A Walk Into The Sea: Danny Williams And The Warhol Factory Movie Review
Robinson's family connection to the story is tenuous but intriguing. Her uncle, Danny Williams, was a bright young kid from Massachusetts with a promising future who, after a brief flurry of creative activity in Manhattan, disappeared after a family gathering in 1966. His body was never found, but it was widely assumed he drowned in Boston Bay, whether by accident or design. By happenstance, decades later Robinson happened to be working at the Warhol Foundation for the Arts when her connection was discovered and she was directed to a Warhol archivist who had unearthed a collection of 20 silent short films which were similar to but quite different from Warhol's other work and were marked "Danny Williams," who nobody knew much about.
Before seemingly burning out, Williams seemed to be someone to watch. Venerable documentary icon Albert Maysles talks about how Danny edited the Maysles' brothers' first film while still in his early twenties, a pretty impressive achievement. In 1965, Danny dropped out of Harvard and moved to Manhattan, where he fell in with the Factory group, that vagabond band of name-droppers, dilettantes, addicts, busybodies, and the occasional genius. It was all lorded over by the permanently nonplussed, bewigged Warhol, whose ineffable blankness became the tabula rasa upon which all the Factory denizens projected their wants and needs.
Fresh-faced Williams dropped into this seething ferment of explosive creativity and corrosive jealousy and what happened next is hotly debated between the cavalcade of bold-face talking heads who come on -- Billy Name, John Cale, Paul Morrissey, Brigid Berlin -- to argue who did what and who did who. Like a high school clique, they don't seem to be able to help themselves, falling into old disputes and accusations as though no time has passed. By weight of accumulation, Robinson is able to piece together that Williams was most likely Warhol's lover and the creative mind behind the revolutionary strobe-light shows that accompanied Warhol's famous Exploding Plastic Inevitable happenings, no matter how much Morrissey (whose control-freak jealousy still rings out loud all these decades later) dismissively denies it. Although the details are hard to piece together, it seems clear that Williams -- widely described as a clean-cut Cambridge kid who ends up on speed and burning the candle at both ends -- was chewed up and spit out by the Factory, his contributions purposefully forgotten by those who encircled Warhol and pined for their own 15 minutes of reflected glory.
Robinson wisely takes a cue from Williams himself and incorporates much of his footage into her wispy and fleeting narrative. The black and white films themselves have a specific and avant-garde allure, especially for the time, showcasing a more personalized viewpoint than the standard Factory film output, with more dramatic angles, artful lighting and stuttering jump-cuts. Robinson's style is a similarly ineffable one, low-lit and moody, as ultimately mysterious as its subject.
A Walk into the Sea is, however, crystal-clear on its refusal to add another brick to the wall of celebrity hype around Warhol and the Factory, showing instead a group that acted less like artists and more like viciously bitchy courtiers, willing to sacrifice any and all to gain the great one's favor. It's a bracing reminder of the impermanence of memory and the ease with which one can be simply written out of history. As to whether Williams' disappearance and probable suicide put a damper on Warhol's mood, one interviewee puts it as blunt as possible, "Andy's just being Andy, which is not giving a fuck."
Reviewed at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.
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