2013-02-06 / Features

Paul Williams Visits Museum Of The Moving Image


Paul Williams (r.) and Nicollette Barsamian (l.) at the Museum of the Moving Image’s screening of Paul Williams: Still Alive, a new documentary about him. Paul Williams (r.) and Nicollette Barsamian (l.) at the Museum of the Moving Image’s screening of Paul Williams: Still Alive, a new documentary about him. “Why are there so many songs about rainbows?” asks Paul Williams as Kermit the Frog in his hit song, “The Rainbow Connection”. From January 25-27, the Museum of the Moving Image (MMI) in Astoria honored Williams with a retrospective of his work and a new documentary about him, Paul Williams: Still Alive. Williams was in attendance for each film and a Q&A after each session.

“Songwriter, singer, actor, and Tonight Show favorite, Paul Williams was a cultural icon throughout the 1970s and 1980s,” according to the MMI Web site. “The hit songs he wrote dominated the charts and became staples, including Three Dog Night’s “An Old-Fashioned Love Song”, the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun”, and “Rainbow Connection”, performed by Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie.

“The diminutive star also appeared on the big and small screens, most notably as the villainous “Swan” in Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (which he also co-scored).”

Williams arrived about 15 minutes after the screening had ended. He immediately apologized: “I left the hotel about an hour and fifteen minutes ago, but New York traffic decided to teach me a lesson about patience. I can’t believe you waited. God bless you.”

“How did you decide it would be okay to let Stephen Kessler (filmmaker of Still Alive) into your life?”, the moderator asked.

Williams said, “Actually, I didn’t. I thought it was a terrible idea. I didn’t respond to his e-mail for eight months. I had been such a media whore and I was so addicted to the camera being on me, but my other addictions outran it eventually. There’s nothing more pathetic for me than someone going, Please sir, may I have one more cup of fame?

“I tried to divert him. I was flattered, but I thought, nobody wants to see a movie about me. But I thought I could trick him into making a movie about Phantom of the Paradise, but that didn’t work at all. I’m almost convinced that if Steve Kessler had found me living in a trailer behind a junkyard doing five shows a night at The Red Lion singing “Rainbow Connection” to a sock puppet, he would have been happy. Look at this pathetic little man! I think he was shocked to find that what I have now is a really full life.”

“One of the compelling things in the film is the way that he talks about identifying with you so much, thinking about his childhood and his dream of being in show business,” the moderator observed.

“And I just wanted you to talk about when did you realize that you had this extraordinary talent?”

“I had no sense of reality or limitation. The ego was evidently so massive. I was so driven by affection for the art form. I started out as an actor. I loved films. But I’ve had some amazing lucky breaks,” Williams replied.

Responding to a question from the audience as to whether he had done any commercial jingles, Williams said, “It’s Only Just Begun” has been used for many commercials.

“But I did an instrumental thing for a commercial in Japan in the early 80s. I remember getting the call from Coca- Cola, You give a little love and it all comes back to you. You know you’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do (singing). Two lines from the end of Bugsy Malone, two lines that were dear to me. It’s about my spiritual philosophy.

“‘Rainbow Connection’ was used for a couple of commercials and it was on the Super Bowl twice.”

Williams also commented that he got 300 e-mails that day alone to discuss recovery in regard to the film. Williams has been sober since 1990.

In conclusion, Williams announced that he will be doing a musical with Guillermo del Toro based on Pan’s Labyrinth. He said, “I met Guillermo when he was a teenager in Mexico City and he asked me to sign a copy of Phantom of the Paradise. He said he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker after watching it. And he reached out a year ago and I got back to him right away. “

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