20 Questions: William Shatner

William Shatner, Captain Kirk, Cultural Icon Extraordinaire. Shatner Rules. Like all great American actors – he’s not American. We’re not even sure he’s human. We’re certain, however, that he’s The Captain of Everything -- not least PopMatters 20 Questions.

William Shatner

Seeking Major Tom

Label: Cleopatra
US Release Date: 2011-10-11

Shatner Rules: Your Key to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large

Publisher: Penguin
Price: $21.95
Author: William Shatner
Length: 272 pages
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2011-10

The Captains

Director: William Shatner
Cast: William Shatner, Patrick Stewart
Distributor: Entertainment One
Release date: 2011-10-18

William Shatner, Captain Kirk, Cultural Icon Extraordinaire. Shatner Rules. Like all great American actors – he’s not American. We’re not even sure he’s human. In human years, he’s 80 (with the unstoppable mental energy of an eight-year-old Vulcan) -- but he could be just a youngster in Akritirians, Bejorin, Betazoid -- to name but a handful of the humanoids that have infected, er, appeared in Star Trek (and those are just some of the 'A' and 'B' names of humanoid aliens found on Wikipedia. Shudder.)

Indeed, we've been under the influence of Star Trek since it was first beamed, I mean 'aired' on NBC 45 years ago last month. That was our first contact with the starship U.S.S. Enterprise and her crew. Since then, Shatner has so thoroughly integrated in his role on this planet the role of the explorer of strange new worlds (get it?), we're only now beginning to realize that he's just getting started with us, he's just beginning to mess with our minds (he's even dabbled in our legal system under another of his clever guises)! This month alone he continues to mesmerize his loyal Trekkie following with a DVD (The Captains) a book (Shatner Rules: Your Key to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large) and a CD (Seeking Major Tom). He'll be making contact with the Canadians soon, too. This is why we’re certain that William Shatner always has been, and always will be, The Captain of His Universe. And ours.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – it was so bad I was in tears.

2. The fictional character most like you?

The ape in Rise of the Planet of the Apes because he had noble ambitions, some of which came true and some of which didn’t, all of which were a futile exercise, anyway.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Seeking Major Tom is one of the major albums of our generation.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

DUH!!!! Star Wars, of course.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Jazz – inspirational in all of its creativity.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I can chew gun and walk at the same time because I am told doing two things at once is impossible. The brain cuts off… not mine.

7. You want to be remembered for ...?

Chewing gum and walking at the same time.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Stunt performer Steve-O, because he can get hurt and recover in a flash. I take a day or two.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

If I could have only re-edited Rise of the Planet of the Apes… but they didn’t ask.

10. Your hidden talents...?

The dexterity of my toes. I can pick up a pen and write a short story but only with my small toe.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

“Go west young man,” said by American author Horace Greeley. Hollywood lay at the end of the map.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I stole a bag of candies when I was five. The grocery clerk caught me, told my father and I never stole another thing again. Except a scene or two.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or...?

Running shorts. I have great legs and washboard abs.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Fred Astaire. He would dance with me, order wine and he would listen to me sing.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

I want to go back in time to the invention of fire. Who’s thought was it? Who thought of using it? He must have been the most creative brain to have ever been. I’m assuming it’s a ‘he’ because so many ‘shes’ have played with fire.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

I might take some Prozac on a spa vacation and have the hit man’s phone number.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or...?

It would have to be espresso coffee, Belvedere vodka, and chocolate cigarettes

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I’ve got a little spot of heaven right here in Los Angeles.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Get your rear end off the toilet and run this country like our lives depend on it.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

I have a new book coming out called Shatner Rules on October 4th, a new album called Seeking Major Tom releases on October 11th and my one-man Canadian tour, How Time Flies: An Evening with William Shatner, launches in Vancouver on October 19th. My recent documentary, The Captains, is also available on DVD October 18th.

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"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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