Agile, Mobile, Hostile: A Year With Andre Williams

Big Smash! Music Scene presents:
Tricia Todd & Eric Matthies’ Agile, Mobile, Hostile: A Year With Andre Williams
With DJ Dane “Birdapres” Goulet DJ, door prizes, art raffle + more!
Thursday, February 11 at 9:00PM
Royal Albert Arms at 48 Albert St.

Andre Williams has written and recorded a number of landmark hit songs and has worked with legends of the industry: Berry Gordy, Ike Turner and Stevie Wonder to name just a few. He’s also struggled throughout his life with addiction, poverty, homelessness and the legal system. The doc’s star says, “I’m going to show you the right way, because I’ve gone so many wrong ways”. With this statement the man known as “Mr. Rhythm” takes us along a fascinating, funny and distressing journey. Andre doesn’t always go “the right way” and this leads to tenuous relationships with friends, family and business partners, time in jail, eviction from his “old folks home” and subsequent struggle to pay for his room at the “Hotel 6” where he lives between tours. The filmmakers follow the charismatic underground recording artist through his day-to-day existence. For Andre, this could mean rehearsing for a show in Chicago, recording with Jon Spencer in Michigan, performing for enthusiastic fans in Croatia, doing a radio interview in Serbia or marching in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. Throughout his 72 years, Andre has never stopped driving his creative visions forward, regardless of cost or consequence. The consequences turn out to be severe as Andre’s addictive history catches up with him.

Ultimately doing the right thing could be the choice between life and death for a musician who is perpetually on the cusp of new found success.


From Uptown Magazine February 11, 2010:

Beneath the bravado
Agile, Mobile, Hostile: A Year With Andre Williams exposes the vulnerability of an aging bluesman

When you first meet him, Andre Williams is the kind of guy who seems to embody all manner of awesomeness. He’s charming, he drips with inimitable style and he projects the aura of bona-fide living legend.

You know that song, Shake a Tail Feather. The one Ray Charles knocks out in The Blues Brothers. He wrote that, kids. Well, OK, co-wrote. But his name’s on it all the same. Not that he’s ever seen any money from it, as he grumbles bitterly.

Agile, Mobile, Hostile: A Year With Andre Williams slowly accumulates tragic resonance as it exposes the frail old man beneath the bravado. Williams “was the man back in the day” – “hell,” he says, “I still am.” At age 70, he’s still both recording and performing, a cock who still has his walk.

It may be all he has, however. That, and the admiration of young music lovers who are thrilled to pack an out-of-the-way venue on a Sunday night to see Williams do his thing.

Too bad he can’t remember the words to his own songs. Also too bad that all the charisma in the world can’t hide his raging alcoholism. Or keep him from quite possibly winding up on the streets.

At one point, Williams appears on the radio and is asked, why is he still cutting records? “So I can finally retire,” he replies. Later, he searches for an already-furnished apartment he can rent on a month-to-month basis and the weight of his self-delusions comes crashing in.

It’s clear that Williams makes the people in his life despair. Members of his band – all young men – admit to his face that they respect and like him, but don’t care for being around him. He can’t be reasoned with, complains one. Yet a promoter still admits that he can “buy you with his smile.”

While I haven’t actually tested the hypothesis, it strikes me that a documentary is only going to be as good as its subject. Andre Williams is a brilliant subject. He commands our attention; the camera, as they say, loves him. And why wouldn’t it? He lives his life as if it’s a performance.

Yet it’s the vulnerable soul behind the showman’s swagger that supplies the film’s true gravity. Williams has been running on the fumes of past glories for too long, and age, health and financial neglect are all catching up with him.

By the end of the period documented by the filmmakers, he seems to be doing better, although he’s still battling the bottle. The real question is whether he has the wherewithal to carve out a secure existence in the time he has left.

At one point he tells us that, as long as he can afford a night at a Motel 6 instead of sleeping on the street, he’s happy. Not for a moment does he sound like he means it.

Williams is the kind of guy we go to ‘authentic’ blues bars for. He’s the real deal, all right. This documentary may make you feel guilty for craving that kind of authenticity, however.

– Kenton Smith


~ by cineflyer on February 2, 2010.

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