Paul Williams Still Alive

Paul Williams Still Alive

Directed by: Stephen Kessler
84 minutes

New England Premiere

In the 1970s, Paul Williams was the most ubiquitous of celebrities: a multitalented performer noted not only for acting in films such as PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, but for composing hit songs such as “Rainy Days and Mondays” for The Carpenters, “Old Fashioned Love Song” for Three Dog Night, and “The Rainbow Connection” for Kermit the Frog. An omnipresent guest on The Muppet Show and the talk show circuit, Williams was an unlikely star. He wasn’t tall, he wore glasses, and, even for the pre-tabloid era, he was far from conventionally attractive. Still, his music and humor held a sweet sadness that seemed to resonate with the nation’s mood in the wake of Watergate and the Vietnam War. And then, seemingly overnight, he disappeared from public view. Some even suspected he was deceased.

Filmmaker Stephen Kessler was one of them. Imagine his surprise when he discovered that Williams was, in fact, alive and still performing at clubs and casino ballrooms for devoted fans who never gave up on the sweet soul who told us “We’ve Only Just Begun.” Kessler becomes part of his own narrative as he coaxes a reluctant Williams into relating more about his situation. The result is a vivid metaphor for the experience of fame itself. How does a celebrity manage his fans’ expectations? How does he stop his personal boundaries from disappearing completely?

Reality television has made fame itself an absolute goal. But Williams’ life belies the notion of the “has-been.” He’s not only still alive—he’s more content with his life now than he ever was at the height of his fame.

—Callista Burns