Is Paul Williams Dead? – Day 4 FFF 2012


Do You Know if Paul Williams is still Alive?

I have fond childhood memories of sitting with my father and watching classic 70s TV shows, like the comedy/variety show Laugh-In. I remember Paul Williams. A short, charismatic character who always made my dad laugh.

A documentarian considers making a movie about this iconic personality of the 1970’s. Paul is most noted for writing mega song hits such as Evergreen, We’ve Only Just Begun and my personal favorite (sung by none other than Kermit the Frog) The Rainbow Connection. The filmmaker knows that Paul battled alcohol and drug addiction. Then he just disappeared. “He died too young,” the filmmaker laments. 

Problem is, Paul’s not dead yet. So the filmmaker tracks him down and spends over two years filming him for his documentary.

This is touted as one of the better films at this year’s FFF, so I’m surprised to see such a small crowd. Not surprisingly, the crowd appears to be slightly older than usual. Is this because the subject was popular back in the 70s? Does anyone younger than 40 even know who Paul Williams was?, uh, is?

I ask an older gentleman if he would like to be interviewed for the blog. He curtly tells me, “No I don’t.” Normally, I can engage a few people as they enter and exit the theatre. For this show, very few of them even make eye contact with me.

The movie is good.  Just good. Paul Williams makes for a great subject. But on some level the movie does not work. As I watch it, I find myself getting drawn in and drawn…then, the filmmaker puts himself in the movie and…Poof…I’m out of the movie now. Then there’s more about Paul and again I’m drawn in, drawn in and…Poof…the filmmaker gets into the film again.

This is not working. 

I think about Michael Moore. He puts himself into his documentaries all the time. But I don’t have the same experience. Why is this not working?

I never do figure it out. But the film, at least everything about Paul, is so fascinating that I can easily recommend this documentary. And as patrons exit the theatre, I hear a lot of positive comments.

 “That was good,” says one guy. “It was interesting,” says another. Still one more is overheard saying, “I really liked it.”

Scott Abrahams takes a moment to give this review, “Good, I got a little bored here and there. It was a little more about the filmmaker than about him. I would like to have seen more about the songwriting process.” He goes on to tell how he was disappointed that the movie was scheduled for 9pm but the chalkboard outside the theatre said 9:15 so he missed the first seven minutes of the movie.

Another member in the audience was discussing the directorial decisions of Stephen Kessler, the filmmaker, with three others who saw the movie. The conversation gets pretty animated—a sign that the film succeeded in eliciting a response, which is usually a good sign. One woman says, “Because it’s Paul Williams, I want to give it a 4+, but because of the filmmaker, I want to give him a 3.”

I stop one of the audience members on his way out of the theatre. I discover he’s also a documentarian who has a film at this year’s FFF. I ask for more feedback on the movie. “Let me just say, I don’t appear anywhere in my documentary.” He’s reluctant to say more because he doesn’t want to disparage a fellow filmmaker. I ask him what he thinks of Michael Moore. That gives him pause. “With him, it works,” he concludes.  “But for this movie it didn’t work.”

However, he insists on ending the interview on a positive note about a fellow filmmaker, “After seeing this movie, I want to know more about Paul Williams.” “So you liked it?” I inquire in an overly obvious attempt to illicit a negative response I can attribute to him. He pauses, smiles, and tactfully retorts, “I liked Paul.”

And that, in a nutshell, is this movie.

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