At first look, the mixture of director Alexandre O. Philippe and William Shatner doesn’t look like an inherently harmonious pairing of documentarian and topic.
Philippe is a grasp of inquisitive cinema essays, inspecting movies like The Exorcist, Alien and Psycho by way of a lens that’s playful, however in a coldly mental method. I’ve stated he makes essentially the most clever, analytical DVD bonus-feature documentaries ever, and meant it solely as a praise.
You Can Call Me Bill
The Bottom Line
A extra somber and philosophical tackle the gregarious star.
Shatner is Shatner. He’s a display presence of simple magnetism, an incredible raconteur and a grasp of self-parody — however not an individual whose mien I might ever anticipate to mesh with a “coldly intellectual” method.
Despite a totally generic title that falsely suggests a mission broadly tailor-made round Shatner’s ingrained lack of ritual, You Can Call Me Bill finally ends up feeling very very similar to a Philippe movie. Dismissing self-parody in favor of self-reflection, the 91-year-old actor spends the whole lot of the 96-minute documentary treating Philippe’s digicam like a therapist, dissecting his profession and his life with a transparent eye towards his personal mortality. It’s extra inquisitive, earnest and emotional than no matter you’re anticipating, although inevitably much less dishy and enjoyable. Calibrate expectations accordingly.
Philippe begins the documentary with the John Muir quote, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” which already gives a touch that this isn’t going to be a doc stuffed with wacky Leonard Nimoy tales or nostalgic reminiscences of that point he starred in a CBS sitcom based mostly on a Twitter feed. Shatner, like Muir, has a deep curiosity in timber, notably the way in which their roots enable them to speak and be a part of the wilderness round them.
Assuming you’re taking the William Shatner offered in You Can Call Me Bill as the actual William Shatner, relatively than one among his most convincing performances to this point, Shatner is obsessive about loneliness and a need for an arboreal connection. With candor and tears ever on the point of rising, he talks about his stern however loving father, his withholding mom and a Montreal youth during which he all the time felt like an outsider — a Jewish child in non-Jewish areas, a theater child who yearned to be a jock and vice versa.
In a sequence of lengthy conversations appropriately positioning Shatner alone in what appears to be like to be an unlimited, darkish and empty warehouse house, Philippe steers Shatner by way of his profession, however nearly by no means in the way in which that you just could be anticipating. Shatner treats the core mission of Star Trek as an existential mantra, considering deeply what it means not simply to undergo life, however to BOLDLY go. He makes use of unlikely sources — just like the introduction of his character’s identify on The Practice and Boston Legal — as some extent of entry to speak about an performing course of that he positions as midway between the very totally different Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando. He breaks down the thoughtfulness on the coronary heart of the pauses and cadences which were on the heart of so many William Shatner impressions, effortlessly illustrating how improper so a lot of these impressions are.
As Shatner muses, Phillipe connects his ideas to clips from seven a long time of movie and tv roles. There are loads of collages dominated by the classics, from Star Trek to The Twilight Zone to T.J. Hooker, however there’s actual pleasure to how Philippe offers equal time to initiatives like White Comanche, a forgotten Western that features two of Shatner’s favourite issues — the chance to play a twin position and horses. Without needing Shatner to immediately articulate an analogous declare, Philippe builds a believable case that Shatner’s physique of labor is deeper, extra thought-about and presumably simply higher than something he’s given credit score for.
Shatner has given nice thought to his perception in the next energy and to what it means to be nearer to the tip of his life than to the start. His sense of his tiny place in an unlimited universe was maybe cemented by his current journey into house, an journey that represents the documentary’s most prolonged anecdote. Philippe intercuts that story with Shatner’s parallel recounting of the identical story in his sequence of one-man exhibits. On one hand, you’ve got the recognizable and theatrical Shatner, taking part in to the again row of an viewers, giving all of them the operatic — relying on how you are feeling about Shatner’s singing — and borderline campy extra that represents what he is aware of followers need from him. On the opposite hand, responding to the identical life occasion, you’ve got the erudite thinker Shatner remembering how he eschewed having enjoyable with weightlessness to look out the window of his spacecraft: “Our brains aren’t made to encompass the vastness of the things we’re talking about,” he observes.
Around midway by way of the documentary, Philippe calls wrap and says “Bill, I hope you come back tomorrow.” It’s a line that actually cracks Shatner up, and he replies with an enthusiastic and playful smile, “No, I’m gonna ride a horse tomorrow.” Spending a lot time with a special Shatner makes you respect the glimpses of Shatner Classic.
It’s just like the MTV Unplugged sequence. Some of the performances and albums that got here out of that present had been good and altered the way in which I listened to the bands ceaselessly. Others had been simply worthy, somber detours or footnotes. Whether You Can Call Me Bill is extra Nirvana Unplugged or Shakira Unplugged, Philippe has achieved Shatner a service.