A WALK INTO THE SEA: DANNY WILLIAMS AND THE WARHOL FACTORYNR
Andy Warhol and his infamous Factory are a seemingly inexhaustible source for cinematic exhumation, as witness this latest investigation, Esther B. Robinson’s A Walk into the Sea. In 1966, filmmaker Danny Williams disappeared forever off the coast of Massachusetts, his body never to be found. Robinson, his niece, decided to look into this mystery and in the process turns over a metaphorical rock out from under which a host of superannuated but still feistily alive Factory denizens come scuttling.
John Cale, Chuck Wein, Brigid Berlin, Gerard Malanga, Paul Morrissey, Danny Fields and others who worked with and partied around Warhol come up with often conflicting reminiscences of Williams. Unsurprisingly, overweening, undying egos are rampant here, as one becomes aware once more of what a benighted power struggle went on for all those years under Andy’s magisterially removed yet undoubtedly enabling aegis. Many of these “witnesses” admit to knowing next to nothing about Harvard-educated Williams, who became Warhol’s lover for a while, fell out of favor and lurked in the background of the studio, surrounded by cameras and editing equipment. Die-hard, surprising Republican Morrissey seems particularly intransigent and dismissive. Only veteran documentarian Albert Maysles, an indefatigable gentleman, graciously gives Williams his full aesthetic due as a brilliant boy who, even at 21, could edit film like an angel.
At times one wishes Robinson had had an audio technician who could slow things down a tad, as nearly all of her interviewees, perhaps due to the lingering effects of amphetamines ingested, speak so quickly as to be almost incomprehensible. But, even assumedly drug-free, Williams’ aged mother and interrogator Robinson herself also palaver with blinding speed. Mom is a crusty old soul, whose weird attitudes about her son’s homosexuality (“I don’t like photos of him without his glasses, he looks too feminine”) may be as telling about Williams’ debilitating bouts of depression as anything that went on at the Factory.
One also wants more of Williams’ actual film footage, as only tantalizing, choppy clips are shown. A serious case is made for his pioneering use of strobe lighting effects and editing, but you come away aesthetically unsatisfied and still wondering about his artistic merit. (No solid answers are given as to what actually became of him either.)
What’s shown is undeniably elegant, which unfortunately only points up Robinson’s technical ineptitude. She brings her camera perilously close to her subjects’ faces and, as an interviewer, seems extremely green, less than trenchant and largely uninformed as to the history and milieu of what she is covering.