Sunday, August 29, 2010

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD (2010)

Directed by Tamra Davis

Where & When: Nuart Theater, West Los Angeles, CA. August 20, 2010  5:10PM



Tamra Davis, director of such films as "Billy Madison" (1995) and Britney Spears' film debut, "Crossroads" (2002), had befriended artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat early in his career and in 1988, she taped an interview with him during the height of his fame.

A few months later, Basquiat was dead at the age of twenty-seven from a heroin overdose. After his death, Ms Davis put the footage away she had shot and didn't look at it again until almost twenty year later. She decided to take this footage and use it to help make this documentary about the life of the acclaimed artist and her friend.

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York to parents who were of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent. At an early age, he showed an interest in art which his mother encouraged. As a teenager, he started doing graffiti throughout Manhattan but it wasn't your typical tagging. It was more like an artistic expression and he would put up slogans and messages, then signed them as "SAMO".

At seventeen, Basquiat dropped out of high school and left home where he survived on the streets by selling t-shirts and postcards he made.

In 1981, he met gallery owner, Annina Nosei and she gave him money to buy his first set of paint supplies. He painted in the basement in her gallery and she sold his work and this partnership made them both a lot of money. Nosei even arranged for him to move into his first apartment and she showed his first one man exhibit in her gallery.

He soon became an international star but he was painfully aware that he was not as respected or given the same opportunities as his white contemporaries like Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi.

As Basquiat became more famous, he decided to move to a new art dealer, Bruno Bischofberger, mainly because he could introduce him to his life long idol, Andy Warhol. Warhol and Basquiat became very close friends and even collaborated on some art projects together. Basquiat was very deeply affected by the death of Warhol which caused him to move further into depression and drug abuse.

Ms Davis uses an assortment of friends, acquaintances and business partners of Basquiat to share their thoughts and stories about their relationship with the artist. We hear from people like hip-hop pioneer, Fab 5 Freddy, Glenn O'Brien, currently the "Style Guy" for GQ but was the long time music critic for Warhol's Interview magazine, art dealer and gallery owner, Larry Gagosian, a group of former girlfriends and fellow artist turned filmmaker, Schnabel, who made his first feature film about Basquait in 1996 that starred Jeffrey Wright.

This is a fast paced but richly detailed account about the fascinating short life of this highly influential artist and the important contributions he made to art in general.

The thing I found most interesting is that out of all the many people who were interviewed for this film, not one person had anything really negative to say about Mr. Basquiat. Now, I realize that when someone is no longer alive, people tend to curb their tongue but considering how temperamental artists are known to be, it's still a little surprising how all of these accounts were so very personal and loving. Even his former girlfriends that he cheated on, still look back on their relationship with him quite fondly. That says a lot about this young man who was clearly very charming and talented as he was complicated and troubled.

I should really emphasize "young" because it's really amazing that Basquait made his entire body of work in his twenties. Perhaps because of his age, nobody really understood the innovation and the complexity of the art that he was doing at the time nor that he would not be around long for people to truly appreciate what he managed to accomplish in a relatively short period of time.

I strongly urge you to see this well made and captivating film. If you are familiar with Basquait, this will give you a more personal insight in to the life of this artist and if you are not, I hope that this documentary will encourage you to go and seek out more information on him and his work.