Paul Williams Still Alive: Singer, songwriter, actor, all-around pop icon. He was one of those people that I grew up watching, and whether it was because he was on The Muppet Show, Battle For the Planet of the Apes,or the Donnie and Marie Show, I was always a fan of his. The fact that he wrote "Rainbow Connection" was an added bonus. Last weekend, the closing film at the Cleveland International Film Festival was Paul Williams Still Alive, and he was there to give a Q and A after the film.
The film was directed by Stephen Kessler, who, by his own admission, made a film that audiences seemed to like but critics didn't (Vegas Vacation - which I do think is funny), and one that the critics liked but audiences didn't see (The Independent - which I didn't see). Within this film, he becomes a supporting character.
Kessler essentially became a stalker of Paul Williams, following him around, and finding out what he's been up to (especially since he was surprised to find out he was, in fact, still alive). Paul had spent the last bunch of years actually being pretty productive. He was clean and sober and was a certified drug and alcohol counselor. He still toured the country (and lots of other countries, too, where apparently, his star is still shining bright).
But the documentary is very much about Kessler trying to figure out why his favorite pop culture icon was no longer part of the public consciousness. But Paul Williams doesn't care. And therein lies the whole message of this particular film. As much as Kessler is looking for answers in the past, Paul Williams is very much looking towards the future. It's very telling that when Kessler asks Williams if he thought that being on The Gong Show was when he started to see his star decline, and Williams defended his appearance on the show. He didn't see it as a step down. It was just another fun thing to do. But he also didn't spend much time dwelling on those years. Those were times that he did what he set out to do, and what he's doing today is what he wants to do. There's no regrets. Why would there be? It's a nice little commentary on today's stars. If an appearance on The Apprentice is a fun thing to do, who are we to say that it's a step down for them.
And after the film, Paul and Stephen talked to the audience for about 20 minutes answering questions. The most revealing thing was Paul talking about his lowest point in addiction, and the day things turned around. It was a truly touching and amazing story, and you could almost see Stephen standing next to him thinking to himself, "Why didn't you say any of this to me, so I could get it on film?"
This is a funny and fascinating film, about a 70's icon. And a 70's icon who I have always appreciated. So I give it ***1/2. If he had less of an impact on you (or no impact at all) then I would say ***.