Williams: Still Alive
by Stephen Kessler
Paul Williams had a problem:
He also had a solution: more fame.
His battle with the Fame Monster and its subsequent
toll on his career, health and loved ones is the subject of
Kessler's poignant and inspiring documentary, which made its debut on September 11,
2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival.
film is a compelling, at times harrowing examination of a talented
underdog whose golden songwriting touch and quick wit saw him
showered with awards, accolodes and access to Hollywood's
elite throughout the seventies. Only after a lengthy struggle with
addiction (and parenthood) did he gain the wisdom to escape the "Mr.
Showbiz" persona that had earlier so defined him.
Using a staggering number of archival clips of
Paul's many TV guest appearances, the film is a visual treat for any
child of the seventies, when Paul could be seen trading quips with
Johnny Carson or singing a duet with Kermit the Frog in any given week.
We learn only now
that his desire to be special
-- rather than different
-- led him to make a number of decisions
and take risks that not only harmed his career but nearly ended his
The film is primarily an examination of trust, as
Kessler suffers through long stretches where his subject is
clearly having second thoughts about the concept of
"unlimited access". Ultimately, the director is forced to become a
participant in his own documentary, a move which seems to finally break
the tension and allow Paul Williams to let down his guard.
The result is a candid, occasionally uncomfortable, but
ultimately revelatory portrait of a man pursuing his livelihood on his
pursuit led him to Winnipeg will be of overwhelming interest to those
who attended his 2006 concert at Phantompalooza 2, the apex of this
city's charming love affair with Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise.
The event is lovingly
captured and plays a crucial role in the director's discovery that not
only is Paul Williams still alive, he continues to bring love and life
to fans around the world.