Paul Williams: Still Alive (2011/Virgil DVD)
C+ Sound: C+ Extras: C Documentary: B
midst of the singer/songwriter movement, you had the laid back artists whose
every album release was an event and among them, the more spectacular names
spearheaded by the massive Beatles-like success of Elton John that took
personal music to a higher place of energy, excitement and built the music
industry into what it became at its peak, a money machine. Elton John was joined in this respect by a
newly solo Paul Simon, Harry Nilsson, Leo Sayer, an on-the-rise Billy Joel and
another singer/songwriter who also tried acting and hit paydirt in 1970
co-writing two classic hit songs.
Paul Williams: Still Alive (2011) shows the rise, fall,
endurance and survival of one of the most important music figures in American
music history. Starting as a child actor
in the respected The Loved One
(reviewed elsewhere on this site) and in Arthur Penn’s groundbreaking The Chase (1966), Williams also loved
music and after trying to make it, he suddenly found two of the top music acts
in the business having giant hit singles as the extremely popular Three Dog
Night with their prolific Top 15 hit Out
In The Country and The Carpenters with We’ve
Only Just Begun, originally a jingle for a bank commercial!
to say, the industry took notice and Williams was n the map, but his debut
appearance on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson made him an entertainment
personality and one of the most prolific careers in American music had
begun. This ran until the mid-1980s when
Williams started to have drug and drinking issues, eventually ending his run
and forcing him to take measures to recuperate.
forward to 2011 and commercial director Stephen Kessler (of Vegas Vacation, the unexpectedly final,
horrid last (we hope) National Lampoon film in that series and inane indie The Independent (bashed elsewhere on
this site) decides to try and make something more memorable from his directing
career (which is among the many things he tells us all about) and meet Williams
who he explains he is a big fan of.
Coming across way too much like a Michael Moore imitator, he talks more
about himself than he ought to, but despite this lack of concentration and
major journalistic inconsistency, a portrait of Williams still manages to
emerge that is informative, vital, key and not long enough at 86 minutes,
shortened by Kessler’s self-indulgences.
is also a portrait of the music business, entertainment industry, what it was
like to thrive in its last golden period and a re-reminder of what a huge star
Williams became, yet backfiring the way excesses held back Orson Welles later
in his career despite consistent and great work. Often with co-writers Roger S. Nicols and
Kenneth Lee Ascher, the hits just kept on coming. While Williams was doing many TV shows (often
singing) and films like Brian De Palma’s Phantom
Of The Paradise, Battle For The
Planet Of The Apes and The Muppet
Movie, plus dramatic TV shows, Three Dog Night got hits out of Family Of Man and the classic Just An Old Fashioned Love Song, The
Carpenters got Rainy Days & Mondays
and I Won’t Last A Day Without You, every
big music name on the business turned to him for a record and he did several
movie theme songs.
documentary does manage to cover that and more, but not in the way I would have
liked. Williams is amazingly patient
with Kessler, knowing where he is coming form and going far ahead of the
director, but this becomes an experience that makes Williams look at his past
in ways he is sometimes not happy with as one would expect. We see Williams touring in all kinds of
venues, especially where he is still wildly popular and his sense of
showmanship is still totally in tact as he is now in his 70s, does not look it
and happily has his family in together.
The voice is even still there.
also deals with how his growth was stopped by injections he should have never
had, but he handles it all well as he often did then and you also see someone
who for political reasons may have been tossed away so the regressive 1980s and
after could happen. That is why you
rarely see anyone with his talent and success because the music business
prefers one hit wonders or lame hit acts that make us all wonder how they keep
title echoing too many forgotten artists still with us but thought dead, Still Alive revisits a tremendous music
and entertainment legacy by an American original who
survived and lived to see his greatness remain.
That is the biggest reason to see this documentary, but music lovers
will be especially happy.
anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image is a mix of new digital images, a great
deal of various analog footage, some very degraded images of sources that would
look better from their original sources (like 35mm film a few generations down
from what looks like YouTube quality) edited well, but I would like to see some
of the footage upgraded in the future.
Otherwise, this is what you’d expect from a documentary today, but some
detail issues plague the new footage.
The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is a mix of new simple stereo
recording, old stereo classics and various monophonic sources that can be
compressed and sometimes cleaner and clearer than you might expect.
include five bonus music performances by Williams that Kessler recorded and
thought people should see singing some of his best songs now.
- Nicholas Sheffo