By Gregory Crofton
“BILL W.” is a documentary about the man who founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 with the help of Dr. Bob Smith, who Wilson had helped get sober.
The first frames of the film are wonderful: Super 8 footage of Bill Wilson taking a brisk walk on a fall day. Things on screen slow down from there. The doc relies heavily on re-created scenes, audio recordings, and Wilson’s handwritten notes.
Wilson was a complex man, perhaps a genius. Even during his alcoholic days, he was accomplished. Wilson was a pioneer on Wall Street as one of the first financial analysts to go and visit a company in order to gather fresh and accurate data.
But the filmmaking gets a bit bogged down and overlooks some essential connective parts of Wilson’s life.
For example, the character of his wife of more than 50 years, Lois Burnham, is not shown other than mentioning that she tolerated a love affair her husband had with a younger woman. Wilson had also suffered from depression, but its connection to his alcohol problem and possibly his LSD use (which he experimented with later in life) isn’t discussed.
Still there is much to learn and reflect on in this exploration of the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous. Wilson’s work has saved, and continues to save, the lives of millions.