Soy Ringo (I’m Ringo), Directed by José Luis Nacci
If you are a fan of professional boxing, chances are you’re already familiar with the subject of this film. If you have otherwise never heard the name Oscar ‘Ringo’ Bonavena, Soy Ringo (I’m Ringo) will ably introduce you. Ringo is an Argentine icon as well as an icon in professional boxing, as much for his eccentric personality as for his success as a boxer who rose from obscurity to the heights of the boxing world. He challenged Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in the ring. He never beat either, nor did he ever win a major world title, but his peculiar challenge to the boxing greats invited international acclaim.
The documentary presents the image of a dedicated self-made man. It also presents a controversial picture of Bonavena, rejecting the mythological proportions of his personality to uncover the person behind the myth. Ringo’s accomplishments were great inside the ring, the film argues, but his successes outside the ring were just as significant. The film maintains a critical stance whilst researching biographical information from sources close to Ringo: it challenges narratives of convenience and legend in favour of a more critical look at the boxer’s conscious, profit-driven construction of his own public identity. Soy Ringo is a documentary refreshingly unclouded by patriotism.
Interviews guide the narrative of Ringo’s life: they include conversations with boxing professionals, his trainers, and his close family, including his children, who provide differing perspectives on events, judgments of character, and the development of his public personality. Rather than choose particular narratives over others, director and writer José Luis Nacci presents each conflicting interpretation in turn. There is a story, an interesting and culturally-significant narrative, but it is unapologetically conflictive, nuanced, confusing – like Ringo’s own life.
The editing and transitions between interviews and plots are professional, and the film makes excellent use of low-budget techniques to create high-quality storytelling. Besides securing revealing interviews with the people involved in the drama of Ringo’s life, the film tells the story with artwork: delightful sketches show Ringo battling Cassius Clay in the arena and flying in an airplane across the American desert. It is easy to remember in these moments the budget constraints of independent documentary filmmaking – but the technique works well, and the repetition of sketches amongst real-life interviews and footage of actual boxing integrates the two. The sketches reveal scenes that would otherwise require the viewer’s imagination, giving tangible form to the narrative, integrating the footage, and smoothing the story’s trajectory.
There are some problems with the overall presentation which may stem from the documentary’s assumed audience. For the uninformed, the film introduces the life of an important athlete and figure in modern Argentine history, but it does so with the assumption that the viewer already knows the basic story. The roles of the interviewees are not consistently noted. Their names (especially when the surname is ‘Bonavena’) combined with their testimonies are usually enough to figure out who they are and why their perspectives are important – but the viewer has to draw the connexions themself (or else already know the names of Ringo’s children and his trainers). The relationships between people should be articulated in documentary fashion, but they’re not.
There are also problems with sound editing: dialogue is noticeably out of sync with the photography in some of the later interviews, a problem that could be fixed through editing and which negatively affects the film’s content. The background music (by Marcelo Loustau) is contrived and simplistic. It consists of heavy beats whose purpose must be to energise the atmosphere of the documentary; instead, the music detracts from the film’s content, and its artificiality cheapens the drama.
The presentation of the story itself is problematic as well. The organisation of the documentary feels formulaic, and the transitions between themes are sometimes awkward. The film emphasises insignificant details to tell the whole story, and at times the details overshadow the narrative. The film indulges in conspiracy theories about the circumstances of Ringo’s murder, exploring in detail his supposed nefarious connexions with organised crime in Reno, Nevada and the mystery of a certain ‘Mustang Ranch’. The discussion is an important part of the legend of Ringo, but one can hardly call these scenes worthy of a serious documentary. The people interviewed have no concrete information to provide, and though the film presents the written testimony of Joe Conforte – the owner of the Mustang Ranch and a character whom the film alleges to have been involved in Ringo’s death – the film comes to no meaningful conclusions. It’s nearly all hearsay.
Despite these flaws, this feature documentary presents its subject coherently and entertainingly – no small feat for the resources of a small-scale project. The work is significant; it presents primary source material relevant to Ringo’s story, it interviews the right people, it asks important questions. The documentation of Ringo’s life is also an exercise in documenting the stories of the people close to him; the camera captures present emotions of a past drama, and the film’s artwork and historical footage capture visions of his complicated story. The film will introduce viewers to Ringo whilst challenging the assumptions of those who have already made up their minds about his life and death. ■
Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes
Genre: Documentary, Feature, Biography, Sport
Find out more
Find out more about this film and the work of independent Argentine filmmaker José Luis Nacci on the pages for Soy Ringo and José Luis Nacci in the Internet Movie Database and from the film’s page on Facebook. José Luis Nacci is a veterinarian and independent filmmaker who has worked on various films, including La maldita ilusión, Una mujer sucede, and Clandestine Childhood.
A trailer for Soy Ringo can be viewed below:
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: A scene from ‘Soy Ringo’ (‘I’m Ringo’). José Luis Nacci.