By David Baldwin
If I were to ask you who William Shatner is, you may have a different answer depending on when you were born. Most will always him as the original Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek, while others may just know him as the Priceline guy who appears regularly at fan conventions around the world. But who is the real William Shatner when he is not on the screen or stage in front of us?
Writer/Director Alexandre O. Philippe sets-out to answer this question in his latest Documentary/Vsual Essay, and it starts with letting us know that Shatner prefers to be called Bill now. What follows is a journey that beams around the proud Canadian’s life from a young man growing up in Montreal, to his time on television and the stage, right up to his recent flight to space on Jeff Bezos’ rocket ship. All the while, the camera stays on Bill as he discusses the journey, sitting alone in a production warehouse with the unseen spotlight focusing on him and only him.
What Bill also discusses are his feelings on life, humanity’s relationship with nature, the dying Earth and his own mortality – all delivered in his frank, precisely inflected manner of speech (including a small aside about that often parodied but never equaled style). He is more candid and open than I ever would have thought, and YOU CAN CALL ME BILL is at its best when we are watching him in these deeper moments in the warehouse or live on stage. The tiny clips of Star Trek and television ephemera (including scenes from shows he starred in pre-Kirk) are fun to see, yet seem rather trivial while Bill is tackling the sorrow of knowing that at 91, he does not have much time left.
For all those candid comments however, YOU CAN CALL ME BILL glosses over Shatner’s personal life and his relationship with the fan community. He gets in a few anecdotal comments and then goes on to something else. More frustratingly, Philippe’s breezy, thematic structure makes the film feel a bit too jumpy and unpolished. With the exception of last year’s Lynch/Oz (which was fascinating flawed), his previous films have been focused on one scene or one film. Here he is taking on an entire lifetime of one legendary individual and all the iconography that goes with it, and it feels like he is out of his element.
YOU CAN CALL ME BILL screens at SXSW ’23 as follows:
Mar 16 at 7:30pm at Paramount Theatre
For advertising opportunites please contact email@example.com