Last week, Hulu released a brief (23ish minutes) documentary called The Search For Castle Rock. I decided to write a little summary of it as part of Part 16 of my Guided Tour Of The Kingdom series of posts (which you'll see at some in the future). I ended up writing a little bit more about it than I'd planned, and thought that it might not be a bad idea to go ahead and just toss it up here, if only so as to provoke some Castle Rock conversation.
Confession: while I will absolutely be watching that series on Hulu when it starts later this week, I have no plans whatsoever of writing about it here. Also, I'm not as sold on the idea as many King fans seem to be. I'll get into some of my reasons for that below.
Though I'll not be writing anything about the show on a weekly basis, I'd be more than happy to discuss it in the comments section for this post; so there's another reason for the post's existence, potentially.
This twenty-three-minute documentary short is essentially just a promotional piece for Castle Rock, the Hulu original series from producer J.J. Abrams. I wouldn't normally cover that sort of thing here, but this is an interesting and very professionally-produced documentary, plus, hey, I got no real reason not to.
"Haunted places have long been a staple in Stephen King's writing," says a narrator at the beginning. "That's because the locations that inspired his writing have dark histories themselves."
Right here, you get a sense of what this documentary -- and perhaps the broader scope of Castle Rock itself -- may be trying to accomplish: this is myth-building, in which Stephen King is being turned from a man into a myth. What we are glimpsing is a bit of what seems likely to happen once King has reached the clearing at the end of the path and is no longer among the living: the shadow's ability to persist once the body itself has vanished.
I suppose this was always inevitable. And it's probably preferable, right? I mean, it's happened before. Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, H.P. Lovecraft, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickens, so forth and so on; all exist in our minds at least as much on a mythical realm as on a literal one. This happens with rock stars, too, and probably with anyone famous whose fame has any reason to outlive their bodies.
And yet, I have to confess to feeling a little grumpy about it. I mean, can't this wait until King is dead? Dude is still building his own myth; two books a year, most years. There's no reason on Earth he can't live and write and publish well into his nineties, so there may be entire chapters of that life yet to be written; maybe the myth-making can slow its roll.
It'd be equally true that I should slow my own roll. After all, King himself has been helping to build his eventual mythical self for literally decades now. He may well have approved of this documentary on those grounds, or even initiated it himself in some way. I don't mind any of that; why would I? I think I only mind the reminder that one of these days -- and likely within my own lifetime -- that baton will be passed from the real man to the mythical man. And I'd prefer that be no time soon.
"Imagine a place where horror lives," the narrator (Dave Holmes) says a bit later; "where people live under a dark and mysterious cloud. A sleepy small town; an all-American Main Street; in King's world, these become the places that haunt you."
Note that Holmes says "in King's world," not "in King's work." Here, he is making a push toward establishing the Kingian myth not as a body of fiction, but as a worldview. I'm not sure I like this. It feeds into concerns I have about Castle Rock itself, and the possibility that "Stephen King" is going to be turned into a brand after his death wherein we'll be deluged by an endless series of books/movies/series that are "inspired" by his work and seek primarily to cash in on his supposed aesthetic. This is an idea that makes me very, very apprehensive; if it happens, it will likely devalue his individual worth quite a bit, and will likely be an abuse of his legacy. I'd like to think his estate will be more guarded than that, but I'm not sure King himself is more guarded than that; so what ability might his estate have to resist it?
Let's not hold all of that (hypothetical) misery against this particular documentary, however; it's too enjoyable for that. Part of what makes it fun is beautiful photography of Maine landmarks and places that obviously influenced King's work. Let's have a look at some of those:
Throughout, there are interviews with King-community noteworthies such as Gerald Winters, filmmakers such as J.J. Abrams, and local historians who talk about things like Native American curses and whether the real Carrie lived on a certain road or not. One of the historians spends several minutes focusing on a particular incident in which a Native American infant was drowned by some do-gooding hicks. This is not (so far as I am aware) something that has any relevance to King's work, so I'm strongly tempted to assume that it must play into whatever the story of the first season of Castle Rock ends up being. I just don't see much reason for it to be in there otherwise (apart from being interesting in its own right, of course).
Stu Tinker, who runs SK Tours of Maine, shows up to provide a genial presence and some fun anecdotes; I'd like to go up there and take his tour one of these days.
There's also a decent amount of footage from Castle Rock itself, all of which, I have to confess, looks pretty great.
Finally, let's talk about Easter Eggs. I fucking hate them; I like occasional specific examples, but on the whole, I think they are a conceptual scourge on adaptations of King's work. And at this point, if you're a King "fan" seeking to prove your mettle by referencing other King works, surely you deserve to have to wear a dunce cap if you do this:
And yet, that's not the only time you see "237" in this documentary. Stu Tinker's car key is on a Room 237 Overlook key tag! Now, Stu Tinker, of all people, knows that King's The Shining involves Room 217, and that it's Kubrick's The Shining that uses 237; he also knows that King has a major beef against Kubrick's movie. So, presumably, do the people who made this documentary short.
What gives? Why would you not use this opportunity to try to reclaim Room 217's rightful place in Kingian lore? You're in MYTHBUILDING mode here, for fuck's sake! You are MAKING THE MYTH RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND! In using "237," you're admitting defeat: you're admitting that Kubrick's The Shining is more important than King's The Shining, and always will be; and though I am a huge fan of that movie, I find this to be a very curious decision. Not in the good way, either.
Even worse, the short ends with three brief teasers that play alongside the end credits. Whether these are actually from the show or might instead be standalone promo pieces, I don't know. What I do know is that the third one is a riff on Cujo that was seemingly assembled by someone who'd neither read the novel nor seen the movie:
|The Cambers never thought Cujo was lost. Doesn't happen.|
|This appears to be a Pinto, which means we're meant to think this is Donna Trenton's car. And yet, she's clearly in a residential area of some sort; she's certainly not in the isolated area where the attack from Cujo happens.|
A short card establishes the setting of this vignette as "1981," by the way, so ... yeah. I don't get it. I really just don't understand the intent of this vignette. Is it to make people who don't actually know anything about Cujo think, "Hey, Cujo!"
If that's the level at which Castle Rock going to operate, then I'm not sure I'm interested.
But maybe there's something I'm just not considering.
In any case, this little documentary is, despite my complaints, a good bit of fun. It's on YouTube (right here) if you'd like to see it for yourself, and if you do, let me know what you think.
I'll leave you with a few other screencaps I took:
|Small-town Maine historian with extensive tattoos and a love of Stephen King? This receives the official Truth Inside The Lie stamp of approval.|