I did not attend his presentation, which was about the graphic novels, but at the closing ceremony of the con, Koenig gave a Q&A and shared his short film with a public audience for the first time.
Here’s his head shot:
I didn’t watch Star Trek much. I saw a few episodes when I was a kid, but more The Next Generation, than the original, and I enjoyed it well enough, but I couldn’t conjure a mental image when I heard that Koenig was going to be at the Con. I consulted IMDb and checked out his website, and felt confident that I would have another 40 hours of media catch up to play in order to be equipped to comment adequately on his work.
So I offer the following as a Trekkie outsider.
My experience at WCC’s closing ceremony
Koenig is tiny and frail and he wears a big, black jacket. He wears a black baseball cap. Baseball caps always make people look like cartoon characters. From my seat in the audience, I can’t tell if his coat is leather, but it looks heavy on his shoulders. Maybe he is hunched with age. That head shot makes him look at least a decade younger than he does in person.
Even though his physical presence is microscopic, he commands the stage with grace and humor. His voice has the lilt of a person who had training in diction back when Hollywood cared about such things.
He shows us a short film he made called “Handball,” that is more self indulgent character sketch born out of grief than contribution to the film canon.
I think, “when you’re a guy who was part of a show that people now treat like a religion, you can do that,” and I feel like it’s okay.
The film deals with loss and haunting. Maybe you know that Koenig lost a son too recently. Anyone who’s lost a child, no matter how long ago, has done it too recently.
At the end of the film, “For Andrew” flashes across for a few seconds.
After the film, a man in the audience who is old enough to know better asks, “Is Andrew your son?”
Koenig’s discomfort is clear.
Later, the same man asks, “So was the film about your son?”
Koenig’s discomfort is clearer.
Later still, someone else asks a more intrepid question about the connection between the obvious theme of loss in the film and Koenig’s son. Koenig says, at that point, something like, “You never get over losing a child. Sometimes you try to think about something else, you have to.”
I am embarrassed for the people who are asking questions in the audience. With only two exceptions, the questions are masturbatory and showy and designed by the askers to indicate how much privileged understanding they have of Star Trek and what they imagine to be true about Koenig as a person, instead of his character, Anton Checkov.
They seem to be folks who fail to understand the difference between fiction and nonfiction, reality and make believe.
They insist on asking him about multiple science fiction movies, even though he clearly doesn’t know what they’re talking about. He says his favorite film last year was Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which makes me so happy.
The aesthetic in his short film is realism.
He is clearly bewildered by the audience’s insistence that he is like them. Or maybe I project my own bewilderment, it must be something he’s used to.
I can’t help but pity him for his fifty-year career that’s besotted by fans who fail to recognize the difference between a character and the actor who plays him. I think about that funny, but smart movie, Nurse Betty.
And I pity the geeks, too: The people who believe that he’s something more than a regular guy, an artist, who lives in a posh house in California somewhere, who has more money than most people, and who also happened to play a beloved role on a beloved show which became another show which became another show which became some movies and a bunch of toys and stuff.*
I am relieved for him when the time is up, when Koenig can go sit in his first-class airplane seat and warm himself with a cup of tea and think about himself and the world and be sad.
He deserves to be sad. But he is motoring forth. His website is abuzz with projects and ideas. He even has a blog.
If only more of us regular people could be like Walter Koenig the man, instead of dressing up like his character on Star Trek.
*It begs mentioning that not a single person asked a single question about his more recent Babylon 5.