The first thing that leaps out at you when HBO’s Ren Faire begins is the way it looks. Every month, streaming services are flooded with new documentary series, most haphazardly constructed from talking head interviews and archival footage. If I have to watch one more doc that begins with the interview subjects arriving in their seat, adjusting their clothes and their microphones, and then saying something like “I’m ready, let’s do this,” I’m going to lose it.

Ren Faire is something else entirely. The three-part series, directed by Lance Oppenheim (Some Kind of Heaven), has cinematic visuals complete with extreme close-ups, a roving camera, and multiple angles on dialogue scenes. That is a smart choice. The obvious approach to the film about the inner-workings of a renaissance faire would be to point out the seams in its illusion of the past; to make fun of the people who believe so deeply in its cheaply constructed alternate reality. Oppenheim does the opposite, buying into the faire’s insular world the same way its subjects do, and framing them with low angels, slow-motion, and shallow focus. That aesthetic lends an epic feel to their attempts to seize control of the faire — which in turn makes the whole struggle that much funnier.


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A documentary is only as good as its subject, and in Texas Renaissance Festival founder George Coulam, Ren Faire found an incredible one. Coulam rules over his faire — and the surrounding town of Todd Mission, Texas, where Coulam is mayor — like a medieval dictator. (His “subjects” at the faire refer to him as “King George” and curtsy when he walks into his office.) Coulam’s grip on control of Todd Mission and the faire is seemingly absolute; the festival and the town are both at the mercy of Coulam’s moods and whims, which in Oppenheim’s film appear to be quite erratic.

The one constant: Coulam’s desire to find a suitable buyer for his festival. Now in his mid-80s, Coulam has reigned over the “TRF” for more than half a century, and he’s ready to retire. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to settle on an appropriate successor. The candidates include his park’s general manager Jeffrey Baldwin, and its “Lord of Corn” Louie Migliaccio, who has built a small empire within the faire selling kettle corn and other concessions.

Coulam is torn. Baldwin clearly loves the TRF, having spent decades working there first as a performer and then as its entertainment director before a recent promotion to GM. But he also is more artist than money man, and Coulam is quick to blame him for any issue that goes wrong in the park. Migliaccio is far more mercenary — he speaks at length about the virtues of capitalism while chugging Red Bulls — but he seems to only care about the bottom line and may not have the right instincts for the park’s nuances.

Coulam’s other key desire is more carnal in nature. When he’s not fielding offers for his faire he’s pays a young assistant to help him scour “sugar daddy” dating sites for an appropriate partner for his amorous desires. Coulam seemingly has no filter and gladly expounds at length on his proclivities and preferences. Explaining how he maintains a healthy sexual drive as an octogenarian, he proudly announces “if you get a shot every week you can have an erection until you die. And that's my goal. If I really really want to die the most perfect way it would be have a woman screw me to death."

Uh, duly noted, your highness.

Oppenheim and his crew seem to have embedded themselves in the Texas Renaissance Festival for years, which could explain how they earned enough of Coulam’s trust that he allowed them to tag along on one of his sugar daddy dates. When the woman arrives, Coulam gets her name completely wrong and then immediately asks “Are those your natural breasts?”


Coulam’s employees tacitly condone or even assist in this behavior, which is fascinating and appalling to watch in equal measure. In its own little way Ren Faire is as good a depiction of the allure and corrupting influence of power and money as has been made in the last few years. (Curiously and perhaps coincidentally, that was also the driving theme of HBO’s just-concluded The Jinx Part II, which was less about Robert Durst’s crimes than the actions of the many Durst associates who enabled his behavior for years.)

Whether you’re interested in drawing parallels between Coulam and other men in positions of power, or you just think it’s really funny when an 86-year-old man who demands people call him King bellows “Bring me the copy of the e-blast!” Ren Faire has something for you. There are so many documentaries and reality series on television these days. We need more that look and feel like this.

Ren Faire premieres on HBO and Max on Sunday, June 2.

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