Documentary filmmakers have a completely different cinematic experience than those making movies around fictional narratives. Whilst the latter can remain independent of their story and rest peacefully in the fabrication, the former must often work directly with their subject, shaping a narrative that is at once compelling to an audience and respectful of the topic. When the topic involves a living person, this struggle can be even more acute and this is blatantly obvious in documentary The Ringmaster.
Telling the legendary food story of Larry Lang and his famous onion rings, producer Zachary Capp attempts to make the Lang family famous by making a documentary about him. However, the endeavour becomes a coalescing piece of fourth-wall-breaking #filmmaking whereby the crew are under just as much scrutiny as the central subject. Capp's nature and history as a gambling addict comes into play, as does his relentless pursuit of creating the film regardless of the financial cost to himself or the personal cost to the Lang family.
At times, The Ringmaster feels like a #mockumentary, with bizarre behaviour from those on screen being partnered with quick, sharp edits between a smorgasbord of quirky characters. Everyone and anyone who has a tale to tell about Larry or Zachary gets some screen time and the result feels like The Office meets Man Versus Food. Where the documentary was able to transcend the comedic confines was within the emotional narrative which emerged between Zachary the filmmaker and Larry the subject. The subconscious manipulation and desperation of Zachary, who by all means seems to genuinely want to help Larry, is at times heartbreakingly compelling.
From a structural perspective, the movie is scrappy and messy, something which is clearly explained during the duration of the piece. The crew eagerly shot hundreds of hours of footage and at times seemed to be absent of any lucid direction in terms of what story they were meant to be telling. Numerous filmmaking talent were brought in at different times to help coordinate the effort which added to the chaos. This chaos was, eventually, essential to the power of the final third which was remarkably poignant and moving - I will not spoil though.
Frenetic, enthusiastic, and charming, The Ringmaster is actually a documentary made from simple ingredients assembled strangely appealingly. Unlike like the famous onion rings of Larry Lang, this movie is an acquired taste but both are (by all reports of the onion rings) memorable crowd pleasers.
Watch the indie film trailer for The Ringmaster below.