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The gist of "Paul Williams Still Alive" (which I caught at its final SXSW screening in Austin this March) is simply this: would-be feature film documentary maker Stephen Kessler was so obsessed with the way the AM-radio hits penned by diminutive 1970s entertainer Paul Williams had made his teen-aged heart go all a-flutter that he decided to make a documentary about Williams -- without even realizing that his "late, great" musical hero was still very much alive!
This is a cinematic concept that should'nt have worked -- but, thank the Pop Culture gods, it did!
Mind you, it never would have come close to passing muster if Williams hadn't kept a veritably complete reference library of his clips on every bad music, comedy, variety, game and chat show that existed during the 70s and 80s. Nor would it have worked if Williams hadn't allowed Kessler full use of that library to reveal the inevitable downhill slide that nearly all of Hollywood's denizens of that time period were prone to follow!
For his part, Kessler reveals himself to be (potentially) the world's worst director of a film like this as well! It's only when he and his childhood hero miraculously find them-selves on "the same page" (courtesy of an encounter with third-world terrorism, of all things!) that the alchemy begins to take place and the hill of Tinseltown dross turns miraculously into a mountain of pure gold!!!
Fans of schlock will be delighted either way, as they roll about ecstatically in the slushy mounds of 70s celebrity offal expelled by the coked-up likes of Robert Blake, Karen Carpenter, Dick Clark, Kermit the Frog, Jack Klugman, Peter Lawford, Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, Telly Savalas, Barbra Streisand, John Travolta and more!
But more sensitive viewers will find themselves fighting to hold back the tears as the characters refuse to merely remain the two-dimensional "stars" that we enjoyed chuckling derisively at on our little cathode-ray tubes.
Watch in stunned semi-silence as a slack-jawed star-gazer, obsessed with the tear-jerking tune-age that kept his appreciation of Paul Williams from advancing beyond the analytical level of a 12-year-old, metamorphoses into an insightful, savvy observer of character before your very eyes! Shudder in awe as the short-statured subject reveals himself to be more than worth the effort of analyzing!
Whether your personal reference point to Williams is The Muppets ("The Rainbow Connection"), The Carpenters (Rainy Days & Mondays"), or Brian DePalma's midnight movie cult classic "The Phantom of the Paradise", you can trust me at least on one thing about this film: it WILL make you glad that Paul Williams is still alive!
-- Kenneth W. Lieck
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