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