Rex Ingram


More than one locality can claim Rex Ingram as a native. He was born in Rathmines. He spent most of his teenage years in Kinnitty, in Co. Offaly. And he left for America when he was barely twenty.

Nenagh Castle/Pearse Street 1800s

Nenagh at the turn of 19th century

But it was in Nenagh, according to his unpublished memoirs, that he saw his first movie. The screening was part of a travelling circus. Though Ingram leaves no record of the films on show, it was clearly that Nenagh show which lit the spark.

What's on the other channel

The Mutoscope

Barely two decades later such films as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had made Ingram the most successful film director in the world. Films had grown sophisticated, with huge budgets and a panoply of narrative techniques from close-ups to inter-cutting. But what might the young Ingram have seen?

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The Internet Movie Database gathers a list of synopses that give a good picture of what 1898 had to offer. The subjects are short and simple. A battle re-enactment. A battleship launch. An Edison short about a telephone. Dance devotees can choose between the flying skirts of Can-Can and the flying kilts of The Highland Fling.

Image from the Silent Film Santa Claus

Image from the Silent Film: Santa Claus

Most of these films are lost now, like the vast majority of silent films. Nothing survives of The Nearsighted School Teacher, which might have appealed to young Rex’s anarchic streak, or The Dude’s Experience with a Girl on a Tandem, which would surely have worried his clergyman father.

Kevin Albert Smith

George Albert Smith

But some film does survive. Made by the British pioneer George Albert Smith, it is quite likely to have been included in the repertoire of a travelling show. Santa Claus is short and charming, and calculated to enthral any six-year-old.

Images of Street Arab

Images from Street Arab

Even more curious is the boy who breakdances his way through Edison’s Street Arab. Children love child performers. Is this limber urchin the root of Ingram’s long fascination with the Arab world?

Posted by Kevin McGee