Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A Walk Into The Sea: Danny Williams And The Warhol Factory

Illustration for article titled A Walk Into The Sea: Danny Williams And The Warhol Factory

Filmmaker Esther B. Robinson can boast that her uncle Danny Williams knew Andy Warhol—intimately, in fact—and that he spent several years in the mid-'60s hanging around "The Factory." But Robinson never got to talk to her uncle about it, because Williams disappeared in 1966, and now rarely gets mentioned when people write about the heyday of Billy Name, Edie Sedgwick, and the like. So Robinson tries to get to know her long-lost relative in a roundabout way, by tracking down every Warhol associate who claims to remember him.

A Walk Into The Sea: Danny Williams And The Warhol Factory is Robinson's jittery, lo-fi record of her interviews with the likes of John Cale, Chuck Wein, Paul Morrissey, and Brigid Berlin. When the camera's turned on, the old inner circle still performs, acting detached and worldly. But they're also getting old, so their faces look more lived-in than glamorous, and their memories are a little shaky. Robinson can't find any two of them who agree about Williams' significance to Warhol, or their whole scene. Did he create the lightshows for The Exploding Plastic Inevitable? Some say yes; Morrissey says there were never any lightshows. Was he Warhol's boyfriend? Some say sure; Name says Williams couldn't have been, because he was Warhol's boyfriend. Berlin remembers him as "part of that group from Massachusetts," but there were always so many people hanging around The Factory back then, each of them "playing a role." Who knew anybody, really?

A Walk In The Sea is at its best when Robinson contrasts the haziness of the Warhol crowd with the specificity of Williams' family, who can recall every anecdote he ever told them, including every perceived slight. To them, Warhol and company are those creeps from New York who treated their boy badly, and then wouldn't help find him when he disappeared. And in a way, Robinson follows her relatives' lead. Even though her film is fairly short, she still wastes a lot of time talking about The Factory itself, not her uncle's place in it. A cache of Williams' experimental shorts was found in the Warhol archive a few years ago, but rather than just showing the films and letting them stand and fall on their own, Robinson defines them in terms of what they might've meant to the white-haired pop artist standing just off-camera. Robinson went to New York to learn more about her uncle, and ends up spending most of her time obsessing over Warhol. Isn't that always the way?