The Ringmaster is one of the most off-the-wall documentaries you will ever see, a film about the making of a film and an amalgamation of assorted projects that have been in the works for over three years. Directors Dave Newberg and Molly Dworsky were brought on by Zachary Capp, an aspiring filmmaker who impulsively left a successful CEO position to pursue his dreams after inheriting a large sum of money from his grandfather. Capp’s goal was to make a documentary television series called American Food Legends, and the pilot would centre on the taciturn Larry Lang, the keeper of a secret mouth-watering onion ring recipe.
However, since Capp was an unseasoned director and recent gambling rehab graduate, his production ran into numerous difficulties—mostly because his main subject was extremely guarded. The first half of the film follows Capp’s exploits making the pilot, and he narrates the complex journey with a candid vulnerability and self-deprecating humour. Capp considers the fact that he traded in one fixation for another, and this was detrimental to finishing the film.
We learn more about the history of the scrumptious onion rings: Lang’s family has been serving them since the mid-twentieth century and after Lang’s restaurant burned down, he moved the onion rings to his hometown’s bar and became a local celebrity. Yet the introspective Lang prefers to stay under the radar, to silently make his famed recipe and go home. It turns out that his sister, who once starred in Mother Goose Workout during the 1980s, is more driven by fame and the one who agreed to film with Capp.
As the documentary progresses with a lively and somewhat chaotic energy, it becomes more about the dangers of creative obsession and capitalism. The idea of catapulting Lang into worldwide fame consumes Capp, and he attempts to lure a racetrack owner, the band KISS, and the owner of the Las Vegas Raiders into partnering with Lang for the onion rings—opposing the cook’s hometown humility. Lang is too timid to tell Capp to leave him alone, resulting in uncomfortable tension. What follows is best seen for yourself.
Newberg and Dwrosky superbly achieve a daunting task: sorting through tons and tons of footage to create an audacious meta film about addiction and labour. The making of The Ringmaster ends up being a humbling experience for Capp, teaching him that many people are comfortable with modest success and do not want stardom. Not everyone has the same dream. Miraculously, The Ringmaster ends up being a unique documentary with quick-paced humor and vigor—a truly memorable cinematic experience.
The Ringmaster is available on VOD now
by Caroline Madden
Caroline is the author of Springsteen as Soundtrack. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Baby It’s You, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She is the Editor in Chief of Video Librarian and does social media for Passion River Films. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss.