Paul Williams: Still Alive

Paul Williams Still Alive

sxsw.jpg

Celebrity is a bizarre thing. It’s fleeting, unpredictable, and fickle. To use an example from William Goldman’s “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” let’s look at the top 10 box office stars from the beginning and the end of the past few decades.(as voted by movie exhibitors).

1970

1- Paul Newman

2- Clint Eastwood

3- Steve McQueen

4- John Wayne

5- Elliot Gould

6- Dustin Hoffman

7- Lee Marvin

8- Jack Lemmon

9- Barbra Streisand

10- Walter Matthau

1979

1- Burt Reynolds

2- Clint Eastwood

3- Jane Fonda

4- Woody Allen

5- Barbra Streisand

6- Sylvester Stallone

7- John Travolta

8- Jill Clayburgh

9- Roger Moore

10- Mel Brooks

Only 2 people lasted the decade.

How about the 80’s?

1980

1- Burt Reynolds

2- Robert Redford

3- Clint Eastwood

4- Jane Fonda

5- Dustin Hoffman

6- John Travolta

7- Sally Field

8- Sissy Spacek

9- Barbra Streisand

10- Steve Martin

Ok, one year later and half the list has changed. How did the decade end?

1989

1- Jack Nicholson

2- Tom Cruise

3- Robin Williams

4- Michael Douglas

5- Tom Hanks

6- Michael J. Fox

7- Eddie Murphy

8- Mel Gibson

9- Sean Connery

10- Kathleen Turner

Wait… that is a totally different list. What’s going on?

1990

1- Arnold Schwarzenegger

2- Julia Roberts

3- Bruce Willis

4- Tom Cruise

5- Mel Gibson

6- Kevin Costner

7- Patrick Swayze

8-Sean Connery

9- Harrison Ford

10- Richard Gere

In one year… 7 people dropped off the list completely?

Well, these have to have staying power, don’t they?

1999

1- Julia Roberts

2- Tom Hanks

3- Adam Sandler

4- Bruce Willis

5- Mike Myers

6- Tom Cruise

7- Will Smith

8- Mel Gibson

9- Meg Ryan

10- Sandra Bullock

In one year half the list changed.

Last one, I promise.

2000

1- Tom Cruise

2- Julia Roberts

3- George Clooney

4- Eddie Murphy

5- Russell Crowe

6- Mel Gibson

7- Martin Lawrence

8- Tom Hanks

9- Jim Carrey

10- Harrison Ford

Four… not bad.

Finally…

2009

1- Sandra Bullock

2- Johnny Depp

3- Matt Damon

4- George Clooney

5- Robert Downey Jr.

6- Tom Hanks

7- Meryl Streep

8- Brad Pitt

9- Shia LaBeouf

10- Denzel Washington

Only 2.

So, what is the point of this long drawn out example?

Unknowns rise quickly, and established names fall even faster. You could be the biggest box office star in the world one day and within five years you’re struggling to self finance a direct to DVD piece of crap.

Fame is like the stock market, some people make tons of money and never lose a dime, some get rich and lose it all in a moment.

Some people vainly rage against the dying of the light, whereas others are more graceful and distinguished about it. Paul Williams falls into the later category.

Don’t get me wrong; Paul Williams is still a known quantity. You know the words to at least one of his songs and have seen him in at least one movie, you might just not know it. Hell, his own daughter was a fan of the Monkees song “Someday Man,” and had no idea her father wrote it. I’ve always known him as Little Enos from “Smokey and the Bandit,” but he’s been in many, many more.

Pail Williams was everywhere. This diminutive, deep voiced, incredibly charismatic guy was part of our cultural landscape. He was a favorite of Johnny Carson at a time when America loved who Johnny loved.

Paul was on game shows, talk shows, specials, movies; he was nominated for six Oscars and won one. He should have won two, but “It Goes Like It Goes” from “Norma Rae” beat out “Rainbow Connection.” You know, the classic “It Goes Like It Goes.”

Then one day, he was gone.

Not “gone,” but his omnipresence faded some, and when such massive exposure fades even a little it is tantamount to disappearance.

“Paul Williams: Still Alive,” is a very intimate look at a man who transitioned from personality to person.

Paul.jpg

Also, a close personal friend of mine for about a minute.

In the past I have been very critical of documentarians who inject themselves into the subject too much. That there are too many (Moore, Spurlock) who are so present that the film becomes the story of the filmmaker rather than the subject. This film comes dangerously close to that, but manages to avoid falling into that trap. It strikes a balance, the filmmaker is present and vital, but he never overtakes the subject.

Yes, the filmmaker is a big part of this film, but it is because his relationship with Williams. It becomes a part, but never overshadows the whole. Honestly, what better way to examine the relationship between performer and audience than to form a relationship between the performer and a member of the audience?

We see all sides of Williams from small personal moments at home to speaking engagements (Paul is a recovering addict, a licensed substance abuse counselor, and regularly speaks to groups about recovery.), to small concerts in the US to massive, sold out arena concerts around the world. It is also a film that doesn’t shy away from the very personal, going so far as to show Paul reacting in disgust at some of his past TV behavior. You get the picture of a real person who can learn and grow. This is a man who never really went away, he just shifted his priorities.

This is a very warm and personal film about a very warm and personal man. It’s about fame, celebrity, addiction, recovery, loss, and ultimately what you find through that loss. “Paul Williams: Still Alive,” succeeds where many other documentaries fail. It creates a moving and entertaining picture of a man who has gained and lost more than many of us ever will.



Share