A Walk Into the Sea

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Arthouse Films/Red Envelope Entertainment

NEW YORK -- Two spectral presences haunt "A Walk Into the Sea," filmmaker Esther Robinson's portrait of her uncle Danny Williams. One is the subject himself, who apparently committed suicide at age 27 by carrying out the titular act late one night in 1966; the other is Andy Warhol, in whose Factory Williams toiled as a filmmaker and lighting designer, and who was also -- if only briefly -- the young man's lover.

A veritable cottage industry of Warhol-themed documentaries has sprung up in recent years, and it's easy to see why. This endlessly colorful figure serves as both a fascinatingly enigmatic character and an emblematic icon of his times.

He's a far more vivid presence in this film than Williams, who, as the many interviews included here demonstrate, is barely remembered by his cohorts in Warhol's group and is only briefly referred to in the artist's diaries. But the snippets of 16mm films he shot, featuring Warhol and such characters as Bridget Polk, Gerard Malanga and many others, vividly attest to his presence on the scene.

Williams, a Harvard dropout who briefly apprenticed with the Maysles brothers (Albert is interviewed here), designed and operated the light show for the multimedia "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" shows that featured the Velvet Underground.

He later became estranged from the Factory because of the jealousy of several of its other members and Warhol's eventual disinterest. Addicted to amphetamines, he moved back to his family home in Massachusetts. One night, he excused himself after dinner and was never seen again. His car was found near a cliff overlooking the sea, and his body was never found.

The ambiguity of his disappearance adds even more resonance to a story filled with vague recollections by the aged members of Warhol's coterie, whose lined faces contrast dramatically with the gorgeously youthful portraits captured in Williams' films.

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