Friday, March 29, 2013

Paul Williams: Still Alive, A Film (DVD) by Stephen Kessler

Stephen Kessler in his film Paul Williams: Still Alive (Virgil Films DVD 670836) gives us a kind of cautionary tale that also happens to be a hell of a good yarn.

It's all about how you can do right, have great artistic and commercial success, and in so doing go sky rocketing into disaster. It is the story of singer-songwriter Paul Williams and what he did before and after "the crash" of events put an end to his career.

The premise of the film is that Stephen Kessler discovers that the hero of his youth, who vanished from sight some time in the early '70s, still lives. He finds him singing at a small club in the present day, talks with him, and they agree to make a film about Paul Williams today, his comings and goings. Williams insists that the film will end up being more about the film-maker than it will be about him, and in some ways he is right. But in the process Paul Williams is revealed quite candidly as the man who stepped into an abyss and emerged from it all somehow a better person for it.

This comes about via Kessler's everyday interactions with Paul, following and filming him on tour, making the rounds in dramatically humbler circumstances than during the halcyon days.

At first Williams tends to be standoffish, uncomfortable being back in the spotlight, but there is a dramatic turn of events when he at last invites Kessler to his house. They watch footage of Williams at the height of media fame, pretty well blasted with drugs and alcohol, filled with a kind of overweening pride. Williams confronts that past self at last for the cameras, and he doesn't like what he sees.

In the process the film takes you gradually ever deeper into the Paul Williams who was in a sense a victim of his own success, who had to let go of all of it and start over almost from nothing, who ends up becoming a sympathetic, likable guy whereas you see him in earlier footage increasingly becoming the self-absorbed king of the star-encrusted lounge lizards.

It's a film that gradually pulls you into its slice-of-life orbit to discover along with Steve who this recreated Paul Williams has become and what was left to him after it all went to smash.

A good look at the effects of '60s starmaking, what it made of people...and an absorbing story, well-presented to boot.

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