12 June 2013 | ferguson-6
Special vs Different
Greetings again from the darkness. This documentary was recommended to me by Adam, a fellow movie and music lover. Without his urging, I probably would have never taken the time to watch this ultimately fascinating and intriguing look at Paul Williams. I say that after an extremely clunky first few minutes where director Stephen Kessler, a self-proclaimed childhood fan of Williams, displays his insecurities and lack of focus as a filmmaker.
The best stories have an abundance of conflict, and it turns out that the polar opposite goals of Williams and Kessler make for some spellbinding viewing. See, Kessler wants to figure out what happened to the 1970's icon and Williams simply wants to show how he has adjusted to a somewhat normal life. Kessler wants to look back, while Williams is living (happily) in the present.
If you don't recognize the name Paul Williams, then you probably didn't watch TV or listen to the radio in the 1970's. The guy was everywhere! Known mostly for his prolific songwriting, he also performed, appeared in movies, TV shows, game shows and talk shows. In fact, he was a favorite of Johnny Carson and appeared on The Tonight Show fifty times. And then ... just like that ... he was gone. Drugs and alcohol destroyed his career. Now twenty years sober, he still performs - just in much smaller venues. This is man who has spent much time soul-searching. His insight into being different (difficult) or special (addicting) makes for a chilling moment.
Kessler follows Williams around until he is forced to join him in front of the camera. Their strained relationship is painful to watch until things begin to turn during a long bus ride in the Phillipines. With so much of the focus on Kessler's attempt to connect with Williams, this is as much a personality analysis as it is a look at the history and current status of Williams.
The final act of the film seems a bit staged as Kessler finally gets the "sleepover" at Williams' house that he had been after for 2 plus years. Reviewing old TV clips does not get the desired reaction ... Kessler never seemed to grasp what he had with this film. It's obvious that the two men now have a connection, but if you are expecting a tribute film to the glory years of Paul Williams, you will be disappointed. If instead you embrace this unusual film, you will come away impressed with the man that Paul Williams has become. It's no "Rainbow Connection" but maybe it's even more.