Thursday, December 21, 2017
William G. Wilson, known to many as Bill W., was the founder of an organization that eventually became known as Alcoholics Anonymous. Founded in 1935 by Bill and his co-founder, Robert H. Smith (known to members as Dr. Bob), the organization proved to be the solution for many people who had been victims of the disease known as alcoholism. Bill is revered alternately as a hero and a savior to many who have recovered from the depths of alcohol addiction, and the program for which he was a founder has gone on to help millions of people live a life free from the addiction.
Bill W. (2012):
This is a documentary on the life of Bill Wilson from his early childhood through to his death in 1971. The movie mixes lots of information from what is known about Bill and Dr. Bob along with some spatterings of re-enactments (much like many History channel programs), with actors portraying the principal figures. Much of the story is well-known to members of Alcoholics Anonymous, but it is probably news to many who are not familiar with the organization.
The movie begins with discussing Bill's feelings of isolation as a child, and his early life as a young adult. He was a soldier in WWI before he ever took his first drink, but it was the start of a long downward spiral. His travails in married life with his wife, Lois (nee Burnham), as well as his many attempts to try to curb and/or conquer his addiction are covered in great detail. Bill spent most of the alcoholic portion of his life trying to make a fortune in stock market endeavors, but always his addiction managed to bring a dramatic end to whatever successes he managed to garner.
His turning point was when he met up with his old drinking buddy, Ebby Thatcher (Ebby T.), who presented Bill with a solution that he, Ebby, had found with a group called the Oxford Group. Although Bill did not become sober right away, the seed was planted that eventually led to a spiritual experience a short time later. The story progressed from there as Bill, trying to regain his financial success, was stranded in Akron, Ohio. Dejected with a recent failure, and broke, Bill considered resuming drinking, but instead used a hotel directory to call local churches to see if he could find another alcoholic to help.
It was at this point he was introduced to Dr. Bob, a doctor whose alcoholism seriously threatened to derail him as a practitioner of medicine. The meeting of the two was the spark of the organization that eventually became what is now called A.A. The second half of the film covers the many trials that came while trying to get the organization off the ground, and continues on through the death of bill's friend, Dr. Bob, and ends with the organization surviving and thriving, even after the death of the acknowledged mentor Bill.
There are plenty of recordings of the real Bill W. speaking at conventions and the like, albeit with the actor portraying him being used for actual footage. (The anonymity factor of the organization precludes that there is any existent film footage of Bill actually speaking at A.A. related events, although there are plenty of home movies style clips of him and Dr. Bob in a non-speaking role, and a couple of him and Lois being interviewed outside of A.A.)
The film may not be interesting to many who have no interest in the A.A. program, I admit, but for some it may be educational in how a serious addict was able to eventually overcome his addiction, with the help of his Higher Power (A.A.s tend to shy away from calling their spiritual helper by the name "God", although the term does appear in their literature.) I found it to be extremely riveting. I also noted that in some clips of Bill's friend, Dr. Bob looked a lot like Christopher Lloyd...:-) A TV drama has already been made by the name of My Name is Bill W. which starred James Woods and James Garner as Bill W. and Dr. Bob respectively, and Woods won an Emmy for his role, but I think it would be interesting if they decided to make a theatrical release to have Lloyd play the man whom he seems to resemble. (Can't really decide who Bill looks like, so I'll defer casting him at this point.)
The film is entertaining on its own level. As a footnote, in one of the last films Roger Ebert critiqued before his death, gave it a 3 out 4 star rating.