SXSW: Documentary Feature
Title: You Can Call Me Bill (2023) Director: Alexandre O. Philippe Writer: Alexandre O. Philippe Studio: Legion M IMDb Plot: An intimate portrait of William Shatner's personal journey over nine decades on this Earth. Bill strips away all the masks he has worn to embody countless characters, and reveals the man behind it all. Joe Says: You Can Call Me Bill is a serious, introspective piece; a partial victory lap for Bill Shatner. However, if You Can Call Me Bill is designed as a celebration, why does it come across as aimless as your grandfather commiserating about current events over Thanksgiving dinner? Albeit a grandfather who happens to be Captain Kirk.
William Shatner – he likes to be called Bill – has had an accomplished career. One where he has reinvented himself several times over transforming from Kirk to Hooker to Crane. From author to spokesman to astronaut to …singer (and no, you do not need to imbibe on Romulan ale to enjoy his rocking “Common People” single from 2004). If anyone deserves a curtain call, Bill Shatner gets my vote. The documentary You Can Call Me Bill is a partial answer to such a victory lap. For over 90 minutes, Bill reminisces, waxes poetic, and frets on the future. Sometimes simultaneously. Often in a stream of consciousness. However, if You Can Call Me Bill is designed as a celebration, why does it come across as aimless as your grandfather commiserating about current events over Thanksgiving dinner?
Albeit a grandfather who happens to be Captain Kirk.
In the woefully out-of-print 1998 indie comedy Free Enterprise, Bill Shatner, playing at his most meta, imparts advice to a pair of thirty-something geeks who worship all things Trek, comics, and 007. He promotes taking chances and smiles with joie de vivre. The character of “Bill” might be a parody of Shatner with the zaniness amped to warp factor 9, but he is revealed to be crazy like a fox. Self-effacing humor abounds and the twinkle in his eye is not powered by dilithium.
Likewise in his 2008 autobiography Up Till Now, Bill tempers his life’s story with more-than-amusing anecdotes and asides making the memoir a hip, enjoyable read.
You Can Call Me Bill is more of a serious, introspective piece. At ninety-one years, Bill knows that there is a lifetime of days behind him and probably only a few more flips of the calendar ahead. The documentary builds upon his memories as a Jewish child growing up outside of Montreal, but does not dig as deep as his autobiography or his other published memoirs. Writer/director Alexandre Philippe cuts between solo shots of Bill in a darkened theater expertly mixed with a host of clips from Star Trek, TJ Hooker, and a profusion of other theatrical and televised works. Yet, Philippe is much more interested in consigning BIll the spotlight to filibuster.
And he does.
Diatribes about trees and stars, dogs and horses, grandchildren and the future abound. Bill is solemn in this venture. His poetry is dry and the weight of his mortality dampens any hip celebration. When speaking about death, Phillippe cuts between Kirk’s finale in Star Trek: Generations ironically juxtaposed with the destruction of the Enterprise in Star Trek III where Bones McCoy assures his captain that certain death was replaced with a fighting chance to live.
You Can Call Me Bill is not that fight. Instead, the show becomes a preemptive eulogy of sorts. For Shatner fans of all sizes, the movie is accessible and entertaining. Yet all of that humor, all of that love of life are only shown in the clips that the world has already enjoyed and celebrated. You Can Call Me Bill instead focuses on the solitary life of a solo man. Sitting in the dark. Waiting for the final curtain to close.
Hopefully, such an exit is years away. Until then, I look forward to seeing Mr. Shatner jump back on his horse and ride off into adventure fighting against unstackable odds in yet another grim situation. Knowing it will be fun.
And we can call him Bill, too. All of his friends call him Bill.