Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck Check Out These Minimalist, Old School Paperback-Style Posters For The Films Of Wes Anderson Check Out These Minimalist, Old School Paperback-Style Posters For The Films Of Wes Anderson First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' The 30 Most Anticipated Movies Of The 2015 Sundance Film Festival The 30 Most Anticipated Movies Of The 2015 Sundance Film Festival The 10 Best Films Of 2001 The 10 Best Films Of 2001 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment Watch: Full 90-Minute Documentary 'Great Directors' With David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes And More Watch: Full 90-Minute Documentary 'Great Directors' With David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes And More Exclusive: Matthew Gray Gubler Has Flashbacks In Clip From 'Suburban Gothic' Exclusive: Matthew Gray Gubler Has Flashbacks In Clip From 'Suburban Gothic' The 10 Best Films Of 2000 The 10 Best Films Of 2000 "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice The 20 Most Anticipated Foreign Films Of 2015 The 20 Most Anticipated Foreign Films Of 2015 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

'Paul Williams: Still Alive' Star Paul Williams & Director Stephen Kessler Discuss Deleted Scenes, Buddy Movies, Muppets & Daft Punk

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist June 8, 2012 at 1:59PM

Singer/songwriter Paul Williams, as Stephen Kessler’s brilliant (and occasionally heartbreaking) new documentary “Paul Williams: Still Alive” teaches us, is indeed, still very much alive. The versatile entertainer has had a profound impact on popular culture, writing songs for The Carpenters (“We’ve Only Just Begun,” as the documentary points out, originated from a television jingle), Helen Reddy, and Elvis Presley. Williams made nearly constant appearances on 1970s television, not only as a performer and guest on countless talk shows but also in episodic dramas like “Hawaii Five-O” and “The Love Boat.” He wrote “Rainbow Connection” for “The Muppet Movie,” won an Oscar for “Evergreen” from the Streisand/Kristofferson “A Star Is Born,” and wrote the songs, score, and co-starred in Brian De Palma’s cult classic “Phantom of the Paradise.” We sat down with Williams and Kessler to discuss making the film, how it became a buddy movie between the two of them, the Muppets, and Williams’ involvement in the new Daft Punk record.
0
Paul Willliams: Still Alive Paul Williams Stephen Kessler

Singer/songwriter Paul Williams, as Stephen Kessler’s brilliant (and occasionally heartbreaking) new documentary “Paul Williams: Still Alive” teaches us, is indeed, still very much alive. The versatile entertainer has had a profound impact on popular culture, writing songs for The Carpenters (“We’ve Only Just Begun,” as the documentary points out, originated from a television jingle), Helen Reddy, and Elvis Presley. Williams made nearly constant appearances on 1970s television, not only as a performer and guest on countless talk shows but also in episodic dramas like “Hawaii Five-O” and “The Love Boat.” He wrote “Rainbow Connection” for “The Muppet Movie,” won an Oscar for “Evergreen” from the Streisand/Kristofferson “A Star Is Born,” and wrote the songs, score, and co-starred in Brian De Palma’s cult classic “Phantom of the Paradise.” We sat down with Williams and Kessler to discuss making the film, how it became a buddy movie between the two of them, the Muppets, and Williams’ involvement in the new Daft Punk record.

We wondered what the two men thought the documentary would turn out to be at the beginning of the process, versus what it ended up being upon completion, since part of the fun of watching the film is the kind of evolutionary twists and turns it takes. (In a way, “Paul Williams: Still Alive” is very much a companion piece to this summer’s other buzzy, totally brilliant music doc “Searching for Sugar Man.”) Williams thought it would go down a familiar track.

Paul Williams Still Alive

“I thought, ‘This guy would be thrilled if he saw me living in a trailer behind a junkyard playing at the Red Lion with an organist and a sock puppet of Kermit that I was singing ‘Rainbow Connection’ to,’” Williams said wryly. “I thought he wanted to make one of those ‘where are they now’ drug-addled tragedies of fame gone sour. And I had no interest in that. I said from the beginning that I don’t think there’s anything more pathetic than some little old man saying, ‘Please sir can I have another cup of fame?’ It’s not who I am. The idea of poking the bear again wasn’t something that I didn’t want to do.” Williams now (rightfully) describes the film as: “a road movie meets ‘Celebrity Rehab.’”

Kessler initially had a very different approach to the subject matter, as well, with a kind of “VH1 Storytellers” framework in place. “What I thought originally was that since Paul is such a great singer/songwriter and a lot of his songs have these lush seventies arrangements, and I would have loved to have Paul record his songs with stripped down vocals and maybe make a movie that’s following Paul around through airports and buying toothpaste,” Kessler explained. “But as I started shooting the movie and hanging out with him and I started to see that this guy who I started hanging out with was way more interesting than the guy who I loved as a kid.”

What’s so fascinating about the doc is that it becomes a kind of buddy movie, as Kessler and his incessant crew end up warming Williams’ heart, and he lets them him in on some very personal moments and stories (and, hilariously, inviting Kesller to spend the night at his house, which he greets with the enthusiasm of a sleepover-bound child). Williams put it beautifully when he told us, “I think what’s nice about the movie is that the journey of the filmmaker and the subject kind of became the movie, and what usually winds up on the cutting room floor, became the heart of the movie.” And, indeed, Kessler tried to do a version of the film where he omitted himself. “I edited a version of the movie with a long hunk of it – about an hour – with me not in [it],” Kessler. “It wasn’t getting through who Paul was [or] how Paul acted towards me and how that changed.”

This article is related to: Paul Williams, Stephen Kessler, Interviews


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates