Sunday, June 24, 2012

Paul Williams: Still Alive

Remember Paul Williams? Short little blonde guy? No? Well, in the 70s, he was It. Wrote “Out in the Country” for Three Dog Night. “We’ve Only Just Begun” for the Carpenters. A little song called “Evergreen” for Barbra Streisand. “The Rainbow Connection” for Kermie. “The Love Boat” theme? Yeah, that too. Won an Oscar and a Grammy and appeared 50 times on Carson’s “Tonight Show” and was pretty much ubiquitous. Then, suddenly, he disappeared. Mostly.

Director Stephen Kessler tracks Williams down and worms his way into the peripatetic life of this sweet, soulful man, who was miserable when he had the world by a string, lost everything to drugs and alcohol, and now – with a wife he loves and gigs in places like Primm and Winnipeg and the Philippines – seems better able to appreciate what he does have. The clips of Williams’ TV appearances range from hilarious (“Do you think smoking affected your height?” Carson asks. “Well,” he replies without missing a beat, “I didn’t get to be 5’2” by running laps in the morning.”) to embarrassing and painful to watch as the cocaine takes over. It’s a joy to spend time in Williams’ presence, but Kessler, a damn fool, doesn’t know what he’s got, insisting on injecting himself into the movie in uniformly deleterious ways.

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