PAUL WILLIAMS STILL ALIVE (2012)


paul1 Greetings again from the darkness. This documentary was recommended to me by Adam, a music expert and fellow movie lover. Without his urging, I probably would have never taken the time to watch this ultimately fascinating and intriguing look at Paul Williams. I say that after an extremely clunky first few minutes where director Stephen Kessler, a self-proclaimed childhood fan of Williams, displays his insecurities and lack of focus as a filmmaker.  Kesssler’s most famous directorial effort was Vegas Vacation (he even pokes fun at it himself).

If you don’t recognize the name Paul Williams, then you probably didn’t watch TV or listen to the radio in the 1970’s. The guy was everywhere! Known mostly for his prolific songwriting, he also performed, appeared in movies (Smokey and the Bandit), TV shows, game shows and talk shows. In fact, he was a favorite of Johnny Carson and appeared on “The Tonight Show” fifty times! And then … just like that … he was gone. Drugs and alcohol destroyed his career. Now twenty years sober, he still performs – just in much smaller venues. This is man who has spent much time soul-searching. His insight into being different (difficult) or special (addicting) makes for a chilling moment.  He pulls no punches admitting he loved the celebrity life.

paul3 The best stories have an abundance of conflict, and it turns out that the polar opposite goals of Williams and Kessler make for some spellbinding viewing. See, Kessler wants to figure out what happened to the 1970’s icon he so admired, and Williams simply wants to show how he has adjusted to a somewhat normal life. Kessler wants to look back, while Williams is living (happily) in the present.  It’s quite telling to watch Williams’ wife consistently flash a look of annoyance while the camera is running.  And in keeping with the “now”, there is very little mention of Williams’ long time collaborator Roger Nichols.

Kessler follows Williams around until he is forced to join him in front of the camera. Their strained relationship is painful to watch until things begin to turn during a long bus ride in the Phillipines. With so much of the focus on Kessler’s fanboy attempt to connect with Williams, this is as much a personality thesis of the director as it is a look at the history and current status of Williams.

paul2 The final act of the film seems a bit staged as Kessler finally gets the “sleepover” at Williams’ house that he had been after for 2 plus years. Reviewing old TV clips does not get the desired reaction … Kessler never seemed to grasp what he had with this film. It’s obvious that the two men now have a connection, but if you are expecting a tribute film to the glory years of Paul Williams, you will be disappointed. If instead you embrace this unusual film, you will come away impressed with the man that Paul Williams has become. It’s no “Rainbow Connection” but maybe it’s even more.

Career highlights:

Paul Williams wrote the following songs: “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” both by The Carpenters, “An Old Fashioned Love Song” by Three Dog Night,  “You and Me Against the World” by Helen Reddy, “Evergreen” by Barbra Streisand (they shared the Academy Award), “Rainbow Connection” by Kermit The Frog/Jim Henson

He received 6 total Oscar nominations including his win for “Evergreen” and a Best Score Oscar nomination for Phantom of the Paradise (1974, directed by Brian DePalma)

He also received 5 Golden Globe nominations (2 wins), 2 Grammy nominations, and 2 Emmy nominations.

**NOTE: Paul’s brother Mentor Williams is also a songwriter, and he wrote the Dobie Gray hit “Drift Away”(1973)

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-Gc-fW_aSU

 

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