With A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory, director Esther Robinson looks into the disappearance of her uncle Danny, a Harvard grad and member of Andy Warhol’s famous art collective (as well as his one-time lover) who, in 1966 at age 27, excused himself from dinner to get some fresh air and was never heard from again, his car found abandoned at an ocean cliffside. Robinson’s doc is an investigation into a mystery with no answer. Interviews with Williams’s relatives and former Factory members shed no conclusive light on his vanishing—possibly caused by drug use or depression over being dumped by Warhol—but offer quite a bit of insight into the atmosphere of the Factory, a milieu where collaboration went hand in hand with cutthroat selfishness, and where queen bee Warhol’s affection was prone to quickly turn to apathy. Williams worked as a lighting technician on Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows and later moved on to filmmaking, where he showed a gift for in-camera editing and manipulating contrast. Like so many of the story’s particulars, however, Williams’s role at the Factory is somewhat in dispute, such as with regard to his lighting contributions, which filmmaker Ron Nameth says were significant and Paul Morrissey claims amounted to almost nothing. That virtually everyone at the Factory was monumentally stoned and/or self-absorbed seems to be the reason for the lack of a consensus about anything other than Williams’s talent (on display in his never-before-seen movies) and Warhol’s cruelty. But as Robinson plumbs deeper into what her uncle’s emotional state might have been in the weeks and months leading up to his unexplained departure, what her film becomes is not only a haunting whodunit and a glimpse inside a nasty, ruthless artistic environment, but also an example of the limits of nonfiction biography. Comprised of confused, conflicting recollections, and opinions that lead to no concrete truths, the film proves a case study in unknowability, as well as an illustration of the fact (more or less stated by the Velvet Underground’s John Cale) that all posthumous portraits are, ultimately, mere incomplete fictions created by the living.
- Arthouse Films and Red Envelope Entertainment
- 78 min
- Esther Robinson
- Shannon Kennedy
- Callie Angell, Brigid Berlin, John Cale, Danny Fields, Nat Finkelstein, Gerard Malanga, Albert Maysles, Paul Morrissey, Ron Nameth, Billy Name, Chuck Wein
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