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Tribute to the Great Rob Ring

The Great Rob Ring

During the 1890’s Rob Ring was widely recognised as Canada’s premier Vaudeville star. Renowned for his dangerous and physical slapstick stage act, Rob Ring was the Vaudeville superstar par excellence. Unfortunately, ‘The Great Rob Ring’ failed to make the transition from Vaudeville to early motion pictures. Whilst many Vaudeville performers found that their stage acts simply didn’t hold up on the big screen, Rob Ring’s stage act would have undoubtedly proved perfect for an audience experiencing the thrill of cinema for the first time.

Tragically though, Rob Ring died on the set of the filming of his first motion picture. Trying to recreate his signature stage act – standing on top of a piece of wood whilst sawing it in half from a great height – he landed awkwardly and broke his neck. Whilst the film of this no longer exists, a few grainy stills remain in circulation amongst film scholars fueling the apocryphal legend that is ‘The Great Rob Ring’.

At the time it was suggested that Rob had the potential to be the cinema’s first great ‘Star’ (he was also affectionately known in vaudeville as ‘the dancer’ for his extravagant dance pieces that lasted for hours). Because of this and in tribute to what could have been, chris+keir re-created Rob Ring’s signature stage act within the theoretical framework of Tom Gunning’s notion of ‘The Cinema of Attractions’. Gunning’s influential essay ‘The Cinema of Attractions’ seeks to conceptualise early cinema as radically different from post-Griffith narrative hegemony. Gunning tries to undo previous primitive assumptions regarding early cinema history, arguing that early cinema shouldn’t be examined under the rubric of narrative. Early cinema is about the ‘attraction’ of cinema, where spectacle reigns supreme: it invites spectators to be amazed. Narrative is secondary to the amazing power of the cinematic, of films ability to show something spectacular’.

This re-creation of Rob Ring’s signature stage act is simply a tribute and epitaph to an extraordinary man who died so tragically young.