A Walk Into The Sea

A Walk Into The Sea


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Search for 'Danny Williams' on Google and you will find pages about a boxer, a politician, a singer and a plumber. It's only with the appearance of this film that the brilliant young filmmaker who wowed Andy Warhol's Factory in the 1960s has come to any kind of real public attention. Why is this? How has somebody so important remained hidden from the world?

In 1966, following a family gathering, Danny Williams borrowed his parents' car and drove it to nearby Cape Ann. It was found there the following day, but Danny was never seen again. Did he drown himself? Did he go for a swim and get caught by the current? Did he simply choose to walk away and start a new life under another name? It's a question which remains unanswered to this day. In this intriguing and very personal film his niece, Esther Robinson, tries to unravel the secrets of his life.

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There have been a lot of films about the Factory. Most have prided themselves on revealing new truths. Robinson's film does the opposite, starting from the premise that truth is a very difficult thing to establish, especially after all this time. Some of her uncle's former associates simply refuse to talk to her and those who do frequently contradict each other. But gradually what begins to emerge is a portrait of a community riven with petty jealousies, a group where everybody wanted to be in charge and power games were played which young Danny, polite and well-intentioned and nicely brought up, couldn't possibly have coped with. If this sounds too sympathetic to the subject, bear in mind that the same picture of him is painted by all parties, even whilst they display different attitudes toward it. He was "this preppy kid with the glasses", but he also had a stroke of genius which made him first Warhol's favourite and then, inexplicably, his rival. No great showdown ensued. Warhol was experienced in dealing with such situations. He simply stopped talking about Danny and other people stopped hearing about him.

When Hollywood stars bicker over who gets top billing it often seems petty. Shouldn't real artists be concerned simply about doing their best work? Such was the ethos of the Factory - which is why Warhol always got top billing, ensuring him of a place in history. Yet examine the marginalia and a different story emerges. Even early on, Danny's innovative lighting work made a startling contribution to Factory films. As he grew more confident, he began to make short films of his on, some of which are included here. Warhol encouraged him to develop his talent, enthusiastic about his ability, yet they never saw the light of day. In a highly competitive environment Danny simply couldn't keep up.

If this sounds like an unpleasant story to watch, it's enlivened by the sheer beauty of Danny's work and by the humanity which he illustrated in those around him. Many of them obviously did care about him, though they acknowledge that they (like him) were too whacked-out on drugs to help much at the time. Everybody was waiting for a revolution. In the process, they overlooked Danny's revolutionary technical work, and one wonders what other talents were lost.

With the stalwart help of Brigid Berlin (now a handsome 67) and film archivist Callie Angell, Robinson navigates a maze of half-remembered fragments and deeply personal stories told by some of the 20th Century's most fascinating personalities. There's also a brief snippet of what is probably the earliest extant footage of The Velvet Underground and there are illustrative clips from Warhol's Chelsea Girls. But perhaps the real tragedy, in the end, is that most people who see this film will do so only because it has Warhol's name associated with it, and Danny Williams will remain obscure.

Reviewed on: 09 Aug 2008
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A search for the truth about a brilliant young filmmaker and Warhol associate who disappeared and may have drowned himself.
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Director: Esther Robinson

Writer: Shannon Kennedy

Starring: Callie Angell, Brigid Berlin, John Cale, Nat Finkelstein, Gerard Malanga, Albert Maysles, Paul Morrissey, Julia Robinson, Nadia Williams

Year: 2008

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2007

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