47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Basquiat (Julian Schnabel, 1996)
Schnabel has made two films in five years. I'm still wondering why the man hasn't yet been immortalized. Less talented directors have gotten stars on the Walk of Fame for less accomplishment than Schnabel showed with his second film, Before Night Falls, alone. His first, Basquiat, is damned close to being as good, and yet it fell almost completely below the radar of American cinema upon its release, despite a stable of talent so broad it's almost ludicrous.
Schnabel (played in the film by Gary Oldman, incidentally-- and Schnabel's real-life family plays Oldman's family in the film. heh.) gives us the story of Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the brightest lights of New York's avant-garde art movement in the seventies and eighties before his 1988 overdose. Basquiat himself is played by the always-engaging Jeffrey Wright (recently seen giving Sam Jackson trouble in _Shaft_), and while the film never fails to center on Basquiat himself, Wright's brilliantly low-key performance seems almost a backdrop for a slew of A-list actors in minor roles (Willem Dafoe, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Tatum O'Neal, etc.) and up-and-coming stars who have since gone on to eclipse even Wright (Benecio del Toro, Courtney Love, Vincent Gallo, Linda Larkin, Caire Forlani, Michael Badalucco, et al.). But the show is truly stolen by David Bowie as (a believable, believe it or not) Andy Warhol. Bowie doesn't do a whole lot of acting, but when he does, he's usually wonderful at it (viz. The Hunger, Christiane F., etc.). He takes it to new heights here, and Bowie and Wright give a sense of the friendship between Warhol and Basquiat that does far more in far less screen time than most buddy movies could dream about. Of course, that may be because Schnabel, an artist himself, is a virtuoso at conveying the shallowness of the New York art scene. What's more, he manages to do so without turning Basquiat into a shallow film. Not an easy task, by any means.
Fantastic all the way around. **** 1/2
50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2001
Painter Julian Schnabel made his film directing debut with his impressionistic biography of his late friend and fellow '80s Warhol hanger-on, Jean-Michel Basquiat. A charismatic, young heroin addict, Basquiat started out as a graffiti artist who called himself SAMO (as in samo bulls--t) and, depending on where your aesthetic tastes fall, his success represented either a great rebirth of artistic orgininality OR yet another sign that the American art scene was becoming a victim of trendiness. The same, of course, was said of Schnabel at the same time. Luckily for myself as a viewer of this film, I'm in the former camp. For the latter group or the growing number of people who see, "I don't know nothing about art but I like what I see," as the height of critical thinking, this film probably isn't for them.
Told in a freeform fashion, Schnabel's vision of Basquiat's life is rather uneven. The story is occasionally rather muddled (Basquiat's rise from homeless drug addict to prodigal Warhol son seems to come out of nowhere) and plotwise, Schnabel is rather conventional in his structure -- Basquiat reaches the heights of fame and forgets all of his former friends before being redeemed at the end. (His own eventual death of a heroin overdose isn't shown beyond a title card at the end credits -- though the film strongly hints it was related to his own depression concerning the death of Andy Warhol.) However, the film is also blessed with occasional flashes of genius that make this a film that is worth watching. Not surprisingly, Schnabel has a strong visual sense and he uses his limited budget to his advantage, capturing a strange sort of grimy fantasy world. Some of his enigmatic images are haunting. Basquiat continually sees an image of a lone figure surfing whenever he looks up to the sky. Why does this child of New York have this surfer in his head? No explanation is given or really needed. The surfer just happens to be there, just as Basquiat's artistic talent just happened to be there -- unexplainable but definitely real.
Schnabel also proves himself to be a capable director of actors. The film is full of cameos from the actors who always seem to show up in independent, art cinema and at first sight, the cast list looks a little self-conciously hip. At the same time, the celebrity casting somehow works brilliantly. Early on in the film, Basquiat stares through a window at the Warhol crowd standing in an art gallery. That "crowd" is made up of David Bowie, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, and several other recognizable faces and its somewhat jarring to see all of these familiar actors gathered together -- just as it was probably jarring for Basquiat to stare at the "icons" of his world. Plus, for the most part, these actors all give strong performances and don't just coast on their image. Bowie, especially, surprised me as Warhol. Its not a deep performance but at the same time, he never allows the artist to become a fey caricature. Parker Posey is wonderfully haughty as gallery owner Mary Boone while unusually restrained work comes from unexpected sources like Dennis Hopper, Paul Bartel, and Willem DaFoe. Christopher Walken has a wonderful cameo as a pretentious interviewer and nicely satirizes his own intense image. Of the supporting cast, the four strongest performances are given by Clare Forlani (who has never been allowed to be a strong and sexy as she is here as Basquiat's lover), Michael Wincott and a pre-traffic Benecio Del Toro (playing early friends of Basquiat -- Del Toro especially has some hilarious monologues early on), and Gary Oldman who is basically playing Julian Schnabel and brings a wonderfully arrogant glee to his scenes. (A highlight, late in the film, is the image of Oldman dancing with his daughter in front of one of Schnabel's trademark epic canvasses).
The best performance and the linchpin that holds the film together comes from Geoffrey Wright who found his first taste of fame playing the doomed Jean-Michel Basquiat. Wright, quite simply, is a revelation. He brings a touch of childlike vulnerablity to a character who isn't always extremely sympathetic and manages to add a much needed cohesion to Schnabel's uneven composition. His scenes following Warhol's death are especially haunting. Much as Schanbel's second film introduced many of us to Javeir Bardem, Basquiat serves as an introduction to Wright as well. When Wright sees his surfer, you don't wonder what a surfer's doing above the New York skyline as much as you share Basquiat's (and Wright's) excitement at what possibilities the future might hold.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2002
Basquiat is a mesmerizing, intelligent, compassionate, and stunningly beautiful movie. Jeffrey Wright and David Bowie should both have been nominated for Academy Awards (and if they gave Academy Awards for bit parts, Christopher Walken would deserve one!!). I hadn't heard of Jean-Michel Basquiat before seeing the movie, but now I'm dying to see more of his art, and also to learn more about Andy Warhol's life. Even if you aren't a fan of Basquiat's or Warhol's art (I'm not sure yet whether I am or not), if you have an open mind you will almost certainly be touched by the beauty in this film. Basquiat is one of the few films I have really MISSED from the moment it ended. I can't wait to see it again, so that I can absorb Basquiat's art better, and experience David Bowie's entirely believable, lovable, and *funny* portrayal of Warhol again. One viewing is definitely not enough. DVD, where are you?
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2006
I went to the School of Visual Arts from 1977 - 1981, during the time that Basquiat "attended" school there, or it would be more accurate to say during the time that Jean Michel hung out at SVA's lounge and painting classes while never actually paying to attend class. Either way, the film perfectly captures both sides of the NYC art scene of that time -- the struggling, aspiring artist and the world of Soho's elite. The film has a great musical score that includes music of the day and other art school favorites. There are also some wonderfully accurate character portraits like David Bowie's Andy Warhol, Parker Posey's Mary Boone and the more obscure, but right on target: Benicio Del Toro's accurate portrayal of your average NYC (SVA, Parsons The New School) art student. The film also does an affective job of capturing the atmosphere of the late night 80s East Village parties and Soho openings and the way Warhol stepped in and out of the scene mingling with the young talent all too eager to mingle back with him. Jeffrey Wright plays Basquiat with a more Mickey Mouse-like flair than Jean Michel really had. I remember him as a loner, a little dark and more brooding, if not angst ridden at times. (My guess is this is how Wright choose to make Jean more presentable to a motion picture audience.) Anyway, the film as a whole is a heartfelt portrait from a colleague and friend Julian Schnabel, an 80's fine art painter known for his paintings involving broken dinner plates. Schnabel later became a motion picture director and directs this portrait of his friend Basquiat. If you're looking for a love letter to Jean, then this film is for you.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Artist Julian Schnabel in his directorial debut captures the essence of the avant garde art world of the late nineteen seventies through the eighties. His screenplay focuses on Jean- Michel Basquiat, a street person who started his career as an artist known for his memorable graffiti. Basquiat later catapulted to fame as the first African American artist to break out into the lily white New York art world, becoming pals with the likes of Andy Warhol. His struggle for acceptance and his inner demons ultimately proved to be too much for him, however, and at twenty eight, the world of Basquiat came to a stunning conclusion from an overdose of heroin.
The role of Basquiat is deliciously and memorably played by Jeffrey Wright who portrays Basquiat as a fey sort of soul. His stunning portrayal of the artist is neatly counterbalanced by the earthy performance of a young Benicio Del Toro who plays Basquiat's friend. David Bowie is perfectly cast as an other worldly Andy Warhol. Dennis Hopper and Courtney Love also give compelling performances, as does Gary Oldham.
This is a quirky, surprisingly good film in the best indie tradition. It is quintessential New York in feel. Native New Yorkers will know what I mean. Others will simply have to take my word for it. Like the city, the film has something for everyone.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2004
I'm totally ignorant of art, but this film is very exciting especially in Jeffrey Wright's scenes with actors Claire Forlani, Michael Wincott, and Benicio Del Toro. The way Basquiat's success changes his relationship with his girlfriend and friends and the way he seemingly unwittingly uses people and is also used by people makes for great entertainment. I'm not sure about the Andy Warhol scenes, and nothing much is learned of the relationship between he and Basquiat, but I enjoyed the reunion at the end between Basquiat and his pre-fame best friend Benny. My two favorite scenes would be the one where Basquiat ruins his girlfriend's painting sparking a wonderful argument and the scene between Basquiat and Benny in the car when Basquiat accuses Benny of being a racist. Benicio Del Toro's response is awesome in this scene: "What gives you the audacity to even think that..." I really appreciate the fact that Jeffrey Wright's performance does not allow Basquiat to become merely a symbol for oh-so-cool self-destructive artists. At times he is sweetly sympathetic and at other times he is very irritating and self-righteous. What I think is tragic about the film's Basquiat is that he is constantly being judged based on his race and set apart rather than being embraced solely for his artistic talent. Although Schnabel is an artist himself I don't feel the film is a visual film, it is visual/audio similar to Scorcese's Mean Streets but without that film's violence. The music soundtrack is so important and the songs are so well chosen that it feels like many of the scenes were filmed to fit a specific song. The wonderful soundtrack includes songs by The Pogues, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Miles Davis, and John Cale. I especially like the use of the songs Fairytale of New York and Summer in Siam by The Pogues and Hallelujah by John Cale. Great music fills plot holes and connects fragmented scenes together. For me the dialogue is very musical as well, especially as delivered by such uniquely talented actors. This film can be watched many times without becoming boring, and therefore I recommend owning it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2002
This is among the best movies I've ever seen. Is it accurate? Does it tell the whole story? Isn't it giving a slanted perspective on Basquiat's life? Who cares? Watch Biography on A&E or something for an historical account of his life if that's what you're looking for.
This movie is a beautifully filmed tribute to an artist by an artist. There is a scene in the film where we watch old 8mm clips of Basquiat's friend Andy Warhol. I get the feeling Julian Schnabel wished there was a big collection of 8mm home movies with which to make a tribute out of, but lacking that did the next best thing and made a movie. I felt like the whole movie was a film version of friends getting together and saying "remember that time he...." The film does tend to jump around a bit, and not everything is explained fully. Think back on someone close to you who died. Think of how you remember that person. Not as a complete biography, but a collection of memories. Times that make you laugh, times that make you cry, times you wish others had experienced so they can know fully what the loss means to you. This movie captures that feeling and draws you into this close group of friends. It lets you share those times from the inside. Each person is represented by at least one clip. Each person has at least one memory to share. Basquait drifts around the film in a dreamy disconnected way. These scenes are only memories. The character does not grow or change because we remember our friends the way they were when they died. We freeze them and wrap them in a protective blanket that repels all fault we may have placed on them in life. I have never watched a film that captures these feelings so well. This film made me feel like I was invited to Basquiat's wake and allowed to share in the memories.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2014
Sorry folks, this is not Jean Michel Basquiat. This is Julian Schnabel's personal revenge on the great 80's artist who by the shear newness of his art had managed to de-throne Schnabel off of the darling A-list. I was there. I went to art school in the early 80's, right at that great moment of art history. Along with Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat's art broke not only new ground insofar as their imagery but also in their brash rejection of the established uptown & Soho galleries. Julian Schnabel was the establishment in spite of his own sudden meteoric rise to prominence in that time. After Haring & Basquiat, Julian Schnabel became just another abstract artist...
This bio-pic, directed by Julian Schnabel (portrayed by Gary Oldman in the film) attempts to re-write the 80's by focusing his film on title character's drug dependency & junkie lifestyle. It attempts to paint Basquiat as a novelty junkie artist, taken off the streets by Warhol & his vampiric need to remain relevant in the new climate change of the 80's, taking under his wing some of its 'street' artists who were making a name for themselves in the lower east village & alphabet city.
Jeffrey Wright's portrayal is always stuck in a semi-lucid tone, although not always off the mark as compared to David Bowie's always comical & ridiculous depiction of 60's pop-artist, Andy Warhol. Bowie's bad & annoying speech imitation is laughable; a stupid caricature of Warhol's public pretense & style. In nearly every scene David Bowie is a distraction & fails miserably in portraying the legendary & iconic 60's artist, just as Schnabel does to his lead character.
The film tries to capture the feel of the art scene in the early 80's. However, Schnabel's film is less about that & more about how he will relegate his rival, Jean Michel, to some inconsequential, wrongly judged genius fueled by the artist's own paranoid notions of his talentless quest for fame & notoriety. When, in fact, Basquiat was the better & more innovative painter, clearly the superstar of the decade. Warhol got it right with his keen celebrity radar to sniff out artistic genius & future superstars. He befriended the young painter & guided him with experienced & shrewd insights into the vulturous international art world.
Sadly, this film has way too much Schnabel & no real & true supporting characters in Basquiat's actual world. It's a sinister cinematic disgrace to his legend & greatness; an evil & insidious artistic revenge from one washed-out painter to a legendary tragic painter. Quite simply, Jean Michel Basquiat needs a new director!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2005
Of the recent films covering the lives and/or careers of artists, Basquiat is among the best. While spanning less than 10 years in the life of this musician cum artists cum celebrity, it is all one needs to comprehend how this prodigy became overwhelmed by fame and fortune. Juxtaposed against Warhol, who profoundly understood the dimensions of celebrity, we see Basquiat as quite the opposite--naive to the point of charming, overwhelmed at times, and utimately seduced by the all that is nefarious in a world in which booze, drugs, and sex are all there for the taking. But this has all been seen before in the lives of people such as Belushi, Joplin, Hendrix, and a slew of others; so much that the early death of a young star seems to have become almost an archetype. Yet it still intrigues us for multiple reasons, and, as pointed out early on in the movie, the death of an artist does seem to mystify both the work and the person. Would Basquiat be nearly as famous now, had he cleaned up and continued painting? We might guess that if that was the case there would probably not be a movie about him.
This serves to illuminate other burning questions indirectly offered by the film: was Basquiat really a good artist, or was he in the right place at the right time when the New York art market in the eighties was bullish in a way that will probably never be seen again? And, is Schnabel canonizing Basquiat into the league of the mythical artist? Whatever the answers may be, I can honestly say that my interest was thoroghly piqued, so that I was equally curious about Basquiat as I was his place and time.
Perhaps it is Schnabel the artist that shines through much of the film, moreso than Schabel the writer/director. Basquiat the movie is replete with symbolism, both overt and covert. To give an example of each, the narrative of the film is enhanced on several occasions by a sub-narrative of surfing--hopefully that is all you need to know. Otherwise, the direction and cinematography seems to follow Basquiat's life and career, where choppy editing and eccentric montage play as almost as a sub-character.
It should be noted that many of the characters in the movie are in fact compounds of various people throughout his life during this time. Of course, Andy is Andy, Rene is Rene and, largely, his art dealers are his dealers, but beyond that his friends and girlfriends in the movie generally cover multiple personages.
In the end, the tale of basquiat is tragic but compelling, and it is a movie that deserves multiple viewings, especially for those interested in the art world, or who like a good bio-pic. Some fiction, some fact, but otherwise contextually acurate.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2002
I bought this film on a discount rack in a video shop not having any idea who in the world Jean Michel Basquiat was, only remember hearing that it was an interesting, non-Hollywood art film about an artist.
After watching it, I wouldn't mind learning more about the real Basquiat as all biopics take their poetic liberties, but to be honest I don't particularly care how factually accurate this film really is, or how good Basquiat's work may or may not have been.
That's because this film simply SHINES and stands on its own as a celebration of true artists everywhere and at any time, famous or obscure.
Just about every character is superb, from Wright to Oldman, Bowie, Del Toro, Walken, and especially the drop-dead, knock-out gorgeous Clare Forlani. The cinematography is beautiful (makes you want to move to NYC, 9/11 be damned), the music is perfectly chosen, the dialogue flows and crackles effortlessly.
To those who disliked this film because they dislike Wright's character, who dislike the film's lack of a simplistic plot structure, who (perhaps understandably) dislike modern art and late 20th century art scene---I say, go out and rent some kitschy piece of [junk] like "The English Patient!" This film is really not so much about Basquiat but about art and artists, the best of which tend to be gloriously AMORAL and ANARCHISTIC. *Not* clean, cutesy, predictable or "respectable."