Paul Williams never liked the title I came up with for the documentary I made about him: Paul Williams Still Alive. After I told him the title for the first time, we walked down a rainy NYC street arguing. I said the title was empowering; he said it was insulting. And then he stopped and said, "If I write a song with the words 'still alive' in it, it'll be OK."
Months went by; nothing. And then one night, a few weeks before our premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, I got a text from Paul. It said:
I don't know you in those clothes/I don't know you with that hair/Two-dimensional reflection/Unforgiving, unaware/Part time dreamer, would be player/You thought fame could outrun fear/Something clearly terrified you/Did you choose to disappear/Guess again, guess again/You made friends, and some still ask about you/Now and then...More to come.
It was the first verse of what would become "Still Alive," the original song for our movie. When I read the text, I thought, "That's going to be a really good song." It's personal. It's raw. And it sums up the film in a way that only Paul Williams could. A week later we were in a recording studio in a garage in the Valley. Paul sang two takes and was done. He wanted the song to be simple and honest and unadorned.
Now, at this point in awards season, I'm usually trying to survive any family vacation that won't get me sunburned. But this year, as it turns out, a lot of people think that "Still Alive" might be a contender for an Oscar nomination. And I think they're right. The question is, can the best song really have a chance to win Best Song -- especially if it's in a film whose total budget was slightly less than what it cost to replace broken windows in Skyfall? I don't know. I hope so. I feel like a parent who's got a really smart kid who's trying to figure out how he's going to pay for Harvard.
I always felt that the basic message of Paul Williams Still Alive -- that you don't have to have everything you ever wanted to make you happy -- precluded me from caring whether the film itself ever won an award. And so many wonderful things have happened to me since I finished the film that I really don't care. But for Paul it's different. I do care. Because I think he wrote the best song for a film this year. Listen to it. Tell me I'm wrong.
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