‘King On Screen’ Chattanooga Film Festival 2023 Review: A Disappointingly One-Note Look At Stephen King
On paper, Daphne Baiwir’s documentary King On Screen has an incredible and simple concept: exploring the world of Stephen King adaptations. With countless films, mini-series, and TV shows adapted from the iconic horror author’s work, such a documentary is ripe for deep exploration of King’s legacy. But frustratingly, King On Screen is instead a boring montage of white male talking heads singing King’s praises devoid of any deeper engagement with his work as anything other than perfection.
The documentary confusingly opens with a fictionalized segment where a red-headed woman (which is Baiwir, by the way) walks through a hodge-podge of Stephen King Easter eggs. Immediately Baiwir seems to be trying to prove herself to fans by showing how much she knows about the author. Without any kind of explanation or connection to the following series of interviews, this opening segment sets a strange tone for the documentary and feels unnecessary. It simply functions as fan service.
Fan service is the best way to describe King On Screen. As the documentary rather abruptly moves into the interviews, we’re greeted with the familiar faces of those who have directed a King adaptation. In theory, this is a great conceit. However, every interview subject is a white man. Every single one. Mary Lambert and Kimberly Peirce, the only two women to make a Stephen King film, don’t appear. While I understand wanting to stick with your plan of only speaking with those who have worked on a King adaptation, it ultimately seems like a massive oversight to only include a single perspective in a documentary about such an expansive topic.
As such, this leads to moments where directors like Frank Darabont make claims that King knows to really write women, people of color, and disabled people. Now, I grew up reading Stephen King and I do love his work. But I, especially as a female fan, would never deign to say that King can write women better than a woman could. And he loves the n-word a bit too much as a white man who grew up in Maine. This documentary desperately needed varying perspectives that were willing to critically engage with the issues in King’s writing while still appreciating his impact on popular culture.
On top of that, the documentary lacks a well-defined argument or thesis. It’s just a string of neverending praise for King that frankly gets boring. The interviews repeat a variation of the same compliments regarding his humanity, his characters, and how he’s able to craft scares. Those compliments are deserved, but hearing them on repeat for an hour and 45 minutes does not a movie make.
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But if you’re a fan of Stephen King and just want to hear personal anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories themed around the prolific writer, then you’ll have no issue with King On Screen. Baiwir was able to speak to over 25 directors, including Frank Darabont and Mick Garris. These two interview subjects were the most interesting as they both worked closely with King on adapting several of his works. Their insight into King’s mind and their personal anecdotes of working with him so closely provide a deeper appreciation for both King and the art of filmmaking.
Just as it begins, King On Screen is punctuated with another unnecessary fictionalized segment that further proves any lack of argument or vision for this documentary. Instead, it’s simply a surface-level love letter to Stephen King featuring an interesting yet monochromatic group of directors with an admittedly unique perspective on the author’s work. While a treat for King’s more dedicated fans, this documentary isn’t interested in looking at him through anything but rose-colored glasses.
King On Screen is a boring montage of white male talking heads singing Stephen King’s praises devoid of any deeper engagement with his work as anything other than perfection.