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PAUL WILLIAMS: STILL ALIVE

PAUL WILLIAMS: STILL ALIVE


 

 


(New Addition on October 18, 2012)

Colin appears in "Paul Williams: Still Alive" via pay-per-view

 

 

 


 

(New Addition on April 16, 2012)

The Official Trailer for the documentary:




Colin had the opportunity to attend the world premiere of Stephen Kessler's documentary "Paul Williams: Still Alive" this past weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival. Meeting up on the morning of September 11th, 2011 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto, Ontario, with the publicity people, with Paul and us in tow we proceeded to take an oddly meandering couple of elevator rides to get one flight up from the floor we were on. Eventually we found ourselves where we were supposed to be and within a few minutes we were joined by Stephen Kessler, the director and, as it turns out, co-star of the documentary. Here is that interview:




There's a little story about the reason for this meeting, which Stephen touches on briefly at the end of the interview, and then what follows is something of a first for us, an actual review of the new documentary. 

About a year ago Colin received an email through MySpace! (what ever possessed him to go to that outdated social networking site we have no idea, but that doesn't matter now... ) where he found a request to use footage from his 2003 interview with Paul Williams for a documentary. My first thought was "I wonder how much this footage is worth in Dollars?".... okay, sue me... I pondered the thought.

After Judy researched and confirmed that Paul had agreed to let a filmmaker follow him around and produce a documentary on him, and in fact had ASKED for the footage to be included all mercenary thought disappeared, and we said "Of Course". We exist at the good graces of our guests, and there is little Paul could ask of us that we would turn down. So I located the best existing footage we could locate and sent about a minute's worth of footage to Stephen at his request. We've been anxiously awaiting the results since then, and were extremely delighted to find out the premiere was NOT to be a west coast event, but rather an all-too-close Toronto at the prestigious Toronto Int'l Film Festival. Tuxes were readied, dresses prepped, and pestering organizational phone calls to Stephen were made, and before we knew it we were on our way to see Colin's feature film debut in style.

By T.I.F.F. standards we are pretty certain the celebrity-watching results were meager in comparison to what luck others might have had... We saw Geoffrey Rush, Francis Ford Coppola, Brad Pitt and very possibly Colin thinks Jane Fonda. But the only ones we were concerned about were the stars of the movie, and they were gracious, if somewhat pressed for time, to do the interview with us.

 




PAUL WILLIAMS: STILL ALIVE
The movie review

 

"Face to face I greet the cast,

Set in silence, we begin....

Companions in an empty room,

I taste their victory and sin..."


Anyone reasonably familiar with Paul's back-story understands that he has undergone the Heroes' Journey. He rose to the top of the entertainment industry and fell to the depths of alcoholism and drug use and then returned a somewhat changed man who still counts his age in how many years sober he has been, rather than the lines on his face or the number of birthdays he has had. Stephen's film however approaches the subject from his own perspective, which is that he had been under the impression that Paul had actually died some time ago, hence his no longer appearing multiple times a week on every talk show on TV.

I'll be honest, it's a truly masterful piece of work, simultaneously entertaining, enlightening and compelling. Better in fact in it's whole than the sum of it's parts.

The journey Stephen takes is a fascinating one. He provides a brief backdrop, and in so doing sets us up for his subtle and often extremely funny bits of humor which both serve the story and the moment. He makes no bones about Paul's reticence to be filmed, be it in performance, backstage, or just having a lunch. In fact, numerous times Stephen allows us to see the obvious sense of frustration Paul has toward being monitored even at times like financial negotiations. This continues on almost all the way through the film, and while Paul seems to eventually come to some terms with it, Paul's wife Marianne demonstrates a thin veneer of unhappiness with their plight.

During the course of the film Paul's life is presented in a non-linear assortment of clips from his filmwork and his guest-star work on various talk shows and hour-long TV action dramas. Stephen is clear that it was in both his music, and in those moments, that he had wanted Paul to continue to exist, and his narrative drive for the film, hence the title, is why did Paul stop doing all of that.

It's in the approach to this topic that the film has it's biggest stumble... namely a somewhat persistent lack of placing events in context. As an example, after pointing out that Paul had been on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson fifty times, how did he feel when he went from THAT to an interview on the internet with a ten year old boy awkwardly asking him what other music he has done that some one would know. Paul never answered Stephen's question, likly becuase the implication was that at the time of that interview Paul could not get noticed in Hollywood, despite at the time having a one-man Broadway show, a successful concert tour, and an active voice-over resume.

Later in the film Stephen asks Paul how he could do things like "The Gong Show",  the perception being that this was a shameful thing for Paul to have participated in. He also puts Paul into the position of having to deride his own work singing a song from Phantom ("The Hell of it"..) during a badly over-produced dance segment on the Brady Bunch Variety Hour.

Contextually, it is never brought up that A) artists many times take jobs for money and try to have a good time and not worry about it, and B) Paul may not have had artistic control over all aspects of the shows he was on. In fact, a great deal of the 70s' talk show or variety show environment are dominated by outrageousness and bad dance numbers. Those are the things that actually give the period a sense of charm.

When Paul is allowed to answer the Gong Show question he correctly replies "You make it sound dirty".

While the film seems to equate, especially early on, hobnobbing with the big stars as success, it seems to look derisively on Paul's lesser-known works. Being interviewed by a local cable-access channel while performing in Vegas is a come-down in the director's eyes. If in fact Paul felt that way as well it might have helped to have shown,  but instead the denigrating attitude makes the film's architect come across as judgmental of his childhood hero.

The contextual lapses go so far as to avoid real-world explanations for Paul's seeming disappearance from the limelight, such as the impressive changes the industry underwent from 1975 to 2011. This robs the film of balance and forces it to become more of an exploration of the director than the star.  

Having said that, the film does kick into high gear when Stephen finds himself trapped into attending a gig in the Philippine islands with Paul and in the process bonding with him in a way he had not anticipated. The trip showcases the quiet and confident nerves of steel that Paul has developed over the years and pays off with a great moment of revelation for the director.

As with many of the best documentary films out there, it is not the perfect portrayals that define and characterize the work, but rather the blemishes and errors. Paul is humanized to his fans in a pretty intelligent and thoughtful way, and Stephen finds himself being manipulated by his hero into getting the education of a lifetime... learning that success usually ends up being re-definied along the path.

It's a credit to Stephen that he shows his own journey on the way, and acknowledges his own misconceptions and faulty approach. The movie is highly enjoyable and may even be strong enough to be a contender for Academy consideration.

 

"To work it out I let them in,

All the good guys and the Bad Guys that I've been

All the devils that disturbed me

And the Angels that Defeated them Somehow...

Come Together in me now."





A personal statement from Studio Kaiju about this film...

To say we walked out of the premiere excited or.. let's be honest, even happy is a lie. In truth we felt like we had been kicked in the groin. We were directed to the premiere after-party but left for home a scant ten minutes after arriving, because we were so uncomfortable.

The ten or fifteen seconds of video that Stephen chose to use is of an awkward moment mostly building up to a question Colin asked that Paul had felt was important to show... the idea that the younger generation might not recognize Paul for his past accomplishments. That shot is the counterpoint to Stephen's question to Paul about going from the Tonight Show to doing our interview. The shot was edited to accentuate Colin's halting lead-in to the question, and Paul's seeming discomfort with his "predicament". In fact, Paul never gets to answer in the clip.

At age ten Colin was VERY familiar with his work, but wanted to talk to him more about "Phantom of the Paradise" than about the cartoon work. Paul, perhaps, wisely, side-stepped any attempt to discuss that subject... but why?

The interview was conducted before Studio Kaiju existed. It was being done for Colin's in-school closed-circuit TV news, and was a chance to bring some name-value and culture to a format not known for such things. Paul was aware of this and had agreed to do this in the midst of a very successful tour with Melissa Manchester... herself a very important musical figure and a very sweet lady... and it was Paul demonstrating his commitment to helping to educate young children in the arts.

When Colin's show was cancelled even before he graduated from Junior High, we took the footage and, with Paul's kind permission, started up the website, which to this day is nearly unique in it's nature.



Paul was a very generous man, and he was taking a leap of faith that Colin would not betray him and mistreat him. Because of this, when Stephen contacted us to use the footage we had one provision...

We told Stephen we did not want the footage used to make Paul look bad.

Which, as it turns, out, is exactly what he did.

Studio Kaiju has always insisted on guarding the image of our guests carefully. By example, one interview in which I placed both Colin and his guest together, each without proper prep time, turned out disastrously, and the original footage was wiped before it ever left the camera. We were not upset with the man, since he owed us nothing and had agreed to the interview. We could not do anything that might make people think less of him. It's just not what we are about.

The people who guest on our site are NOT our friends. First and formost they are our guests and they are allowed to portray themselves however they like. We have made friends with some, but even within that we still honor the professional boundaries because that is only fair.

In time we will become comfortable with our portrayal in the film, but it's doubtful it won't always hurt a bit. One of our favorite guests, a man who we have nothing but respect for, is made to unfairly look like he had been reduced to appearing on childrens' internet shows instead of being recognized for his greatness by the Kings of Late Night Talk, when the reality is that Paul never stopped being in the public eye, he just moved to different endeavors such as animation voice work, and personal appearances in smaller, more intimate venues where he bared his soul to his fans and re-connected with what made him the man everyone loves in the first place... his music.

We might add to mostly sold-out shows.

We understand what Stephen was doing, and from a story-telling perspective it makes perfect sense to have used the footage that way. I have to admit it's quite a glaring change to go from a polished highly-budgeted and successful long-running TV show to a one-camcorder interview with a ten-year old. I get that imagery and I see what he was shooting for. But since it's our footage that was used to make Paul look bad we can't help but take exception to that.

For all of this setting-the-record-straight you might think we wouldn't want you to see the movie. That couldn't be further from the truth. We sincerely hope the film is very well received and gets a large audience, because despite it's flaws, it is still a very good movie, and it ultimately is uplifting. It's a surprising film with some terrific humor and some excellent insight. We do not wish it ill will.

Still, we sometimes feel a little like Paul in the respect that we are stuck in a 5'2" frame of a website striving to be taken seriously by the media. But that's the entertainment industry for you. And if you haven't been there yourself, even in our small fashion, you don't understand how it affects people.

It seems without knowing it we poked the bear.





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