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William Shatner: “Good science fiction is humanity, displaced into a different environment”

by Alexander
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William Shatner: “Good science fiction is humanity, displaced into a different environment”

VSCategorized to accommodate the recent boom in demand for new content to binge, too many celebrity profile documentaries default to the same formula of the assembly line product: opening with a few candid sound clips of Talking Heads, a walk down memory lane of their early years, delves into the main points of their career and ties it all together with a bit of introspection that wraps it all up.

Conversely, William Shatner’s new portrait of Alexandre O Philippe, You Can Call Me Bill, spends a lot of time reflecting on its subject’s deep metaphysical connection to horses. The polymath showman also shares his thoughts on birds, dogs, space, Satan, classic westerns, dream pregnancy symbolism, others’ impressions of his distinctive voice and, occasionally, his acting. He may be naturally wet-eyed, but he seems to be on the verge of tears throughout this feature-length philosophical inquisition on Shatner’s Tao.

“I could tell everyone how I was born in Montreal, but at this point, who cares? he laughs during a Zoom from his home overlooking the San Fernando Valley. (A century-old hunting lodge that Shatner has rebuilt four times “in four different lifetimes,” an hour’s drive from the ranch where he rides. In the background of his screen, his dog gnaws on a rug “Will that make him an ancient dog?” Shatner wonders aloud.) His interests lie elsewhere, far beyond himself, in the ether of everyday life or perhaps to be in the deepest reaches of the cosmos. When he looks inward, he does so expansively, speaking rhapsodically about his place in a universe far larger than Shatner. “And during introspection,” he says, “you gain insight into the person.”

In the case of his time on Star Trek, for example, an inevitable subject of discussion with former Captain Kirk: “It was three years of my life, you know?” It delights him to see how much joy the series has brought to its many fans, but the richest rewards have come from its introduction to science fiction, which activated and nurtured a lifelong curiosity about our species. He remembers meeting the genre’s great writers fondly but frankly, honestly enough to put Ray Bradbury in “the category just below friend, I think.” He devoured their novels and developed a fascination with the principle of defamiliarization, which holds that taken-for-granted concepts can be understood anew when seen from the perspective of a stranger in a foreign land. “Good science fiction is humanity moved into a different environment,” he says. “Beautiful stories are beautiful stories. You put human beings on a spaceship or on a desert planet, and we have a different way of seeing ourselves.

A week shy of his 93rd birthday, he still carries that searching spirit as he navigates a changing world. As for work, he shrugs, saying that TV production has remained fundamentally unchanged in the seven decades he’s been on set; “The cameras were animals and I made friends with those animals,” he recalls, emphasizing that streamlining technology is his only way of timing the passage of time. But he has taken a liking to his smartphone, a portal to the Wikipedia wormholes that invite him to descend into “endless tunnels of knowledge”. Accumulating facts may be an obvious reward, and he readily receives unnecessary information to stimulate the hungry mind. “You can spend hours on this,” he said. “And you wonder, especially if you are 93 years old, what is this learning for? Why do I care if the Greeks used a phalanx or anything? And yet, it’s nice.

Every man becomes a library as he ages, and Shatner’s relentless research draws on a lifetime of accumulated experience. A comedian of his stature might casually mention days spent comparing notes with George C Scott over their divergent interpretations of a role, or how the daily grind of a Broadway gig can provide structure and stability. Yet for all his hard-earned gravitas, he has the wisdom not to take himself too seriously; “A famous director once gave me the best piece of advice,” he says, then waits silently for me to ask him what it was before responding, “I was hoping you’d ask me.” It was “LOUDER!” » » This combination of deadpan seriousness about his work and humor about himself forms the foundation of his unlikely musical career, in which he speaks the lyrics from the standard songbook so that audiences can hear them through fresh ears . “You can consider it a comedy,” he explains. “’Oh say, can you see,’ it’s our national anthem. But if I say it dramatically, with the same words, it becomes something you’ve never heard before.

The ability to dabble in everything remains one of Shatner’s most valuable advantages over his long career, a hustle that has recently put the nonagenarian into sub-orbit. In 2021, he became the oldest man to undertake the extraordinary physical exertion of spaceflight thanks to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin project. He takes some tranquility in recounting the extreme pressure placed on his chest as he soared through the atmosphere, and its instant dissipation as they passed through weightlessness. Freed from weightlessness, he found himself completely transformed by the rush of the perspective that can only be imagined miles above Earth. “It’s very personal, what we see from up there, what we read in the calm,” he says. “I saw the emptiness of space like death, but an astronaut will see something completely different. And when I looked at Earth, I saw life.

William Shatner with his space travel companions, Chris Boshuizen, Audrey Powers and Glen de Vries. Photography: AP

The question of mortality hangs over Shatner, but not in a morbid way. He is fascinated by the paradox of death, according to which the absolute unknowability of what is happening will inevitably be supplanted by the certainty of discovering it. He appreciates the inscrutability of Timothy Leary’s final statement: “Of course! like a brief transmission from the door to the afterlife, and he seems unfazed when I point out that the same could be said of “The horror, the horror!” » by Colonel Kurtz. in Revelation now. This is not to say that Shatner harbors romantic ideas about the end, describing the process of getting out of bed as a “major undertaking” and concluding that he only hopes to live as long as his ability to put on and take off his underwear . .

For a man accustomed to boldly going where no man has gone before, this is just the next phase of a single ongoing adventure. Each step of Shatner’s spiritual odyssey brings him closer to the enlightenment he pursues throughout You Can Call Me Bill, although he has also made peace with the limits of his understanding. The universe charms him with its mysteries, the key to maintaining wonder for almost a century of life. He likes not knowing: “I imagine that since the dawn of time, the little prehistoric man with his club looked at the stars and asked: ‘Is that all there is?’ Hunt, kill? We seek continuity, and in the face of its lack – that when you die, you die, it’s the end, goodbye – we need an alternative. Throughout history, humanity has avoided thinking this disastrous thought. We imagined wonderful stories, you find your mom and dad, you meet God. On the one hand, maybe it’s a fairy tale. On the other hand, how is it that this complex being simply ceases to exist?

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