Filmhounds Magazine

All things film – In print and online

You Can Call Me Bill – BFI London Film Festival 2023 (Film Review)

2 min read

This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

There are few actors as eccentric and frankly iconic as . The man is in his nineties and going on trips to space! Who does that? The man who will always be Captain James T. Kirk, that's who.

Naturally breaking down who Shatner is in a documentary could be a lovey-dovey talking head fest of people talking about and TJ Hooker and how much it means to them but instead what director Alexandre O. Philippe does is to let the man himself talk us through his life. The big issues that comes from this a man as eccentric as William Shatner means that he doesn't entirely do that.

The film has Shatner muse on all manner of things – the environment, the nature of comedy, life's meaning, the existence of God and occasionally his work. There are some gems in there, an anecdote about failing at stand-up because he did it in character as Kirk, explaining he based his Boston Legal performance on lizards and lamenting his death scene in Star Trek Generations was too dark and not as hopeful as he wanted to perform it.

The downside is that Bill, as we're allowed to call him, meanders like crazy. For every down to earth and funny quip there's five minutes of musing how telling a joke is like diving in to a pool without water, or how we are all naturally alone and that marriage staves off loneliness for a period. Shatner faces his own mortality frequently but just as frequently wanders back to discussing horses, and the network of fungi that connect trees, and if there's a network in the galaxy that connects all life.

Exhibit A Pictures

The use of archive footage does help to tie his aimless musings to an overall point about his career, his ideas on masculinity encapsulated by his iconic turns on TV and film roles. His discussion on the profession of acting as a job that involves just learning lines and the imagination is a bonus is refreshingly frank and honest, but is immediately undone by about seven minutes of him going on and on about comedy and tightropes and timing.

Ultimately this feels like a fitting eulogy for the actor, though he is still very much alive at the time of writing, and one that fast will no doubt enjoy for the sheer Shatner-ness of it all, but for anyone looking for an in depth look at the man or his career are better off looking elsewhere, this is Bill's world and we're all just fungi connected by an intricate network… or something.

 played at this year's BFI London Film Festival