Growing up with THE MUPPET SHOW, the musical and comic stylings of Paul Williams were inescapable. I assume I saw him on the plethora of game shows and LOVE BOAT appearances he made, but it was this little mans turn with Kermit and friends, and his subsequent scoring of the first MUPPET MOVIE that ingrained well into adulthood my affection for the performer. Maybe it was his height, or his goofy glasses (that matched my own), I felt a strong connection to the guy. It was like he was a Muppet himself, crooning about Rainbow Connections and Old Fashioned Lovesongs to a laidback, late-70s beat.
Sure, I knew about PHANTOM OF PARADISE, and might even have had some notion that he did the soundtrack for BUGSY MALONE, but what I couldn’t have told you, before this doc was announced, was what the title so succinctly conveys.
Yes, it seems, Paul Williams is alive. For now.
If that was a mild (while pleasant) surprise, finding out early in this wonderful doc that Winnipeg is the capital of Williams-mania on this content was a mindblower (not Saskatoon?). Still doing his shtick at Casinos and dinner clubs, his voice ravaged compared to the tones of his youth, the man can still hold a room with his dedicated (and long suffering) touring band. The film documents Williams as he travels the world, reminiscing (often reluctantly) about the rise and very slow fall of his career.
What makes the film even more charming is that it’s as much about the director as it is about Williams. Unlike the staginess of a Morgan Spurplock or the obnoxiousness of a later-day Michael Moore vehicle, Kessler comes across as so charmingly earnest and deprecating that it’s hard to think how this film could ever have been shaped without his direct involvement on screen. Kessler’s no sycophant, yet his love of Williams’ music and muse is so infectious that it elevates the entire proceedings.
When he does open up, Williams is almost shockingly frank, providing details for some of the more salacious moments of his life. Yet, throughout it all, we see him gradually grow at ease not only with the documentary process but with his own demons.
A wonderful surprise, this a heartwarming, infectious documentary, just as charming and catchy as the tunes that Williams crafts. It’s a real treat to see, and a real treat to know that Paul is, in fact, still alive.