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'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.
Paul Williams Still Alive

They both point to a moment in the film where the subject and the documentarian break down the walls. It’s when Paul, scheduled to do a series of concerts in the Philippines, invites Kessler along for the ride. Kessler, spurred on by news reports of Al Qaeda activity in the area, practically seizes up – he doesn’t eat, he is visibly nervous, and Williams comforts him. “I think in the Philippines, he’s so scared, he’s so convinced Al Qaeda is going to get us,” Williams (who had been there “many times before”) says with a chuckle. “If I had the slightest impression that was going to happen, I never would have gone.”

Kessler, who likens the situation to being like “ ‘The Seven Samurai’ and the wise warrior taking the little clown through the jungle,” said that, “One thing is I tried to make it very honest and very transparent, and that scene on the bus in the Philippines when Paul starts to talk to me about his childhood, I thought, ‘Whoa, now I have a film.’”

Paul Williams Still Alive

Both are proud of the finished product, although Williams admitted that, “There’s a lot in the film that’s really hard for me to watch.” The eventual DVD/Blu-ray will have even more stuff, including a moment Kessler was particularly proud of. “There’s a seminal episode of ‘The Odd Couple’ where the daughter falls in love with Paul Williams and goes to follow him on tour,” Kessler explained. “And Paul wrote this beautiful song for Felix’s daughter to explain what it feels like to become a father. And I thought it would be great to put that song to scenes with him and his daughter. But there wasn’t a place for it in this story.”

Another amazing aspect of the film is the sense of rediscovery – there’s all this pop culture miscellanea that makes its way into the movie that is really stunning. Williams quipped: “He has an attitude about reintroducing and I had an attitude of ‘we don’t need to do that.’ ” But Kessler was proud of a number of moments, particularly a clip from an episode of “The Tonight Show,” where Williams appeared alongside Robert Blake (a moment he remembers vividly), and the use of "Time & Tide," a song from long-forgotten movie “The Lifeguard.” “I feel like I was able to use that song in my film the way they weren’t able to use it in ‘The Lifeguard,’” Kessler said.

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

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