Jen’s Documentary Corner! Paul Williams: Still Alive

Swan Phantom of the Paradise

I laughed with my husband this weekend that I imprinted as a child on ’70s radio. I love Fleetwood Mac, Harry Nilsson, The Carpenters and, lastly, I love Paul Williams. I am sure most of my memories of Paul Williams come from The Muppet Show and Smokey and the Bandit. And the dozens of guest appearances on game shows. But his music.. his music is heartfelt. It comes from a place of sadness and loneliness. His uniqueness separated him from people but also seemed to create a depth that touches many.

His childhood was troubled. His adulthood was plagued with addiction. He is responsible for some of the most timeless songs sung by other people. The Rainbow Connection can reduce me to tears whenever I hear it, then there is We’ve Only Just Begun by The Carpenters, Evergreen by Barbra Streisand, Fill Your Heart by David Bowie and countless more.

Stephen Kessler made a documentary about Paul Williams, called Paul Williams Still Alive. The documentary does him a disservice. The documentarian seems to feel that the story that should be told is his love of Paul Williams vs. the story of Paul Williams himself. Because his love seems fickle, midway through the process it feels like he loses his way; he becomes cruel with his pushes for sensationalism and dirt. The way the editor (David Zieff) cut the film it really feels as though he thought the director was a jerk and wanted to make sure we realize that too. There are moments which are truly touching and human. My take-away from this movie is what a multi-layered, human, and humble man Paul Williams is. You see how much he has touched, and raised up, others through his words and music. You see the love on the faces of the fans. You see the lives he touches in his speaking tours on sobriety and staying clean.

All this documentary did was make me realize that he deserves better. I left it hoping someone else sees this and allows him to fully tell the story of his family, his work in the movies (especially Phantom of the Paradise), and his lifetime spent creating music and the effect all of it has had on others. He gives every appearance of having found peace and joy in his life. I wish his tale had been better told so we could experience that with him.

credit to Henny Garfunkel

Credit to Henny Garfunkel

See more about Paul Williams at his site here
See more about his work on sobriety here

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