Who is Paul Williams? Entering the movie theatre and perusing the handful of punters that had turned up for the film, it quickly dawned on me that I was of the wrong generation to have any understanding of who he was. Paul Williams, it turns out, was once a 70’s celebrity songwriter that penned hits for The Carpenters, Barbara Streisand and many others who eventually snorted his way out of the spotlight and in to a rehab clinic never to be heard of again. Until Stephen Kessler, the films director and avid Williams fan, discovered he wasn’t dead, merely sober and not as funny as he used to be.
The film diverts from regular documentary stereotypes and chooses to instead explore the relationship between the documenter and the documented. It is a sad unveiling of life-after-fame of a b-grade celebrity who hops from one depressingly small venue to the next, singing the same stale songs over and over to a trickle of remaining die hard fans. What’s even more saddening is watching Kessler, possibly Paul Williams’ biggest fan, follow him day to day and slowly come under the realization that his ultimate boyhood idol is now just a regular man who orders orange juice instead of beer and drives himself to his hotel concerts.
The film had many poignant moments, with Kessler’s barrage of funny commentary providing the audience with many laughs. The most memorable scene occurs when Kessler is forced to follow Williams through Al Qaida ridden territory so that Paul could play a concert that had a crowd so large it was reflective of his heyday.
Even if you don’t know who Paul Williams is, this is still an intriguing microscope on what happens to entertainers when the public forget who they are. It is interesting little films like this one that make the Revelation Film Festival great.
By Alastair Ingram.
Paul Williams Still Alive is screening as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival on Saturday July 14 at 8.45pm at the Astor Theatre.
Tickets available from www.revelationfilmfest.org.