Landmark Puerto Rican Film Restored: “Romance Tropical” was Presumed Lost

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Restored print to premiere Nov. 4 as part of UCLA Film & Television Archive Exhibition. A report by Zoe Muntaner for the Santa Monica Observer.

In September 2016, Jan-Christopher Horak, director of UCLA Film & Television Archive, was searching for material germane to the Archive’s research project, Recuerdos de un cine en español: Latin American Cinema in Los Angeles, 1930-1960, and noticed a promising film title: Romance Tropical.

A single 35 mm nitrate print had screened in New York City in 1934 and then been placed in a vault belonging to the Krypton Corporation, the contents of which the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) acquired in 2008. Shortly thereafter, PHI added the material to its collection at UCLA Film & Television Archive. UCLA motion picture archivist Todd Wiener confirmed that the title was produced in Puerto Rico and was possibly the first sound feature film from the island.

Horak followed up with colleagues in Puerto Rico to determine if the title in question was the same Romance Tropical (1934) for which archivists in their country had been searching for more than 80 years. Other than a few photos, a poster and newspaper articles from its initial release, nothing was thought to have remained of the film. In February 2017, a representative of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, José Alfredo Hernández-Mayoral, travelled to Los Angeles to inspect the print and confirmed it was the long-lost film.

Puerto Rican film pioneer and Hollywood veteran Juan E. Viguié produced Romance Tropical and many famous Puerto Rican citizens worked on the movie, including screenwriter Luis Palés Matos-one of the founders of Afro-Antillano poetry, which blends words from Afro-Caribbean culture with the Spanish verse of Puerto Rico. The film also features the work of composer Rafael Muñoz, the island’s most famous big band leader.

“The serendipitous rediscovery of Romance Tropical is one of the major accomplishments of our present efforts to find and preserve classic Latin American cinema,” said Horak.

“Finally finding Romance Tropical is a wonderful motivator as we make efforts to recover after the devastating passage of Hurricane Maria on our beautiful island. As we watch the film, we have the opportunity to see the Puerto Rico of the 1930s, and to be reminded that, as before and as always, Puerto Rico will rise,” said Carlos R. Ruiz Cortés, executive director, Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.

A fundraiser reception benefitting Puerto Rico’s National Archive will be held at the tranquil courtyard AMMO Cafe following the film. Enjoy fresh, locally-sourced Puerto Rican inspired fare and drinks. DONATION of $50.00 -Each reception attendee will receive a complimentary ticket to the film screening at 7:30 p.m. For tickets visit: bit.ly/RomanceTropical

The original camera negative for Romance Tropical remains missing. Due to the production’s inexperience with new sound technology, the surviving 35 mm print had significant inconsistencies in portions of the audio track. PHI re-recorded the soundtrack and produced a new preservation negative and two new 35 mm prints. PHI will repatriate a print to the island when the Archivo de Imágenes en Movimiento has recovered from Hurricane Maria.

The newly restored Romance Tropical will premiere on Saturday, Nov. 4 as part of UCLA Film & Television Archive’s ongoing exhibition, Recuerdos de un cine en español: Latin American Cinema in Los Angeles, 1930-1960, which celebrates the Spanish-language film culture of downtown Los Angeles. For decades beginning in the 1930s, a vibrant Spanish-speaking cinema culture thrived in downtown Los Angeles where venues such as the Teatro Eléctrico, the Azteca, the Mayan and the Million Dollar Theatre were home to popular movies from the golden age cinemas of Mexico, Argentina, Cuba and other Latin American countries. The Archive’s 38-film retrospective runs through Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 at its theatrical home, the Billy Wilder Theater, and at the Downtown Independent, the former site of the Azteca.

Puerto Rican film pioneer and Hollywood veteran Juan E. Viguié produced Romance Tropical and many famous Puerto Rican citizens worked on the movie

Recuerdos de un cine en español is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty. The presenting sponsor is Bank of America.

UCLA Film &Television Archive is renowned for its pioneering efforts to rescue, preserve and showcase moving image media and is dedicated to ensuring that the collective visual memory of our time is explored and enjoyed for generations to come. A public arts unit of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, the Archive is a unique resource for media study and one of the largest repositories of moving image materials in the world. The Archive is well known for its moving image restoration efforts, and many of its projects are invited to screen at prestigious events around the globe, as well as screening locally at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater.

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