Each week, I'll cover the documentaries that are worth a view. Consider it a primer to be becoming a docuphile. I encourage you to leave your favorite documentaries in the comments or tweet at me at @robinhardwick. This week, a filmmaker sets out to find his former childhood idol.
What: Paul Williams: Still Alive (2012)
Who: Paul Williams, superstar of the seventies, writer of iconic songs ("The Rainbow Connection," "The Way We Were") and filmmaker Stephen Kessler who idolized him as a child
What: Filmmaker Kessler wonders what became of his idol since he hadn't heard anything from him in over two decades
Why It's Intriguing: This isn't just a documentary about Paul Williams's career, it's the story of the filmmaker's quest to make the documentary, and the relationship he forges with Paul Williams in order to make the documentary.
This also answers the question: what happens to the famous after they are famous? Unfortunately (or fortunately?), there's a whole genre of reality television specifically for these has-beens. But some are happy in their retirement, lucky enough to get by on royalties, and are fine just living their lives.
Spoiler alert: this has a happy ending. Paul Williams is just fine. He's happily living in a nice house in Florida, enjoys a good Hawaiian shirt and relaxed-fit jeans. He can walk around every day without being recognized. However, there are some places (Winnipeg and the Phillipines, for instance) where he is a superstar, and a couple times a year he plays shows where fans will come from all over the world to meet him.
At first, he's reluctant to be on film or talk about his past. As the film moves on, it's because he's embarrassed for some of his behavior. At the height of his fame, he was seduced by drugs, and caused pain to his then-wife and children. Fortunately, he's now sixteen years sober, and dedicated most of his life as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor.
Williams has made amends with his past, but he battles against talking about it. This doesn't make him cold; this makes him incredibly human. He's got his quirks; is that surprising for a man in his late sixties? One could say that Kessler is a narcissistic documentarian, making the film a lot about himself coming to terms with meeting his idol, and trying to have a breakthrough with Paul to get him to talk about his past. He even goes as far enough to try to convince him not to take a gig in the Phillipines because he is afraid of terrorism.
Paul Williams: Still Alive is not sensational, it's not an expose, it's a fairly even-keeled look at a very talented man whose work touched a lot of people, and for all it's worth, it's just nice to see a happy ending to fame.