Paul Williams Still Alive
directed by Stephen Kessler
starring Paul Williams
Admit it. When you saw this title, you thought “Paul Williams? I thought he died or something!” No, it turns out Mr. Williams is alive and well and still performing successfully. Back in the 1970s Williams wrote a stream of big hits, took to performing, and eventually became an all around “entertainer” who wrote, sang, and acted in TV Land classics like The Brady Bunch, Police Woman, The Tonight Show and nearly any awards show that would have him. Short and bit pudgy, he always exuded the aura of “I’m fabulous, and you’re blessed to be in my presence even though this is just crappy network television.” After a decade of success the inevitable drugs, rehabs, and obscurity engulfed him, but when he came back, he still had fans and he still entertained. Heck, they even love him in the Philippines.
So why this documentary, and why now? That’s the challenge of this entertaining but lightweight look at the “where is he now” genre. We see director Kessler approach Williams, who is initially reluctant, but he likes being the center of attention and soon Kessler is following him around looking for an angle. They bond over a mutual taste for squid, and after jetting around the country for a few months Kessler and Williams become good buddies. We see Williams’ hotel rooms, meet his wife and agent, chat with his musical director (who refuses to dish any dirt) and see dozens of clips from Williams’ personal archive, which is kept in a store-all unit somewhere in L.A.
While the fun of seeing Williams’ vintage performances makes this enjoyable, Kessler seems overly involved; he reads him travel warnings, and freaks out on a third world bus trip while Williams is perfectly happy to be the tourist. It never feels like Kessler has a story goal, rather he hangs around until he has enough footage and enough story arc to put together 90 minutes of low-keyed pop history. Williams’ continued popularity might be a little surprising, but he’s one of a large group of pop stars who has journeyed the same path of success, addiction, and then either death or rehab. Williams made his recovery gracefully. He’s an addiction counselor today, and while he didn’t find Jesus, he’s kept his good name and his family which is something. I’m entertained and moved, but this documentary is more interesting because of its star rather than its storytelling.
This film was presented as part of the 2012 Florida Film Festival.
Florida Film Festival: www.FloridaFilmFestival.com