Stephen King on Screen - New Release Review
Director: Daphné Baiwir
Starring: Frank Darabont, Mick Garris, Mike Flanagan, Taylor Hackford, Amy Irving, Tom Holland, Josh Boone and more
Written by: Daphné Baiwir
Produced by: Sebastien Cruz, Kai Destiny, Antonin Fankrache, Mem Ferda, Celine Le Guyader, Mickey Raymond, Nikolaus Roche Kresse
Cinematography by: Marc Koninckx
Original Score by: Nicholas Pike
A feature documentary that reunites filmmakers that have adapted Stephen King's books for cinema and TV made for the fans and with the fans.
Little did author Stephen King know that from the very first time audiences witnessed a blood soaked Sissy Spacek going on a telekinetic rampage in 1976, he was about to embark on a literary journey that would cement his position as being a pop culture icon thanks to the adaptation of his debut novel 'Carrie'. If it weren't for the success of the Brian De Palma movie it is arguable that King himself would not have gone on to become the prolific writer we know today, as its success led to the novel selling millions worldwide. This symbiotic relationship between King's work on the page and on the screen forms the basis of Daphné Baiwir's documentary.
It opens with a strange introduction showing Baiwir making her way to a town passing many references to King's works along the way. We even meet a few familiar faces who have appeared in adaptations of his work over the years. It feels a bit jarring and the manner in which it is acted doesn't help matters as it feels like a lesser version of the 'Castle Rock' TV show but after the opening titles, the documentary follows a more conventional format.
The majority of the documentary is formed by a series of talking heads who have all adapted King's work for the big and small screen including the likes of Mike Flanagan, Frank Darabont and Mick Garris amongst others. They delve into why King's work has remained so popular over the years by discussing his great characters and how King creates relatable worlds which are then, as Mick Garris puts it, "...ripped apart and sent to hell". Interspersed with these interviews are clips from the movies and TV shows as well as some behind the scenes footage. Whilst this is all interesting and entertaining (like the footage of King sitting on the electric chair "Old Sparky" from the set of 'The Green Mile') it gives the impression that the extra footage is just a series of bonus features that are strung together offering very little that fans of King's work on screen don't already know.
The real strength of the documentary are the extensive interviews from the various filmmakers who offer in depth insights to specific adaptations like 'The Shining', 'The Shawshank Redemption' and 'The Green Mile'. These insights lead to a number of previously unknown and amusing anecdotes. Some of the standouts include Frank Darabont discussing how a call from Bruce Willis led to the casting of Michael Clarke Duncan in 'The Green Mile' and Taylor Hackford being mistaken for being a woman in a film class due to how he directed 'Dolores Claiborne'. Another refreshing aspect to these interviews is that the filmmakers are not afraid to be critical of some of the adaptations that have made their way onto the screen making for a more intriguing and balanced watch.
Structurally the film takes a thematic approach rather than a chronological one starting with 'Carrie' before talking about common themes in King's work by tying a specific adaptation to it. They speak of addiction in relation to 'The Shining', King's ability to write great female characters in relation to 'Dolores Claiborne' and 'Gerald's Game' and politics in relation to 'The Stand' amongst others. It feels somewhat muddled and ultimately leads to a lot of notable adaptations being brushed over quickly (like 'Christine' and 'The Dead Zone') or not brought up at all (like 'Needful Things' and 'Salem's Lot'). The exclusion of 'Maximum Overdrive' stands out too as it was the only example of King directing a piece of his own work on screen and it would have been interesting to hear about his peers talking about his only foray behind the camera.
Weaved into these themes are insights to King's life as the documentary discusses his relationship with his wife Tabitha, his near fatal accident in 1999 and his friendship with George A. Romero. Whilst the attempt to include these aspects of King's life are admirable they feel like an unnecessary addition when you consider how so much of King's onscreen work is underrepresented in the film.
The documentary by design feels like it was made for fans of King and his work but this should not deter those not familiar with the author and his adaptations. 'Stephen King on Screen' acts like a good gateway into the world of Stephen King via adaptations of his work but for big fans of the acclaimed writer it doesn't really say anything you don't already know with the exception of a few behind the scenes stories. Ultimately it is clear that Daphné Baiwir adores the work of King and it shows throughout the documentary even if it is a little muddled in its structure. Other than that it is a fine celebration of a literary icon and his influence on cinema.
- Joseph McElroy
Signature Entertainment presents 'Stephen King on Screen' on Digital Platforms 26th June & Blu-ray 18th September