“Like ‘Succession’ with turkey legs and jousting”

All right, I guess I should watch that HBO doc on the Texas Renaissance Festival and its founder, George Coulam.

To label George Coulam eccentric is such an understatement that it’s like calling Houston summers hot. Yes, it’s true, but it doesn’t convey the sheer exhaustion of the experience.

Coulam, 86, is the founder of the annual Texas Renaissance Festival in Todd Mission, 55 miles north of Houston, and the man who claims to have turned it into the largest festival of its type in the country. He’s a man known for living in kitschy rococo splendor while running his kingdom with an iron fist, one that compels so much obedience among underlings that when they call him King George, it seems as if they truly believe him to be some medieval monarch who somehow ended up on the Texas prairie instead of on the British throne.

But he’s also a man who has an assistant who maintains his profiles across a sea of dating sites and whose main question to the 20-something women he meets for lunch at a nearby Olive Garden is, “Are those your natural breasts?” (And woe unto you, if you say no.)

He’s a man who tells a festival employee, who has requested a meeting with him, to “get your ugly (expletive) in here, shut up and sit down.”

And he’s a man who says he wants to retire. Yet he continues to oversee a multimillion-dollar enterprise in which three of those who work for him are angling to take over and push him out to pasture before he may be ready.

At least that’s the picture painted in “Ren Faire,” a sometimes fanciful and always compulsively watchable, three-part HBO documentary beginning June 2 that’s directed by Lance Oppenheim (‚ÄúSome Kind of Heaven”) and co-produced by the directing team of Josh and Benny Safdie (the Safdie brothers). Like “Tiger King,” “Cheer” and the dueling Fyre Festival documentaries, it pulls back a curtain on a backstage world that most only know as members of a cheering audience. But what’s beyond the footlights is more likely to elicit gasps than applause.

I mentioned this briefly in last week’s blog roundup. Quite a bit has been written about Coulam and his, um, distinctive habits. Here’s the Press on a 2020 harassment lawsuit against him (I’m sure they have more in their archives but they may be lost to the various moves and buyouts), here’s Texas Monthly with a 1999 story that would have coincided with TRF’s 25th anniversary, and here’s a post I did in 2019 about Coulam, who was also the Mayor of Todd Mission, worrying about the future of the RenFest as Houston continued to sprawl outward.

I’m an infrequent attendee of TRF – it’s been at least 20 years for me now, I like it but don’t care for the long drive and the aimless schlepping around. I have plenty of friends for whom it’s a lifelong obsession. I get it, it’s just not really my thing. The reviews of the doc all seem pretty positive, and I’ll bet plenty of folks who have no idea about this will be gobsmacked by it, so I’ll probably watch. What do you think?

Related Posts:

This entry was posted in The great state of Texas, TV and movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.