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YOU CAN CALL ME BILL

Written By:

Iain Robertson
youcancallmebill

Director Alexandre O. Philippe has established a name for himself with a number of smart, unconventional documentaries exploring various pop culture icons; whether it’s David Lynch in Lynch/Oz, Alien in Memory: The Origins of Alien, zombie movies in Doc Of The Dead, Star Wars in The People vs. George Lucas, and even an entire movie devoted to dissecting Psycho’s shower scene in 78/52.

Like Lynch/Oz, his latest, You Can Call Me Bill sees Philippe direct his focus on an individual, in the shape of William Shatner. As usual, eschewing the traditional documentary approach – there’s no interviewees save for the great man himself – and little direct focus on his life of career, the director turns the camera on Shatner and just lets him talk.

Anyone who’s seen Shatner interviewed or onstage will know that he’s one of the world’s great raconteurs. He’s able to pontificate for hours on whatever subject takes his fancy with a wry humour and an intelligence that belies the comic persona he often likes to play into. And while his frequent Star Trek convention appearances often see him playing the hits and telling the same, often fanciful stories of his time as captain of the Enterprise (for example, contrary to what he likes to tell people, he did not single-handily save Paramount from burning down during filming of The Search For Spock, he merely posed for photos with a hosepipe after), he frequently goes off-script, and talks about whatever’s on his mind. And he has a lot on his mind.

It’s this more insightful Shatner that Philippe goes for here. Gone are the tales of frequently hiding tales of Leonard Nimoy’s bike (that one’s true as far as we know), and instead, Shatner is given leeway to talk about the subjects that interest him. Now in his 90s, mortality is on his mind, and he expounds on his thoughts on death, as well as other subjects, including climate change, travelling into space, fame, love, comedy, and his oft-mimicked acting style. Shatner has said that, as he nears the end of his life, he wanted to make the film for his family to help them remember the real him. And while you never feel that Philippe entirely gets under his skin (there’s little in the way of cross-examination), this may be as close as it’s possible to get.

If this all sounds a little dry and overly serious, don’t worry. Besides his interviewees’ natural charm, Philippe peppers the film with numerous clips from throughout Shatner’s career. Trek unsurprisingly features frequently, as do the likes of Boston Legal, The Twlight Zone, Kingdom Of The Spiders, T.J. Hooker, Airplane 2, and his gentle onstage teasing of George Lucas (“may I call you George? You can call me Mr Shatner.”) Philippe also includes clips from Shatner’s frequently mocked singing career, including his infamous Rocket Man, to more recent (and far better) work, expounding on travelling to space and, in the epilogue, his thoughts on death and his somewhat unconventional desire to be have his ashes planted under a tree, giving nourishment back to the Earth. It’s a typically unconventional insight into an unconventional man, and typical of the film’s offbeat approach to approaching Shatner, which may give us more insightful look at the man than many conventional documentaries.

stars

YOU CAN CALL ME BILL is released on Blu-ray on May 27th.

Iain Robertson

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