Paul Williams: Still Alive Review (Kirk Haviland)

Paul Williams: Still Alive (2011)

Starring Paul Williams

Written and Directed by Stephen Kessler

In a year where this critic has personally seen some fantastic music documentaries the likes of Marley, My Father and the Man in Black  and Charles Bradley: Soul of America, I was wary that a documentary about singer/songwriter Paul Williams could measure up. Fortunately director Kessler delivers a very personal, funny and engaging film about not only Paul but himself as well. Paul Williams is indeed alive and very feisty in this film, using shot footage mixed with archival footage as we trace the rise, fall and rebirth of the man that wrote the immortal “Rainbow Connection” amongst other classic songs.

Director Kessler starts musing about how he used to admire the 5’2 Williams as a child. Williams had a very storied career in the 70’s, acting in major television shows and movies like Smokey and the Bandit and the cult classic Phantom of the Paradise. Along with recording his own albums Williams wrote chart toppers for David Bowie, The Carpenters and his greatest hit was in collaboration with Barbara Streisand off the A Star is Born soundtrack, a song that won him a Academy Award. Kessler attempts to purchase one of Williams’ albums online and aaccidentally discovers that the man he thought was dead was very much alive. Travelling to Winnipeg, Manitoba for “Phantompaloza” in 2006, celebrating the aforementioned Phantom of the Paradise, Kessler meets a now 16 year sober Williams as her performs a live concert as part of the event. Convincing Williams to allow him to film him for a documentary, Kessler spends the next couple of years filming the sometimes cantankerous Williams, as the two eventually bond over terrorist threats during a tour of the Philippines, and discussing where it all went wrong while simultaneously tracking his career through the 70’s with intercut archival footage. Williams is affected greatly by a clip of him hosting a talk show completely out of his mind on cocaine in the early 80’s, a clip he does not finish watching. Based on this though, as it is one of very limited footage the director could find at the time, Williams opens up his storage unit full of boxes of mementos and rare footage that fills out the documentary.

Gruff at times and loveable at others, Williams comes off as extremely likeable and you really do root for him. The archival footage is fantastic, Williams a regular on shows like The Tonight Show, The Muppet Show, Match Game and many more is a genuinely funny man. Though despite all the accolades, Williams is at his happiest now. With his 3rd wife, he admits he was not a good husband to his first 2, on tour and invested in his career and being completely sober, Williams is enjoying his connection to his fans and being able to perform for them.

While not as strongly produced as the documentaries I mentioned earlier, Paul Williams: Still Alive is still a hell of a lot of fun. The Archival footage is great and there is so much laughter in here mainly because Paul himself is truly hilarious. For a fun light-hearted time I give Paul Williams: Still Alive a solid recommend.

Paul Williams: Still Alive starts an exclusive run at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Friday August 10th.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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