Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen

BartonCov2.inddAuthor Ruth Barton says in her biography of silent film director Rex Ingram that he’s a name all but forgotten; if it is remembered, he’s erroneously mistaken for the African-American actor of the same name. Predominately known for his direction of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), and propelling Rudolph Valentino into superstardom, Barton paints a portrait of a true blue Irishman able who made films he wanted, although that might bore those expecting the typical Hollywood biography.

There’s no ignoring Ingram was a true blue Irishman, with Barton using the first few chapters exploring his upbringing as the son of a Protestant minister. Although necessary in cementing his capricious and desire at tackling history, the opening sections take some getting used to, especially in Barton’s somewhat academic presentation. Much of her source material comes straight from the horse’s mouth – Ingram’s unpublished memoirs. Barton parcels out these moments since Ingram tends to self-aggrandize himself, but it gives us a true feeling of collaboration between the subject and its author.

Barton seems more comfortable exploring Ingram once he enters the world of silent Hollywood filmmaking. Because the territory has been written on expansively, Barton eschews reiterating how Hollywood came to create silent cinema and the changes therein. Her eye remains firmly focused on Ingram, documenting his filmmaking including visual trickery in the likes of Mare Nostrum (1926) and The Garden of Allah (1927).

Ingram’s greatest accomplishment, though, has to be the casting of Rudolph Valentino in Four Horsemen. Valentino’s working relationship with Ingram (and Ingram’s wife, actress Alice Terry) gets several pages devoted to it. It was Valentino’s defection that ended up hurting Ingram the most, as he assumed Valentino would press for their reteaming, leaving Ingram to discover the Valentino copy, Ramon Novarro. There’s also some great discussion about Ingram’s tendency of hiring disabled actors, and while their oddities were exploited, it was groundbreaking in his thinking.

With such a finite amount of information readily available, it’s understandable that Barton’s tome feels underwhelming, but that’s made up for with a true voice shining through, both hers and Ingram’s. Barton’s unfettered access to Ingram’s memoirs fills in as many of the holes as possible, and for those who have never heard his name or watched his films, this is probably the best detailing of his life story as we’ll see and deftly explains why Ingram defines the term “visionary.”

Interested in purchasing today’s book?  If you use the handy link below a small portion will be donated to this site!  Thanks!

Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen (Screen Classics)

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen

  1. Excellent post, Kristen, and thanks ever-so for putting me on to Ruth Barton’s book; rest assured I’ll order my own copy without delay. The only other biography is Liam O’Leary’s of 1980, which I felt left much to be desired. Rex Ingram was an artist of rare and prodigious gifts; he’s worthy of study and deserves to be remembered. I posted on him at Cinedrome a few years back; you or your readers can check it out by clicking here.

Question, Comment? Leave It Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s