a/perture Cinema, David Bowie, Helen Reddy, IMDb, Johnny Carson, Love Boat, Netflix, Paul Williams, Phantom of the Paradise, Rotten Tomatoes, Stephen Kessler, The Carpenters, The Less Desirables, The Tonight Show, Three Dog Night
a/perture cinema, the Official Movie Sponsor of The Less Desirables, presents The Less Desirables Movie of the Week, Paul Williams: Still Alive (2012). The film stars, well, you guessed it, Paul Williams.
Filmmaker Stephen Kessler’s documentary about finding out his childhood hero, Paul Williams, the entertainer, songwriter, singer and actor who wrote songs for commercials and films, including Phantom of the Paradise in which he also played the heavy (which is funny considering his 5’2” stature). He also wrote songs commercially that was recorded by other artists such as The Carpenters (“We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays”), Three Dog Night (“Old Fashioned Love Song”), Helen Reddy (“You and Me against the World”), David Bowie (“Fill Your Heart”) and others. Also, he wrote the supposed childhood hit “Rainbow Connection.” I’ve only heard that song, all the way through, once in my life and I didn’t get the hoopla, wasn’t a fan. That’s not putting it down, just didn’t care for it the first time I heard it. If it was playing right now, I’d not even know what it was. One more… he wrote the lyrics to one of my favorite TV show themes ever, “Love Boat Theme.” I would have probably been a fan of Paul had I been about three years older. I just missed out, I think. But, what I didn’t know of Paul Williams is probably more profound in watching this.
The filmmaker was surprised to find out that not only was his idol alive but was 16 years sober (as of the making of this film, 20 as of its release). It recounts the 50+ appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as well other variety/talk shows. Also, the film shows him speaking at addiction support conventions and on small stages performing now and throughout his career. Some of the heaviest part of the doc was when they ended up on a small tour of the Philippines and going through the Mindanao Jungle where a lot of al Qaeda and other terror activities had been happening. There were scares but in the end, it was all good.
As a kid, leading an admittedly sheltered life, I never dealt with or knew anyone or even knew to recognize when someone was on drugs, so I wouldn’t have known any of those demons, which haunted Paul, was the case. I just knew him as the long, blond-haired funny looking guy that was on shows that Ma ‘Rents watched that I usually ignored or left the room for. Man, I really was sheltered. I see that more after watching this.
Kessler grows closer to Williams as the film went on; totally admitting at the end that he didn’t want to stop hanging out with him. Finally, getting what he ultimately wanted as the fan, not the filmmaker: he got to stay at Paul’s house. He got footage of Paul watching some of his old footage and the reactions were apprehensive with Paul getting up and walking away from the screen, worrying about what his daughter will think about how he was (strung out, addicted, etc.), then.
I’ve not really given anything away, here. It’s a documentary, documenting what has happened, not fiction. No matter what I tell you of the contents, the story is still relevant and intriguing. I love stuff like this and seeing the behind the scenes is always some of my most favorite content. With most everything, I am more intrigued by the things you don’t see than what you do. Documentaries like this are generally informational and shows the human side of the subjects as opposed to the glam and glitter. And shows what he does now (2012).
My main concern about the film is the filmmaker, as is most of the reviews that I read. Stephen Kessler is a superfan. He makes no bones about it and becomes a creeperish stalker and completely intruding into the life of Paul Williams. Now, granted, Williams had to agree to the doc, of course, but probably had very little say in how anyone was portrayed or shown in the film. Kessler, at least in the beginning, was background other than narration. Basically, Paul opened the door and allowed him in. Once in, he never left. It was more about how he felt about things than how Paul felt about things. As it could be construed as a documentary about Paul Williams, I think it was more a documentary about Stephen Kessler being a fan of Paul Williams.
Rotten Tomatoes has it at 97% Fresh with an audience score of 80%. IMDb has it at 6.9 stars out of 10. I saw this on Netflix and I rated it 4 stars, and the only reason why it’s not higher is because of Kessler’s injection of himself throughout. Paul Williams, I have a newfound respect for. I would have probably liked a lot of his stuff more if I had been about 3 years older. I just missed the cusp of knowing. So I recommend this if a) you’re a fan of Paul Williams, b) you like docs on past-prime celebrities that are still giving it a go (or those who aren’t) or c) don’t mind gluttonous, gratuitous, arse-kissing filmmakers. Have you seen it? What did you think? Let me know!
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old. Sometimes I’d like to quit, nothin’ ever seems to fit. Hangin’ around, nothin’ to do but frown. Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” – “Rainy Days and Mondays” (Williams/Nichols)