The title, Paul Williams Still Alive, might be considered a spoiler if anyone except writer-director Kessler was sure Paul Williams wasn’t alive.
The film chronicles Kessler’s rediscovery of Paul Williams–more as a seventies entertainer than Paul Williams the songwriter or singer. There’s a lot about Kessler in the picture, including a lengthy section where he’s scared of terrorists in the Philippines before he picks up on Williams’s more zen-like attitudes about life.
But Still Alive isn’t about the filmmaker learning lasting life lessons from Williams. It’s also not about Williams, who isn’t the most documentary accommodating subject. Fairly early on, it’s clear Paul Williams always knew he was alive and didn’t think that discovery merited a documentary.
At the start, Kessler might have enough for a twenty minute short. Introduce Williams’s seventies celebrity, go through all his famous songs, catch up with him. And Kessler does these things… in the first twenty minutes of Alive. The rest is mostly just Kessler inserting himself into Williams’s professional life as a member of a non-existent entourage. Williams is a pleasant guy to spend eighty minutes around, even if Kessler’s constantly bugging him.
But Kessler? He’s not worth spending eighty minutes with… especially not when he’s appropriating his subject’s spotlight.
Still Alive succeeds because of its subject–and Williams is a very interesting fellow and Kessler does get some deep moments… but there’s a lot of padding.
Kessler should’ve gone for short and good instead of comprehensive and listless.
Written and directed by Stephen Kessler; director of photography, Vern Nobles; edited by David Zieff; production designer, Perry Andelin Blake; produced by Jim Czarnecki, Kessler, Mike Wilkins and Zieff; released by Abramorama.
Starring Paul Williams.