Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hello, my name is Bill...

Please go see "Bill W." an amazing documentary about the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, now playing in theaters in NY, LA and cities all over the country.  Here's my rambling reason why -

How many times do you go see a movie, only to have completely forgotten it by the time you get home? Hell, I'm so conditioned to the disposable, assembly-line, Hollywood horseshit that the notion of being truly entertained, or gratified, or enlightened, or educated, or shaken up  - as this film shook me up (and down) - that I hardly know how to recognize the fleeting phenomenon when it hits me.

Now, this isn't something Peteandjosh do everyday.  We're far too jealous and petty to celebrate the work of other filmmakers.  It's so much easier to bask in the schadenfreude of a shitty review about a film you have baseless contempt for than it is to just experience art for what it is and what possibilities it may hold - 'cause if you try hard enough, even the worst offenders of copycat, second-rate sequel-cinema have something to offer.

But you hardly have to try at all to get what "Bill W." has to give.  It's a story that flows so confidently through a life so complex that in the hands of lesser filmmakers it could easily have become a soap box of twelve-step slogans or worse still - a simplification and lionization of a man who was a true hero for insisting throughout his life that he was mo more than a common drunk.  

I'll admit, I know the filmmakers behind the work.  The directors and the editor and their assistants spent the better part of two years tuning this machine in the corner office of Manhattan Edit Workshop.  They were the first real film to cut amidst the daily chaos of my school, and though I had some anxiety around our ability to accommodate them, over time it became an easy fit and they became more than just tenants - they became easy team to root for.  

Kevin Hanlon (Co-Dir/Producer) and Patrick Gambuti Jr. (Editor/Co-writer) screened the film in a few stages of its evolution to my students and welcomed the feedback that followed - sometimes mixed but hopefully always constructive.  To bear occasional witness to a process as sacred as story, for a story as sacred as Bill W. is an experience I won't soon forget.

Then, yesterday, to walk a group of students to the Quad Cinema and treat them to a proper screening of the finished film, followed by a discussion with the film's director - well, I'll just say that sometimes the day job shows its perks more than others.  

Bill W. as a film is boldly honest and intimately emotional, deftly cinematic and genuinely entertaining.  While leading you through an epic journey of Bill Wilson's lifelong struggle with alcohol and with himself, his failures and victories both as a person and as the somewhat reluctant leader of an institution as momentous as AA, the facts never overpower and the man always shows through.  Perhaps one of the most interesting things I left feeling was that while AA members may have an obvious interest it this movie, it's appeal requires nothing more than a desire for a solid story with great characters - a simple want  for a movie you'll remember long after you get home.

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