORFUL SPANISH. THE BOYS ARE ALL VERY NICE, BESIDES FRED AND MYSELF AND THREE OTHER AMERICANS THERE ARE FOUR MEXICANS, ONE OF THEM SYLVESTRE REVUELTAS, CONDUCTOR OF THE MEXICAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA. A BIG JOVIAL AND CHUBBY GUY AND A HELLUFA GOOD FELLA. AUGUSTIN ACCOMPANIED SYLVESTRE AND ME AS FAR AS VERA CRUZ (as we came down from Mexico city by train) WHERE WE HAD TO SPEND THE DAY WAITING FOR THE TRAIN TO ALVARADO"....
We had a couple of Mexican girls running the household and doing the cooking and when I sat down to my first meal at the community table and told the girls I'd eat anything they were serving up, Ned Scott said: "What kind of flowers do you want for your funeral?" He then proceeded to order is usual menu: boiled eggs and hot chocolate. As a matter of fact, most of us sooner or later most of us came down with intestinal complications, but it never fazed us.
"FRED IS MUCH BEtTER (than when he came up to meet me in Mexico City a week or so before). THE DOCTOR HAS GIVEN HIM A MEDICINE AND HE IS PAYING MORE ATTENTION TO HIS DIET. I DID NOT FIND THE FOOD AS BAD AS I EXPECTED. OF COURSE, WE DON'T GET ANY VEGETABLES AT ALL, BUT THERE ARE ENOUGH ORANGES, PINEAPPLES, BANANAS AND MELONS TO MAKE UP FOR THAT." Note: Henwar R. knew how to make a mean planter's punch, that helped a bit too. The rum was very good and inexpensive and we were our mid-twenties and did not worry about calories--no one spoke of calories 42 years ago.
#4 I don't remember whether we had a regular script which could have guided me in doing the editing, but Zinnemann spent time with me going through the accumulated material as the crew had been shooting for a couple of months. The story was quite simple, the purpose clear, the length of the film, since it was to be of feature length, had to be in the neighborhood of one hour. It was simply a matter of how to get the best effect out of the available material. It was really not a very difficult film to edit, other than many technical difficulties: no proper equipment like cutting tables with light boxes, bins to organize the trims, etc, etc, which had to be improvised. Electricity when available was of fluctuating voltage, making the moviola and projector run at erratic speed which in turn created difficulties in timing. It is true that the film was paced rather slowly, I was aware of that at the time, and intended to trim it an speed it up later as I expected a great deal more material. But only part of it was ever shot as the continuation, and completion of the film got into jeopardy because of the changing regime. The film HAD to be near an hour in length (it actually now is 55 minutes), so it was not possible to speed up the action very much. In the end, considering the kind of audience it was made for, many of whom had never seen a motion picture before and were not trained to understand the 'language" of cinema, the tempo was just about right.
We were able to observe first hand the reaction to and the ability of these people to understand motion pictures when we had some of our "actor" fishermen attend the screening of the rushes as they came back to us from the laboratory in Hollywood. They would recognize a face in a scene and proceed to tell you an anecdote about this individual and kept right on this subject although new shots and different scenes appeared on the screen to which they failed to react as they were still too busy with the previous one. For some mysterious reason which we were never able to fathom, when a cow or a donkey or some other farm animal appeared on the screen they all broke into laughter.
#4-5: You mention many closeups having but a single movement of the head after it is framed in a motionless position. Yes, it almost HAD to be this way considering the people who were used as actors. With the exception of Silvio Hernandes and Raphael Hinohosa, they were quite simple, unsophisticated people who did not master the transition of one facial expression to another, much less to a third. The had to be set into a frame looking into a certain direction (for composition and to match a previous scene)--wearing an expression of fear, anger, or whatever.
Scans of Original Letter