Paul Williams Still Alive (PG-13)


Movie Info

Rating: * * 1/2

Writer-director: Stephen Kessler.

Producers: Jim Czarnecki, Stephen Kessler, Mike Wilkins.

An Abramorama release. Running time: 84 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: O Cinema.

The Seattle Times

In the ’70s, Paul Williams was everywhere. The diminutive songwriter ( Evergreen, We’ve Only Just Begun, and many more) with the limp blond shag and tinted aviator glasses was a permanent fixture on television; a regular on game shows like The Gong Show and The Match Game and a frequent pop-in on TV series such as The Odd Couple, Police Woman, Baretta and The Love Boat. He was all over the talk shows, too, sometimes singing his songs in his slightly tinny voice, sometimes genially mocking his less-than-glamorous appearance. And then, suddenly, he was gone.

Director Stephen Kessler was once a TV-obsessed ’70s kid, drawn to Williams’ friendly persona; he seemed to Kessler less a star than a teddy bear in a green-velvet three-piece suit. The title and inspiration for his film, Paul Williams Still Alive came from Kessler’s recent discovery that the star he’d assumed to have died long ago — why else would he have disappeared? — was indeed alive and well, and still singing. Kessler sought out his former idol, now somewhat less blond and asked to make a film about him.

The resulting documentary, at once endearing and dull, does indeed tell us about Williams, but it also tells us perhaps too much about Kessler. The filmmaker keeps inserting himself into the story: tagging along on Williams’ concert tour to the Philippines, riding to Las Vegas with Williams and his wife, filming dull lunchtime conversations during which we learn, for example, that both Williams and Kessler really, really like squid. Toward the end of the documentary, Kessler admits something we’ve already figured out: The process has dragged on so long simply because Kessler doesn’t want to stop hanging out with Williams.

Though Williams expresses some good-natured frustration with the filming process, he readily shares some stories from his life, most notably, the addiction that led to his disappearance from the public eye decades ago, and his proud 20-year sobriety. The songs are given their due, particularly The Rainbow Connection, a sweet tune (originally sung by Kermit the Frog) that has a magical ability to make me tear up every time.

Patient folk who remember Williams from his heyday will enjoy not only the trip down memory lane, but also the constant evidence that Williams is a hell of a good sport. It’s touching to see the fans who gather for Williams’ current concerts, who tell Kessler’s camera why they’re still with him.

Says one woman simply, “He writes songs about what I feel.”

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