Whether realized or not, Paul Williams has had a tremendous musical impact on my generation. Easily the redeeming factor of this film are the juxtapositions of Williams in his heyday and Williams today.
The documentary is populated with gasp-inducing ("I remember that!" "I saw that when it aired!") moments, terrific vintage clips, and good interviews, especially with his long-time band leader.
Williams comes off completely accessible and a very self-aware guy. The tragedy of this entire project is the fact that the person at the film's helm is Stephen Kessler, who is intrusive, obnoxious, paranoid, xenophobic, and, most of all, so self-absorbed that every action Williams makes (a tour of Vegas, to the Philippines, etc.) is about him. Not 30 flippin' seconds go by in this documentary, where Kessler isn't self-referential.
Williams is shockingly gracious despite Kessler's repeated attempts at "gotcha" moments. Kessler is so arrogant that he actually interrupts Williams' poignant childhood memory. He's the kind of "reporter" (term used very loosely) who isn't listening to his subject. Kessler has an agenda, and no matter how many times he refers to Williams as his "idol," that agenda is a despicable one. Kessler's "fame" (Oscar for a short film) wasn't even a blip on the entertainment scene and he is determined to make this film about him.
If only Kessler had used this amazing opportunity to showcase Williams -- who is certainly as interesting and engaging as he'd been at the height of his fame -- this could have been a very remarkable film portrait. It wouldn't even have had to be a tribute; Williams shows moments of curmudgeonly behavior (and really, who wouldn't be, in Kessler's presence), but Williams' humor and undeniable talent deserve a showcase.
Kessler repeatedly (and cringing-ly) keeps asking questions that are the equivalent of "how does it feel to have been so famous and to become so irrelevant?" The truly horrible moment is when Kessler (who clearly has been chomping at the bit, stalking Williams for two years for this opportunity) makes Williams awkwardly and uncomfortably sit through a late 70s-vintage television clip of a clearly high, Williams hosting the "Mike Douglas Show."
Kessler wants to make a film about himself, and frame it with a compelling subject like Williams. For Williams -- who generously consented to Kessler's cameras AND provided him with boxes of videos for the documentary (without these contributions there would be absolutely no film) -- this film provides a reminder of Williams. But he deserves so much better.
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