Monday, 19 October 2009

Monday music: Still Bill.

Yesterday, we saw an extraordinary new film about Bill Withers, Still Bill, as part of the BFI London Film Festival. Having led a fairly reclusive life since the late seventies, and now only giving the rarest of short performances, Mr Withers was completely disinterested in the project at first. The directors (Damani Baker and Alex Vlack) gave a short Q&A after the film and told us about their ten year mission of sheer will to make the film. But their persistence paid off. They made a remarkable film which, instead of telling the story of his music career and success, charts the man himself, what made him, and what he has become.

We see him leading a very ordinary life as his family's patriarch, visiting his home town (in rural Virginia, where his ancestors were enslaved), and visiting the graves of his father and brother, who are buried in a tangle of undergrowth beyond the well kept, 'white' part of the graveyard. We see him cry: at a fundraiser for stuttering kids (he is a stutterer), and as his daughter starts to record music. He has just turned seventy and the process of telling his story in the film seemed palpably cathartic to him. The directors said that Bill himself told them that their first five hour chat felt as though he was on the psychoanalyst's couch; at one point in the film he mentions that he is a depressive. The final result manages to touch the most personal depths of a man who has done his best to separate his life from the music business.

And all of this without really going into the genius of his music. That voice! I don't know about you, but I'm having a Bill Withers week.

[During the Q&A the directors said that Bill himself had been due to attend the screening! But he had to have a knee op. I would've dropped down dead, but hopefully not before blocking the exits and making him sing 'Grandma's Hands'. Get well soon, Bill. There is another screening at 1:30pm today at the National Film Theatre; if you're in the area, take a long lunch and go!]


  1. A truly incredible man and an incredible film. The Q+A with the directors was an unbilled bonus - great guys who have obviously spent years of effort making this film. They also mentioned a Bill tribute concert was coming to Brighton next year. cant wait. - Go Bill!!

  2. Steve The Sleeve19 October 2009 at 12:58

    Hi Caroline!

    Ooooh, my first time leaving a comment here altho I have been sneakily reading under the radar! Keep up the good writings!

    Have to second everything you say above - a truly moving film that deserves to be seen by a FAR wider audience (fingers crossed for distribution, eh?)

    The film really takes you inside his head and you leave the cinema feeling a warm glow of happiness & enlightenment (I'm trying to out-do all the big words you used!!)

    One of my favourite moments came right at the beginning when they showed him on a chat show discussing his work making toilets for aeroplanes - his delivery of the gag about installing cameras inside the toilets was hilarious.

    Anyway, GO SEE THIS FILM!


    Steve O

  3. What an incredibly touching portrait of an incredibly genuine guy. I'm actually glad they steered clear of going deep into his music etc... Keeping it to focusing on just Bill, the man was fascinating.

    You're right, if Bill had wandered down to the front of the stage for the Q&A session at the end I probably would've fainted.

    Glad the directors said it was getting a DVD release too...

  4. Yay! Steve! Gabs!

    Steve - thank you! Good long words, there! I liked it when he was like, "Boy, things change when you get famous. I heard words I'd never heard before, like 'handsome'." Bless him. And that photo of him in his 'Withers' mechanic suit was so ace... Come over and visit our kitties soon?

    And Gabs - good job you didn't have cause to faint, that director might have nicked your 'sneakers'. lovely to see you and Bri yesterday, good luck over the coming weeks!! xx

  5. Steve The Sleeve19 October 2009 at 17:00


    I almost forgot!

    Bonus point for James Gadson's outrageous wig!


  6. How do you make a duck sing? Put it in the oven 'til its Bill Withers.


  7. Oh, Liz.

    Glad to hear about the sore teeth!

  8. I NEED to see that film.

    Anyone seen the Billy Paul documentary? Was thinking of buying the DVD.

  9. Hi Rob - strangely, we watched the Billy Paul film the night before Still Bill. Some great footage of Philly, nice photos, good stories... but a bit strangely filmed? Like, interviewing BP whilst he's eating a burger in the back of a cab? Deffo worth a watch.

  10. really realy REALLY need to see this film. am hoping it's out on dvd by the time we return!