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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.
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Paul Williams Still Alive

As to what they’re working on now, Williams is currently the head of ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, which protects the rights of songwriters. (At one point, when the discussion turned to getting the rights for all the footage and music in the movie, Williams said, “It’s interesting he’s doing this with the president of ASCAP. It’s like ‘we’re watching you, young man…’ ”) He also has worked on the forthcoming, still unannounced Daft Punk album, which is something he couldn’t really talk about. “They’ve got me on complete blackout,” Williams said. “They’re mixing it right now – they said hush up, don’t talk about the album. I think they’re brilliant and I love that they’re anonymous.”

We wondered if he would ever return to the world of The Muppets, after their recent resurgence in popularity (he was nominated for an Emmy, during the production of the documentary, for writing the songs and music for a recent Muppet Christmas special). “Disney sent me the script for this last one and it was such a natural for the guy from ‘Flight of the Conchords,’ ” Williams said. “And I loved what they did.” (Kessler then pointed out that Bret McKenzie thanked Williams the day after he won the Oscar.) 

Paul Williams Still Alive

As for their future plans, it turns out they fully intend on working together again. “We’re looking for something to do,” Williams said. “The connection we have now, both creatively and trust-wise is so intense, that we want to do something else. And we like hanging together.”

Kessler, who has directed things like the iffy sequel “Vegas Vacation” and the indie comedy “The Independent,” feels similarly – like he had made a breakthrough, creatively, and would like to continue in the same spirit. “As a writer I hoped to do work that was personal to me that would connect with an audience,” Kessler said. “And now having done something that’s personal to me that connects with a lot of people, I don’t want to go back towards the Olsen twins movie.” Kessler paused and started: “Although…” And right on cue, Williams piped up: “If the Olsen Twins call, we’d be perfect for that!”

“Paul Williams: Still Alive” is now playing in limited release. Read our review of the film here.

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


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