For the Love of Spock

For-the-Love-of-Spock-smAdam Nimoy had already been working in collaboration with his father on a documentary celebrating his life and his relationship with his most famous role, Spock, when his father’s already poor health deteriorated. Weakened by smoking, though he had already given up the habit many years before, Leonard Nimoy died of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on February 27th 2015, just weeks before what would have been is eighty fourth birthday.

Aware of the fame of his father from an early age, Adam Nimoy had been ten years old when Star Trek debuted in September 1966 when they visited friends to watch the premiere in colour as they only had a black and white set at home and had grown up sharing his father with his career in Starfleet and the adulation that followed (“Our family activity was answering fan mail”) but even he was astonished by the expressions of deep affection and sadness which swept the globe following the death of his father.

For-the-Love-of-Spock-1Inspired to expand the remit of the documentary to encompass the wider career of his father, a campaign was organised via Kickstarter both in order to raise funds to licence the vast array of clips now included and to allow those fans to participate in the process, sharing memories, photographs and video footage in addition to the extensive archives of the Nimoy family themselves, home movies, snapshots, newspaper and magazine clippings.

Running at almost two hours, a documentary dedicated to a single performer most widely recognised for a single role, even one with a history spanning almost fifty years from The Cage in 1964 to Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013, might seem a stretch, but Spock was much more than a character, frequently and correctly referred to in the documentary as “a pop-culture icon,” and Leonard Nimoy was much more beyond an actor.

For-the-Love-of-Spock-3Having acted since he was a child, his parents were “grief stricken” when young Leonard announced he wished to make this his profession, and proceeded to work an astonishing array of odd jobs in order to make ends meet to support his own family, wife Zandra and their children. Even while contracted to Star Trek he would “very rarely turn down paid work,” attending events at weekends and sleeping in the makeup chair on Monday morning.

It’s a chronological telling but with reflections and commentary from a variety of archive interview sources across the decades, and in addition to Leonard Nimoy’s own observations there is no lack of input from his former colleagues and celebrity fans, among them actor Jim Parsons, comedian Jason Alexander and cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson, nor those close to him, his son Adam, his daughter Julie, his brother Mel and sister-in-law Sybil.

For-the-Love-of-Spock-2The rare archive material is beautifully restored, with footage from Gunsmoke and The Lieutenant as well as many excerpts from Star Trek, as wonderfully colourful and beautifully filmed as when first broadcast though it is frustrating that the selections are from the modernised “remastered” editions of the episodes from 2006 with the well-intentioned but embarrassingly artificial digital effects of that now-distant time.

Most affecting of these clips is a single scene from This Side of Paradise, showcasing not only the brave and sensitive performance of Leonard Nimoy but also his co-star Jill Ireland, the writing of D C Fontana, the direction of Ralph Senensky, the cinematography of Jerry Finnerman and the music of Gerald Fried, reminding that as much as the crew of the Enterprise was an ensemble, so were all those behind the camera.

For-the-Love-of-Spock-4Regrettably but unavoidably only represented through a series of stills and reminiscences are the stage career he cultivated throughout the seventies, Fiddler on the Roof, The Man in the Glass Booth, Sherlock Holmes, Equus, Vincent, performances which brought him an acclaim and appreciation unexpected from the man best known for the ears and the frown who prior to Star Trek had never had an acting job which lasted for more than two weeks.

Those who never met him may be surprised by the huge contrast between Leonard Nimoy and the more reserved persona for which he is known, hugely alive, entertaining, vibrant in his love of the character and what has grown around him but sharing the insight and thoughtfulness for which Spock is renowned, and this it is also an account of five decades of cultural history and those who have been touched by it from The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and beyond, even gently sidling up to the fan phenomenon of “slash” fiction.

For-the-Love-of-Spock-5Between the obligations of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, both Julie and Adam confirm without any hint of resentment that that during those years their father was not around for much of the week and learning lines on weekends, though there was a later toll as he began to drink. Both Leonard and Adam suffered through substance abuse which strained their relationship and were estranged for many years, and this is also a frank and unvarnished charting of that relationship and their reconciliation.

Despite the circumstances of the creation, For the Love of Spock is never maudlin, never less than a celebration of the director, poet, photographer, musician, actor, father and brother whose determination and humanity touched a generation. There is sadness and difficulty but with an almost Vulcan detachment and rationality all is framed within the wider context of a life well lived.

For-the-Love-of-Spock-6“Most everyone feels a little bit like an outsider,” says J J Abrams who engaged Nimoy in a recurring role on Fringe and later directed him in his final appearances as Spock. “I would argue the most interesting people seem to.” The son of immigrants who played the child of two planets and charted his own course to the stars, there are many who still find kinship and inspiration in Spock.

Interviewed in costume on a recreation of the original bridge of the Enterprise, that sentiment is echoed by NASA engineer Bobak Ferdowsi, whose love of the show helped him accept his dual Iranian and American heritage, a charming and enthusiastic poster boy for both the philosophy of IDIC and the urge for knowledge and achievement which exemplify Star Trek in all its forms. Like many, he arrived there through the love of Spock.

For the Love of Spock is now available online via We Are Colony


Follow the links for our own personal remembrances of Leonard Nimoy and our appraisal of his career and legacy