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Bill W. (2012)

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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 118 users   Metascore: 69/100
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A documentary about Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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Based on the true story of the enduring but troubled love between Lois Wilson, co-founder of Al-Anon, and her alcoholic husband Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Bill Wilson ...
Himself (voice)
Dr. Bob ...
Himself (voice)
Blake J. Evans ...
...
Dennis Lowell ...
Hank Parkhurst
Julia Schell ...
Denis McKeown
...
Ruth Hock
...
Lenore Pershing ...
Max Owens ...
Ron Nagle ...
Bill's Grandfather
Laura Kauffmann ...
Martha Deane
Patrick Kleeman ...
Bill's Armistice Day Friend
Francis Stallings ...
Kathleen Parkhurst
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Storyline

William G. Wilson is co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, a man included in TIME Magazine's "100 Persons of the 20th Century." Interviews, recreations, and rare archival material reveal how Bill Wilson, a hopeless drunk near death from his alcoholism, found a way out of his own addiction and then forged a path for countless others to follow. With Bill as its driving force, A.A. grew from a handful of men to a worldwide fellowship of over 2 million men and women - a success that made him an icon within A.A., but also an alcoholic unable to be a member of the very society he had created. A reluctant hero, Bill Wilson lived a life of sacrifice and service, and left a legacy that continues every day, all around the world. Written by page 124 productions

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Where do we aim what we thirst for?


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Unrated
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18 May 2012 (USA)  »

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Soundtracks

Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat Major, BWV 1010- Courante
Performed by Yo-Yo Ma
Courtesy of Sony Masterworks
By arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
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User Reviews

 
A man whose contributions proved invaluable and incalculable
27 March 2013 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Bill Wilson (also known as "Bill W.") seems to embody the archetypal characteristics that make the American hero. Bill founded the popular organization Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), but the catch here is that he was not only the organization's founder but a fellow member, who long struggled with alcoholism after his service in World War I. He was a man who tried to conquer and overcome his own personal demons, while recognizing and assisting those with similar ones. He's an underrated, often uncredited man.

Thankfully, Dan Carracino and Kevin Hanlon credit his valuable contributions with Bill W., a documentary humanizing the man behind AA, who often remained a vague figure to even those apart of the organization. So much so that his last name wasn't even revealed until his death in 1971. Bill was born in East Dorset, Vermont in 1895, living a quiet and humble life, and had not his first drink until he was in military training; it was a glass of beer which had no effect on him whatsoever. That was until he drank again at a party, breaking free from his shyness and introverted personality into a man of confidence and liberation.

Not long after marrying his wife Lois, Bill left to serve in World War I. Upon returning, he became a stock speculator and traveled with his wife in an effort to make ends meet and stay sober. Unfortunately, that didn't work either, and Bill's constant binge drinking and pervasive drunkenness effectively tore his life and career apart. Thankfully, with the commitment of his long-suffering wife, him and his close friend Hank G. Parkhurst founded AA, a spiritual program for struggling alcoholics.

At the time, this kind of thing was unheard of, and the documentarians make note of that. Alcoholism was seen as more of a weakness than a sweeping disease. People were often given medication or committed to an asylum in order to maintain sobriety. Bill's approach with AA was much more humane and organized, but different and something of a wonder. Instead of focusing on heavy medication or persistent psychoanalysis and treatment, Bill predicated the organization off of six steps (now infamously known as "the twelve-step program") that allowed one person to get deeply in touch with their inner-alcoholic self, using religion, spirituality, mental stability, and determination as key functions to get to and remain in a state of sobriety. This method of "natural cures" was also unheard of at time, and for that reason, the more and more I think of Bill more as not only a lifesaver, but a pioneer.

Bill's story is largely told by current AA members (some who've maintained sobriety for an upwards of fifty years) shown in shadow to obscure identity. "Alcoholism is a treacherous disease," says one member, "and there's a real barrier to recognizing things like this." What he is saying is that perhaps alcoholism is a hard thing to pinpoint for those who are struggling because they may feel like they have just gone over the line of "one too many" a few times and that it's no big deal in the long run. Or perhaps they find that they are more competent and confident when under the influence. Alcoholism is a sad addiction because you usually can't see the world crumble around; you only see your surrealistic vision of it.

A terrific feature about Bill W. is that it allows itself to be told not just through the perspective of current AA members, but himself, in archive footage, live interviews, and speaking sessions. This provides the film with a close-to-home feel, as if Bill is still telling his story even though he's no longer with us. I could listen to Bill talk for hours, personally. He has a deeply sophisticated persona about him, calm, determined, and filled with dry-wit, as he recounts his darkest days and his brightest ones in an attempt to lead others as far away as possible from the path of self-destruction.

Bill W. best serves as a film that allows the man, who has heard a number of stories, the opportunity to let his story be heard by members and people who are likely unaware of the accomplishments and tribulations he went through. Perhaps current AA members or those who have handled their problems with alcoholism away from the institution will enjoy this film more than me. I admire Wilson's accomplishments and truly believe he deserves the title of "one of the most influential men of the century," yet I am unable to form a deep connection with any story here or with Wilson himself, which seems to crucial to enjoy this documentary. I would never discourage anyone from seeing it, but the main effect may likely be absent from most viewers.

Starring: Bill Wilson (archive footage) and Blake J. Evans. Directed by: Dan Carracino and Kevin Hanlon.


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