It's tempting to write this review about myself - all about how I only dimly remembered Paul Williams as a camp figure from a favourite cult film Phantom of the Paradise
and for one stunning performance on some TV show where he sang "You and Me Against The World" to a bottle of Jack Daniels and broke my heart - but that would be echoing the major flaw with this documentary. Williams has an incredible story - from respected songwriter to mega-celebrity to shunned substance abuser to comeback king - and it is covered in Paul Williams Still Alive
but tragically buried under the director's unfortunate narration and ego. Williams wrote for David Bowie, appeared on the Tonight Show
over 50 times and was the star of a Brady Bunch variety show - surely he deserves more respect. In the worst tradition of blogging, Paul Williams Still Alive
becomes the tale of the director's quest to befriend Williams and get a confession moment out of the star - the confession moment is unexpected and good but not strong enough to carry the weight of all the twee taddle that came before. The subject matter gets obscured while the writer or director puts himself centrestage but he isn't, despite a lot of ironic self-deprecation, able to hold the spotlight or even our interest. When the narrator says, "Maybe Paul Williams could give me a chance to do something I really cared about," the audience realizes that the documentary has become about the filmmaker rather than Paul Williams. A shame because the filmmaker is a failed comedian while Williams is a serene self-aware little Buddha who seems to have created a wonderful life for himself.
The clips of Williams are a revelation. The sheer number of hit songs he has written is staggering; the number that are already stuck in our collective heads is frightening. "We've Only Just Begun" - especially the Carpenters' version is indelible and while saccharine and schmaltzy also touches the heart and no wonder it is used - STILL! - in weddings The song is true wish fulfillment, and it is hearwarming to find that Williams himself, despite the B-level gigs in Vegas and the loss of his voice, has only just begun.
Why a gay interest in Paul Williams Still Alive
? Unlike the director I doubt very many gay men were infatuated with Williams at any point. While singing with the muppets he is a bespectacled cherub with puffy cheeks and almost indistinguishable from the puppets. However he did have the gay skill of sliding in a self-deprecating comment before anyone else had the chance, making him the joker instead of the butt of the joke. And he does have a song on the new Barbra Streisand album
- he won an Academy Award for co-writing "Evergreen" with Babs. He wrote "The Rainbow Connection" which is a standard for every gay male chorus extant. And the clip in the film where after appearances on camp classic after camp classic, Williams is shot by Angie Dickinson during and episode of Police Woman
- instant elevation to gay cult iconic status.
Paul Williams Still Alive
is filled with clips and quips by Williams and if you can ignore the overarching narration by the filmmaker, it is a fun reminder of the days when being a comical coke-fuelled celebrity was a career and not just the result of stooping to appear on a reality TV show. Though Williams did do the '70s equivalent of reality TV in his quest for world domination: right after winning an Academy Award he appeared, quite happily apparently, on Circus of the Stars
. He was one of the lucky few to escape alive - far from unscathed, but quite inspirational.
Paul William Still Alive is availabe at amazon.com and iTunes.