This past Saturday, The University of Tulsa and Tulsa American Film Festival presented “Ramona” for Circle Cinema’s monthly Second Saturday Silents event. “Ramona” is based on the book by Helen Hunt Jackson and chronicles the life of the titular young Native American woman facing love, loss, and racial prejudice.
“Ramona” was directed by Edwin Carewe, a member of the Chickasaw nation, and the second Native American film maker to feature a film in Hollywood. The film stars the immensely beautiful Dolores del Río as Ramona, named as one of the most important figures in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.
When the film was originally released in 1928 it was promoted by the international hit song, “Ramona”. The song proved to have staying power, but the film was lost for 80 years. One print remained, and was tracked down in the Czech Republic in 2010. The Library of Congress restored the film and composers David Spear and Joseph Julian Gonzalez began collaborating on a new score for the classic film. Both Spear and Gonzalez live in Los Angeles, and are notable composers. David Spear is credited with orchestrating films such as “Ghostbusters”, “Animal House”, and “Airplane!” Joseph Julian Gonzalez is credited for composing scores for “Curdled” and “Price of Glory.”
The performance at Circle Cinema was only the second time that Spear and Gonzalez presented their new score to accompany the film. The musical ensemble that accompanied the screening included singer Monique Valadez, and University of Tulsa student musicians Megan Kepley, Daryle Hudson, Billy Mayer, Alex Hunn, Margaret Mealy, and Ryan Ganaban.
David Spear and Joseph Julian Gonzalez applauded the TU ensemble, announcing that they had only been given the sheet music one day prior, to the audience’s great surprise. The work that the TU students put in was clear and the performance was followed by multiple standing ovations for the beautiful musicianship. The new score harkened back to the Spanish classical music roots, and employed various stringed instruments for a classic sound.The score captured the emotions of the dramatic characters and reflected the cultural heritage that was deeply rooted in the film.
“Ramona” tackles societal prejudices against Native Americans masterfully, setting the story of a love triangle against the backdrop of the tense social climate for Native American people in early California. “Ramona” shows the prejudices a young Native American woman might face in early California, and presented many societal disadvantages for Ramona to overcome. It’s a story of strength and culture. The film brings together classic Spanish culture with Native American culture through the various characters within the film and even within the love triangle.
The experience was incredible, and the live music added a new dimension to the beautiful and harrowing story of Ramona. Spear and Joseph worked to create an emotional score to accompany the tragic story of Ramona’s life and the TU musicians, for at least one day, helped them realize this. The event was a moving time capsule embodying music and film that delighted the audience.