Published On Friday, October 03, 2008
By EVA M. DELAPPE
Andy Warhol was a dangerous combination of magnetism, fame, and
power. His strong persona, coupled with his mechanical,
industrialized production of art, made it easy for individuals
involved in Warhol's studio-cum-entouragethe Factoryto slip through
the cracks. In her debut documentary, Esther Robinson explores the
involvement and the mysterious disappearance of her uncle, Danny
Williams '61. "A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol
Factory," shown this past weekend at the Institute of Contemporary
Art (ICA) with commentary from Robinson, investigates the
much-examined Warhol clique from a personal, fresh perspective,
exploring the inner machinations of the Factory. Weaving intimate
interviews of aging Factory members with excerpts from Williams'
striking films, Robinson tells the story of a creative young man
denied the approval of his dominating mother due to his homosexuality
and betrayed by Warhol's Machiavellian manipulation of the boy's
talent and love. Instead of expanding the idea of Andy Warhol as an
icon, Robinson delves into the personal, human interactions that the
Factory ultimately thrived on but which were often overshadowed by Warhol.
Williams spent time at Harvard, honing both his visual sensitivity as
a member of The Harvard Crimson photography staff andas Robinson
speculateshis appreciation for drugs as a possible test subject in
Dr. Timothy Leary's psychedelic drug experiments. However, the issue
of sexuality made it difficult for him to enjoy his Harvard experience.
"Danny was in his first or second year, really struggling and having
a hard time being gay at Harvard," Robinson says. As a result, he
left school and decided to pursue a career in film.
Williams moved to New York City, where he became involved with the
Factory and with Warhol himself. A filmmaker and electrician,
Williams created much of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable Show, but
despite Williams' crucial involvement, this complex light showwhich
mimicked tripping on hallucinogenic drugs and accompanied a concert
performed by The Velvet Underground and Nicowas attributed to
Williams' lover, Warhol.
"Imagine you're in your 20s, the sexiest, youngest, most creative,
most productive, and most vibrant you'll ever be," Robinson says.
"You move to New York to make art. You're at the Factory, at the
center of everything. And from then on everything you create is
ascribed to Andy. It's an incredibly disfiguring experience."
In the process of researching her uncle's art and history, Robinson
discovered that the Factory was plagued with a "sense of fighting and
jockeying for position and status." Interviews with Williams's fellow
Factory fixturesJohn Cale of the Velvet Underground, Brigid Berlin,
Paul Morrissey, Billy Name, and othersshow the bitterness, gossip,
and jealousy that characterized the inner workings of Williams's
world. Yet these interviews of elderly, solitary, forgetful
"new-agers"juxtaposed with the ephemeral, joyous images of them from
Williams's lovely original filmsremind the audience that the Factory
was very human, if only because it shows that idols also age.
"I wanted to show the inconsistency of the whole narrative of the
time and to show people as people," Robinson says, "not as icons."
Despite her attempts at dispelling some of the mystery surrounding
the Factory, the perplexing nature of Williams's disappearance is
never resolved. After a falling out with Warhol, a bewildered,
drug-addled Williams returned home to Rockport, MA for dinner, only
to disappear forever later that night.
Although Robinson reveals juicy tidbits about The Factory, she
ultimately engages the audience through the film's intrinsic
intimacy. Excerpts from Williams's compelling short filmswhich
experiment with contrast and light, creating a unique visual rhythm
by alternating slow-motion images of Warhol and crew with speedy
second-long splashes of faces, lights, and darknesscompliment
Robinson's caring investigation of her family history. A 2007 winner
of Best Documentary Film at the Berlin Film Festival and the New York
Loves Film Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, "A Walk into the Sea:
Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory" brings light to an artist
whose history was until recently engulfed by, as Robinson puts it,
"the giant Warhol myth."