Thursday, September 15, 2016

For the Love of Spock

The Needs of the One
I Will Fight Nimoy Forever

After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”
"Amok Time" Star Trek Season Two, Episode 1

When there was a survey of what Washington residents "googled" the most in the year 2015, the number one entry was "Leonard Nimoy." Trace William Cowen had this to say about it at "Washington wisely concentrated its 2015 Googling efforts toward the late actor Leonard Nimoy, a commendable decision by any measurement, but certainly made more remarkable by the fact that their neighbors seemed far more concerned with wolves and vaccines."

The death of Leonard Nimoy, who was, after all, 83, caused far more of a seismic-shift than I might have realized. Obama commented on it, for crying out loud, and I couldn't turn on the radio without hearing regrets, sympathies, and commentaries on "what Spock meant to me," many of which focused on "otherness" and split-parentage and of the better qualities of our nature.

The guy played an alien with pointed ears, but Spock was more than that, as embodied and realized by Nimoy. So much of what is termed "Vulcan" (can I say that without Paul Allen hitting me with a lawsuit?)—in its heritage, history, sociology—emerged from the last-second improvisations and ideas from Nimoy, that no actor can play a person of that fictional race without going back to "the Nimoy template." What other acting role can say that? So much of the Vulcan trademarks that emerged from Nimoy's portrayal, like the stoicism, the blankness that could be punctuated and energized by the mere raising of an eyebrow—the restraint, most of all (and it IS active, not passive)—but also the "salute," the finger-stuff, "the nerve-pinch," all stuff Nimoy created on-set to set Spock apart and cleave him to the mostly non-violent alien who didn't lie, didn't bluff (but could intellectualize around it, very precisely), devoting himself to logic and favoring his Vulcan heritaghe over his Earth heritage. While Shatner's Captain Kirk was emoting (with a capital "E") and...gesticulating...around the paper mache boulders and faux-future-furniture, Nimoy found that he could attract eyes with stillness no matter how red in the face the captain got. No other alien race of the "Star Trek" ilk feels so complete, not even the much-focused-on Klingon's of the later shows.
My only memory of Nimoy was a story an old boss of mine told me about Nimoy in his scuffling days when he was working at a small California TV station as a crew-member and when the boss told him to move something, he grinned and said "But, Ozzie! I'm a song-and-dance man!" "Just...move the desk, willya Lenny?"

Back in those early days between sporadic guest shots on television, he was working odd-jobs, trying to make ends meet for his family of four. That same work ethic would apply when "Star Trek" hit big and he could use his name to ensure sales of record albums, poetry and photography collections, making him a 'brand," that would generate income. After "Star Wars" came out, paying its stars to use their likenesses on merchandising, he sued Paramount for a decade of unauthorized usage, winning a settlement from them after holding out appearing in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He parlayed that into a directing career that saw two of his movies be the top-draws for the Christmas seasons of 1986 and 1987. He was a savvy businessman and craftsman, professionally.
Adam Nimoy and father Leonard on the set of "Star Trek."
Before he died in 2015, he'd already agreed to help his son, Adam*, do a movie about Spock for the series' 50th anniversary, no doubt not suspecting it would turn into a memorial. The resulting documentary, For the Love of Spock, hitting theaters and streaming sites simultaneously, is something of a mixed bag. It is at its best, when actually examining Nimoy's life and the "Spock mystique," with archival footage and interviews with Spock grokkers. 
Father and son on the set of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
It is at its worst and most self-indulgent when the director inserts himself into the narrative, which happens more frequently as the movie goes along. It would be impossible for some of this not to come up—the director is the son, and seems to have inherited his father's addictive tendencies, struggling with drink and drugs, and wondering where he fits in with competition from an adoring public. He has suffered tragedy himself, which is touched on briefly in the film. 

It's a bit scatter-shot, wandering from subject to subject and focus to focus until Adam's struggles with coming to terms with his father seems to become the sole focus. It's his movie. He can do what he wants. And his father died during production. Public mourning is to be expected.

But, some of that time could have been filled with expansion. "Star Trek" is a phenomenon in The States, yes. But, one thing that typifies the series and Spock and Nimoy's interpretation of him is the sense of inclusion, of universality—is there any place in the world, any group, any nation, any fans besides the U.S. that might have been included to give the thing a bit more richness, a bit more perspective, a bit more reach? Was it just the United States and geek-dom that was touched by Nimoy, Spock, and his message?

I think not. And the film does a bit of a disservice in not even approaching that subject. It makes it all a bit narrow-minded, as if, yes, the message has been heard, but not really sunk-in, and as if the subject matter of the personal is more important than the perspective. Nimoy had more than an effect on his son, he affected the world and that is given short-shrift. That's a pity. And a lost opportunity.

* The two had already collaborated on an episode of the latter day version of "The Outer Limits," remaking an episode from the original sharing the name and some concepts of Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot."

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