Just a few hours earlier, I was going through my DVR and I discovered that I had recorded, off of TCM, a film called A Day In The Death of Donny B. That title immediately caught my attention (and I imagine that the title is probably what inspired me to record the film in the first place). A Day In The Death of Donny B sounds like the title of something that would have come out of Andy Warhol’s Factory in the late 60s, maybe starring Joe Dallesandro as Donny B and Edie Sedgwick as herself.
So, of course, I simply had to watch it to discover just who Donny B was and how many days it would take him to die. Add to that, I also noticed that the film only lasted 15 minutes, making it the perfect viewing experience for someone, like me, who has absolutely no attention span.
Anyway, I watched it and I discovered that it’s not a Warhol film. However, it was filmed in 1969 and it contains a lot of cinéma vérité-style footage of the slums of New York City, which means that it takrd place in roughly the same world as some of Warhol’s films. It turns out that The Death of Donny B was produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It’s an anti-drug film, obviously designed to speak to young and black audiences.
The film follows an African-American addict named Donny B as he wanders through the shadows of New York City and tries to scrounge up enough money to buy heroin. While we watch him go about his day, we listen to voice overs from former addicts and some of Donny’s family members. They all agree that Donny is basically a huge loser. Donny B. is credited as playing himself and he has a definite screen presence, even if he looks a bit too healthy for someone who, we’re told, shoots heroin several times a day.
The film itself is shot in harshly beautiful black-and-white and the soundtrack features a droning song (credited to someone named Harry Holt) that, for the most part, consists lyrically of: “It’s a day in the death of Donny B…” and trust me, that song will get stuck in your head. Today, of course, the main appeal of The Death of Donny B is that it’s a time capsule of when it was made. For those of us who might be curious as to what New York was like back in the dangerous 1960s, The Death of Donny B is our time machine.
And you can watch it below!
And if you happen to be Donny B, leave a comment below because we would love to hear from you!