Still Bill

Movie Information

To celebrate their ninth anniversary (and the vernal equinox), West End Bakery will host a free screening of Still Bill on Saturday, March 20, at 8 p.m. For more information, visit
Genre: Music/Documentary
Director: Damani Baker, Alex Vlack
Starring: Bill Withers, Jim James, Angélique Kidjo, Tavis Smiley, Cornel West
Rated: NR

I don’t think of Bill Withers very often, but whenever I encounter one of his songs from the early 1970s, I’m always glad to be reminded of him. He was one of the few black artists to crack the playlist of the AOR station I listened to in high school, and I vividly remember being impressed and moved when I first heard “Grandma’s Hands” on there. His other songs—“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Use Me Up”—were part of the sound track of my life back then. So I was delighted to be introduced to Still Bill (2009), a long-needed documentary on Withers. I was even more delighted to find it an excellent documentary—and Withers to be exactly the sort of person his songs had led me to imagine.

As filmmaking, this is hardly landmark stuff. It’s nicely done, but it is a fairly traditional assemblage of archive footage and interviews. This, however, suits the subject. It hardly prevents the scenes where Withers and the filmmakers travel to his hometown in West Virginia from providing a rare look at an artist’s origins in his own words. This part of the film alone is remarkable, offering unusual insight into Withers’ past (which clearly impacts his present)—and it also paints a very different view of West Virginia than we’re usually given. In the end, however, this is a film that rises or falls on its subject matter. In the case of Bill Withers, the subject matter is more than adequate for it to rise just fine.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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4 thoughts on “Still Bill

  1. Ken Hanke

    And you call yourself a Bill Withers fan!

    No, actually I don’t. I am merely a casual listener of songs that got airplay for a couple years, but I had a feeling that was either a song or a lyric I didn’t know, since I know almost no one with a more encyclopaedic knowledge of pop music than you.

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