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Jean-Michel Basquiat: Radiant Child

4.7 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In his short career, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a phenomenon. He became notorious for his graffiti art under the moniker Samo in the late 1970s on the Lower East Side scene, sold his first painting to Deborah Harry for $200 and became best friends with Andy Warhol. Appreciated by both the art cognoscenti and the public, Basquiat was launched into international stardom. However, soon his cult status began to override the art that had made him famous in the first place.

Director Tamra Davis pays homage to her friend in this definitive documentary, but also delves into Basquiat as an iconoclast. His dense, bebop-influenced neoexpressionist work emerged while minimalist, conceptual art was the fad; as a successful black artist, he was constantly confronted by racism and misconceptions. Much can be gleaned from insider interviews and archival footage, but it is Basquiat's own words and work that powerfully convey the mystique and allure of both the artist and the man.

Featuring interviews with Julian Schnabel, Larry Gagosian, Bruno Bischofberger, Tony Shafrazi, Fab 5 Freddy, Jeffrey Deitch, Glenn O'Brien, Maripol, Kai Eric, Nicholas Taylor, Fred Hoffmann, Michael Holman, Diego Cortez, Annina Nosei, Suzanne Mallouk, and Rene Ricard, among many others.

DVD Features: Uncut Interview with Filmmaker Tamra Davis; Theatrical Trailer

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is a respectfully vivid, accurate, and entertaining homage to a painter who led a radical life and left an ambitious body of work behind after his premature death. The film opens with 1986 footage of Basquiat being interviewed in a hotel room by friends Becky Johnston and director Tamra Davis. For Basquiat fans, this film will prove essential viewing to flesh out an understanding of downtown New York's art scene in the 1980s, and to see Basquiat's pivotal role in this. While Downtown 81 is an awesome fictionalized portrait of Basquiat and his crew, and Julian Schnabel's feature Basquiat serves as tribute via Schnabel's dramatic artistic interpretation, Radiant Child offers the best possible documentary coverage of Basquiat's triumph and demise. This feature-length film, constructed after Davis unearthed her 10-years-buried Basquiat footage to make a 20-minute short, then buried that another 10 years because of her strong wish to avoid exploitation, contains so much footage of Basquiat painting, partying, and being his charismatic self that one trusts it immediately. Additionally, Davis has interviewed every affiliated gallerist, among them Diego Cortez, Larry Gagosian, Bruno Bischofberger, Tony Shafrazi, Annina Nosei, and Jeffrey Deitch, not to mention all of Basquiat's surviving close friends, including Schnabel, Fab 5 Freddy, Glenn O'Brien, Maripol, and Thurston Moore. The film, organized chronologically to chart Basquiat's move out of Brooklyn to Manhattan, his beginnings as an itinerant street artist named Samo, his rise to gallery stardom, and his struggles at the end, marks time by showing paintings throughout that commemorate moments in Basquiat's life. While the film obviously ends on a melancholy note as a warning about sudden fame and fortune, this film is ultimately more than a documentary about one man. It is a well-made testament, from the actual participants' perspectives, about what conspired in New York to allow Basquiat to shine. For viewers who recall those times, it may feel nostalgic; for viewers who glorify 1980s New York, this film will solidify New York's greatness; viewers who are artists may identify most, as one experiences a glimpse of a New York lifestyle that has come and gone. Radiant Child is not only a riveting story but a valuable archival resource, yet another fantastic release from the stellar distributor, Arthouse Films. --Trinie Dalton

Product Details

  • Actors: Jean Michel Basquiat
  • Directors: Tamra Davis
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Arthouse Films
  • DVD Release Date: November 9, 2010
  • Run Time: 88 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,467 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Jean-Michel Basquiat: Radiant Child" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
We saw Tamra Davis' Basquiat documentary at the 2010 Dallas International Film Festival. For those of us who've seen and enjoyed Julian Schnabel's very good 1996 film Basquiat (featuring an outstanding turn by Jeffrey Wright in the title role), Davis' work is a good companion piece. For those of you who've not seen Schnabel's film, "The Radiant Child" serves as a good intro to both Basquiat's work and to the man who laid behind the ever-growing myth.

Davis was a friend and contemporary of Jean-Michel Basquiat. She had the stroke of fortune (and the insight) to record a series of interviews with him at the height of his art-world popularity. Though the production value of those interviews is relatively poor, they're fascinating and serve as the core of the film. They pierce the aura of Basquiat the artist and growing legend to reveal his inherent fragility, his soft-spoken nature and the increasing burden of living up to the 'Basquiat' mystique/brand he created.

The other interviews painstakingly compiled by Davis add flavor and flesh out the re-telling, but it's Basquiat's own words and haunting image that will stick with you. I especially liked Basquiat's comment that not a single line or stroke in his works was by accident. This is backed up by one of the interviewees who noted the immediate appeal of Basquiat's work: that he had a unique hand, i.e., one which crafted a line that could only be produced by him. Davis also does a great job producing tales and evidence of the artist's prodigious work ethic and output. In his comet-like career, he produced over 1,500 pieces of work. Davis captures compelling tales of friends and clients showing up at his apartment and finding every surface - walls, refrigerator, other appliances - filled with imagery from his fervent brain.
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Format: DVD
"Jean-Michael Basquiat: The Radiant Child" has the look of a scrappy documentary you might see on PBS' "Independent Lens." Sit down interviews, good archival footage, nice use of music and so on. But the more you watch - beyond being tortured by the truly horrific sound editing in this film - the more you have to wonder, is this really the truth or a tepid whitewash? After watching the film all the way through, I'd go 60/40 with tepid whitewash tipping the balance. The most serious problem with this film is that major parts of Basquiat's life that likely informed his art - his serious drug addiction which killed him at 27, the racism he experienced in the 80s art world, his clear-eyed and brazen ambition, his bi-sexuality, and his tortured relationship with his father - are given short shrift. While Basquiat may have been a "radiant child," he could also be a thin-skinned brat who alienated many with his unreasonable and likely drug-distorted demands. Most in the art world are willing to forgive that because of his formidable talent and the powerful humanity that he bought to his art. But I wish the filmmaker would have been more embracing of the complexity of his life and push harder for more truthful answers from its subjects, many of whom come of as evasive and even slightly dishonest at times. By the end of this film I could not help but feel that everyone - including the filmmaker - was hiding something for fear that the truth about Jean-Michel Basquiat might not reflect well on him. But that's the deal with documentary. It's not always pretty but that doesn't mean you don't address basic truths openly and directly. Even with these complaints, however, this film is still worth seeing because it's likely the only one that will feature those who knew him well.
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Format: DVD
I attended a screening of this film in Los Angeles, and was mesmerized throughout. Having grown up in NY during the 70s and 80s, the nostalgia factor alone made it interesting. I was a kid then, but I still knew who Basquiat was. It was hard to miss him, all the press and acclaim he was getting. But, as such a young person, I was unable to grasp the impact he was having on the art world at the time, and could have no foresight as to how he would affect it in the days to come. This film provided plenty of that, and acts as an exhibition in itself, as the viewer is able to see so many of the artist's works in one sitting. It was, for this casual fan, a joy to behold, and clearly a labor of love by Ms. Davis. As informative as I found the film to be about the man and the artist, I saw a larger impact in the rise of the contemporary street artist. If Basquiat was a somewhat tortured soul, and struggled with his fame and success once it started to happen, one must wonder what he would think of his modern contemporaries such as Shepherd Fairey and Banksy, who are clearly in his debt. Perhaps, viewed in parallel with EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, we can appreciate him and the film even more.
I loved this film, and hearing some of the punk/dance/hip hop of the era was an added treat. In so many ways, and, as with many other films created of that era, NYC plays a unique character, and maybe we lost that character along with great artists such as the radiant child, Basquiat. I'm now going to work on saving a couple of million dollars to buy one of his paintings.
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Jean-Michel Basquiat: Radiant Child
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