The documentary about the life and career of 91-year-old William Shatner, “You Can Call Me Bill,” written and directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, screened at SXSW in Austin, Texas on March 16.
The documentary was financed by Legion, which is fan-owned. The donors’ names appear in the credits at the end.
The documentary opens in a forest with the John Muir quotation, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” The director did a nice return to this forest image at the documentary’s end, but the middle contains Shatner pontificating on a variety of subjects and many clips from his work through the years.
The film had a structure that was projected onscreen:
Prologue: The Miracle
- Chapter 1: Love, death, and horses
- Chapter 2: Masks
- Chapter 3: Boldly Go
- Chapter 4: Loneliness
- Chapter 5: So fragile, so blue
The director explained that this structure corresponded to one of Shatner’s original songs. The best was the last, “I Want To Be A Tree,” which was Shatner saying he wanted to be cremated after death and then a Redwood will be planted in his ashes and grow into a mighty tree.
If the structure seems a bit “loosey goosey,” it is. But, as Shatner says in the documentary, “Ooga booga should be part of our lives.”
Shatner’s advice: “Take care of the inner child. That curiosity is what keeps us alive. The search for love is what keeps us alive. Curiosity equals love.”
In regards to Chapter 1, Shatner said, “Nature or animals or people are what keep us connected.” He emphasized the connectedness of life on planet Earth throughout the one-hour and thirty-six-minute documentary, which was released on March 16th after its first showing at SXSW.
Acting: Shatner says that “Learning the words is the work of the actor. The rest is just kicks.” When asked if he was a method actor who continued in the part after his work day, he responded, “The carpenter doesn’t come home and try to fix the dining room table.” So that would be a no.
Regarding those who have imitated Shatner through the years, the verdict was “Every word is its own sentence.” Various imitators were shown giving his delivery their best shot, in the same way, that Christopher Walken is often mimicked.
Shatner’s life philosophy: “Everything is an adventure.” He added, “Do it fully, boldly, courageously. Limit your sense of regret.”
In his discussion of loneliness, Shatner noted that he had “been alone all my life,” ever since his birth in Canada in 1931. He said, “Loneliness is endemic” and noted that he was talking about existential loneliness. Almost three years after the 91-year-old ‘Star Trek’ actor and his 64-year-old spouse divorced, William and Elizabeth have decided to give their relationship another go. Shatner said: “‘My wife… she is the zest of life.”
Shatner’s trip into space with BlueOrigin on July 20, 2021, has played heavily into his becoming a proponent of trying to save the Earth. He talked about how he cried upon coming back to Earth and says now that he thinks now that he was grieving for the Earth. He commented on the “total denial on a global scale of global warming.”
The director filmed half a day per chapter on a massive sound stage, using three cameras, building up to the “I Want To Be A Tree” song that ends the film.
Shatner, himself, may have given the best review of this work saying, “I believe about 85% of what I say is good and the other 15% is bullshit.”