I reviewed “Paul Williams Still Alive” when I was the Toronto Film Festival in 2011, and I think of the film as a 2011 release because of that. Technically, though, it’s eligible for awards this year, and one of the ones they’re aiming for is an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
Much of what you hear in the film comes from his long and remarkable career, and for many people, the film serves to connect dots they may not have known were connected at all. The Carpenters, the Muppets, commercial work… so many of his songs have sunk into our collective cultural subconscious that we know them more than we know him.
When I spoke to Williams during the Toronto Film Festival, it was one of those interviews that could have gone on another two hours, and I wouldn’t have even begun to run out of things to talk to him about. I feel bad that we never made it to the subject of “Still Alive,” the original song he wrote for the documentary, and I’m glad to see that the company behind the film is working hard to get it out there.
The thing about a documentary like this is that it could easily hurt the subject of it if they’re not able to view themselves with perspective. The entire premise of the film is that filmmaker Stephen Kessler, a fan of the work Williams did in the ’70s, was doing an Internet search one day, presuming that Williams was dead. When he found out he was still alive and still performing, he tracked him down and asked if he could start filming a “where is he now?” sort of piece.
The friendship that develops is part of the story of the film, but so is the circuitous route that Williams has taken professionally. He is so frank about his own failings and the opportunities that he has both embraced and screwed up that It’s sort of heartbreaking. The video uses footage from his whole career as well as footage from the documentary, and I think it’s a nice encapsulation of the mood of the film.
I am thrilled that Williams seems to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts, and as filmmakers like Edgar Wright and Guillermo Del Toro speak out about how much they love and revere his work, it creates a chance that we’ll soon have more new work to enjoy. I can’t wait for the “Pan’s Labyrinth” musical and anything else Williams is involved in moving forward.
Here’s the video:
“Paul Williams Still Alive” is currently available via Amazon Instant Video.