Archive » October 26, 2006
By Lynn P. Kirst
‘THE REMUDA’ – JENSEN AND SINGER’S LATEST FILM
Remuda (re-mú-da), noun, Southwestern U.S.: A herd of horses from which ranch hands select their mounts. [American Spanish, change of horses, remuda, from Spanish, exchange, from remudar, to exchange: re-, in return (from Latin, see re-) + mudar, to change (from Latin; see mei- in Indo-European roots).]
Summerland filmmakers Susan Jensen and Paul Singer have a knack for picking romantic-sounding titles for their cinematic creations. The husband-and-wife team started with “Vaquero,” followed that with “Tapadero,” and are about to launch their latest effort, “The Remuda.”
Transplanted New Yorkers, Jensen and Singer are dedicated to documenting contemporary cowboy and ranching culture of the American West, while tracing its historical roots. They are proving that traditions established hundreds of years ago are still vibrant today, and are bringing proof of their existence to audiences around the world.
“Tapadero has been very popular with Canadians and Australians. I don’t even know how they find it,” Jensen says. “It has also been very popular in Europe. One man e-mailed me from Italy, and said he had watched it two hundred times.”
The appeal of “Tapadero” is understandable for countries that have “cowboy cultures” of their own, such as Canada and Australia. But many people don’t realize that nations around the world have long had a fascination with the American West. Museums in France and Germany, for example, have extensive holdings of Native American artifacts, many of which were collected by intrepid travelers and ethnographers long before the West was opened to widespread tourism. American-style rodeo events are held in several European countries. And who can forget the “spaghetti westerns” dished up by Italian film director Sergio Leone?
While “Tapadero” focused on the vaquero and Californio history, “The Remuda” goes farther afield, primarily into the Great Basin that spans Nevada, Oregon and Idaho. The film documents the transition of the vaquero, or Spanish-influenced cowboy, to the contemporary “buckaroo.”
While filming the numerous ranches featured in “The Remuda,” Jensen and Singer drove 30,000 miles, and virtually wore out their vehicle. During one memorable week, they suffered three flat tires in the Owyhee desert, far beyond the range of cell phone service. With a name that sounds disconcertingly like “Hawaii,” the Owyhee was indeed populated in the early days with paniolos, or Hawaiian cowboys, who crossed the Pacific Ocean to work the huge Great Basin ranches.
“It was the West at just about as wild and woolly as it gets,” Singer relates. “It’s the ultimate test of cowboying up there.”
“Tapadero” has virtually achieved cult status for those interested in Californio history and vaquero traditions. “The Remuda” is an equally packed compendium of facts that warrants repeated viewings to fully absorb. The film shows how the ranching traditions spread to the Great Basin after California ranchos became fenced into smaller parcels, morphing into a similar yet unique culture. In addition to extensive historical facets, “The Remuda” also incorporates horse training techniques with Richard Caldwell, myths about the legendary bandit Joaquin Murrieta, artists such as contemporary muralist Larry Bute, Mexican charro traditions and one-of-a-kind events such as the Big Loop Rodeo, where buckaroos lasso wild horses as they once did on the open ranges of Nevada, using an enormous 20-foot loop.
Many historic ranching operations are featured, such as nearby Rancho Tejon; Nevada’s YP Ranch, whose brand originated in California; Vail and Vickers, who formerly raised cattle on Santa Rosa Island; and Miller and Lux, established by Henry Miller, who at one time ran a million head of cattle on his land that spanned one million acres in California, Oregon and Nevada.
One memorable segment, from which the film takes its name, shows a working remuda at the 240,000-acre TS Ranch in Nevada. While the word has Spanish origins, the equivalent terminology more commonly used in the Great Basin region is cavvy, from the Spanish word cavvietta.
In the early morning, the horses are “put on the ropes,” a display as highly choreographed as any ballet. Dozens of horses trot from their pasture following a lead horse, with only a few wranglers on the ground cracking whips for noise effect. Of their own accord, the horses line up with their noses to the fence and tails to the buckaroos, who choose their string of mounts, or “cavvy,” based on what work the cow boss has ordered for the day. The horses stand quietly as the “jigger boss,” who is second in command to the cow boss, calmly ropes the chosen mounts. Once the lariat lands around its neck, the horse is backed out of the lineup as easily as a valet parker moves cars in a parking lot. After each buckaroo’s cavvy is selected, the lead remuda horse peels off and the others magically follow suit, as if they were circus performers.
In another scene, a couple of buckaroos muse about their transient way of life, and sheepishly admit they’ve been known to pick up stakes and change jobs more out of curiosity and boredom than anything else. Known among cowboys as “searching for the elephant,” the desire to ride different horses and explore new territory denotes a wanderlust that harkens back to the very underpinnings of the American psyche.
Luckily for those of us constrained by mortgage payments and more mundane job descriptions, Jensen and Singer search for the elephant with cameras firmly in hand, documenting a way of life one can only hope will last forever.
Mark Your Calendar
Friday, November 3
“The Remuda” premiere
Refreshments at 5:30 pm
Film shows at 6 pm
Santa Ynez Historical Museum 3596 Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez
Filmmakers Susan Jensen and Paul Singer will be on hand at the premier of their latest documentary. For more information call the museum at 688-7889, or visit www.tapadero.com.
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