Paul Williams Still Alive: SXSW Reviews

Growing up in the seventies, Stephen Kessler was a lonely, awkward kid. He became fanatical about someone he could strongly relate to. Another lonely, quirky young man who was slowly appearing all over Hollywood: Paul Williams, who penned such hits as the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” and kid classic The Muppet’s “Rainbow Connection.” Six years ago, Stephen begins wondering what had happened to his childhood hero who had battled addictions for many years and many had presumed dead. To his amazement, Williams is not only alive but he is sober and still performing on occasion. Kessler books a trip to Canada to catch his latest show and is stunned at the passion Winnipeg residents still show towards Williams.

Stephen pitches the idea of a documentary to Williams who isn’t thrilled with the thought. However, after near stalking him for quite some time, Williams agrees once some boundaries are set. The film goes on a long list of events and countries where Kessler has the opportunity to see Williams’ differing fan base from Las Vegas to a near-dangerous Philippines trip. He delves into Paul’s personal life, including his two grown children and his current wife Mariana who also serves as his very protective manager. After a few years, Paul and Stephen are so used to each other that a friendship is born that no longer is based on the cameras.

This documentary is truly special. It isn’t particularly unique or groundbreaking but it is very real and full of genuine love and admiration. It is really extraordinary, especially for a younger generation, to see someone’s whole story presented in such honest terms. His rise and descent from fame, his periods of shame, his battles and his personal triumphs and disappointments. Even teenagers can surely recognize some of Williams’ best loved songs which make his story more timeless. There are lessons to be learned by his struggles but even more so from his ability to come back and make for a name for himself again in his seventies. Paul continues to look to the present and never the past for his happiness, a quality that many should learn from. This documentary is lovely and inspiring. Recommended to all when the film is released in a few months later this year.