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Downtown 81

3.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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(Oct 22, 2002)
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Editorial Reviews

Legendary painter, graffiti artist, poet and musician Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was only 19 years old when he played the lead in DOWNTOWN 81, a striking "lost" film that chronicles the explosive early-'80s Manhattan art and music scene. Completed and theatrically released two decades later, it's the story of a charismatic artist who attempts to sell a painting amidst the rappers, junkies, strippers, models and art-world matriarchs of a pre-Giuliani Lower East Side. This vividly entertaining slice of life is also a fabulous showcase for the music of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Tuxedomoon, The Plastics, DNA, The Lounge Lizards, and Basquiat's own band, Gray. Shot on location, DOWNTOWN 81 not only captures one of the most important and provocative artists of the 20th-century as he is poised for worldwide fame, but is also a vivid snapshot of a New York City that no longer exists.

Special Features

  • Archival footage of Jean-Michel Basquiat from O'Brien's legendar yearly 80s cable access show TV PARTY
  • Outtakes of Basquiat, accompanied by music from his band, Gray
  • "Afterthought": A behind-the-scenes interview with the filmmakers created by the Sundance Channel
  • Tons of archival photographs from the film and the New York 80s scene, featuring Basquiat, Madonna, John Lurie, Andy Warhol and Vincent Gallo
  • An interactive map of the film's New York locations

Product Details

  • Actors: Jean Michel Basquiat, John Lurie, Ted Bafaloukos, Tom Baker, Eszter Balint
  • Directors: Edo Bertoglio
  • Format: Color, Dolby, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Unknown)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Zeitgeist Films
  • DVD Release Date: October 22, 2002
  • Run Time: 72 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00006GF6H
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,541 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Downtown 81" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Charles Comer on August 26, 2005
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
If you're expecting a documentary of Basquiat, you will be sorely dissapointed. If you're expecting a movie qua movie, you'll be less dissapointed, but not as much. Downtown 81 is at the very least an art film that happens to feature Basquiat, as well as the "stars" of nyc circa '79. If you have never seen films of this type you are in for a ride. Apropos of this genre, Downtown 81 is ostensibly low budget, quirky, but most of all, historical. Historical not in the sense that it is an important film, but rather historical as a document. Not since Mondo New York have i encountered a film that captures so well the feeling, mood, vibe, and color of this so very interesting period in both the underground of New York, but also the art scene. I would even add that it gives one a glimpse of life in general in what the description on the reverse of the package calls "pre-Giuliani New York"; a very different Manhatten than what we all might expect.

As both a fan of Basquiat and of Schnabel's movie, I would assume the other fans of either or both will find this film quite entertaining. Otherwise, I recommend it for anyone interested in the 80's art scene, the early nyc punk/new wave scene, or those curious about the underbelly of the nyc of this period.

Additionally, what makes this release so interesting and important are the extras, especially the segment from an early cable tv show featuring Basquiat during the SAMO years.

All in all, not a bad bang for the buck, as well as a great addition to any cd collection of one whose curiosity has been piqued by this particular time.
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If you can bypass the bad,out of sync dialogue(It seems the original master audio might have been lost and recreated solely for the re-issue)this is a really good ,dare I say it, art movie. It's a rare treat for anyone to see classic No Wave bands like DNA,Tuxedomoon & James White and the Blacks on film,hands down. And who can ever say even one bad word about the Japanese band the Plastics? My only slight beef with the film was that it sometimes tried to drive the point too much in the premise that "This is New York,baby!!! We're the center of the world!" Also,it vacillated between Basquiat,his syntax art and the bands so often you weren't sure what was the film's true focus. Still,for a 21 year old lost movie(that survived only by the master negative being locked away and forgotten)it's a gem of a period piece. The special appearance by Debbie Harry makes things even more quirky. Very definitely an excellent companion video to the Basquiat biopic.
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Boy, If I was happy when this film came out in New York a few years back.

I believe, the director made the effort to release it, 20 years after it was made, as an alternative to Julian Schnabel's film "basquiat". Back in the New York 80s, there were two type of artistic world. The Soho type, which followed the Andy Warhol's double edge philosophy: "Making money is an art",and the East Village type, which followed the tradition of the Beat poets.

Ofcourse, the legacy Warhol left when he produced the Velvet Underground as an "art form" and also films of conceptual ideas,( 1960s) were not part of the "making money" image of Soho.

This phase in Warhol's career ( before he became really rich) was the source of the east village bohemians, the so called "Children of Andy Warhol",

Those hipsters, were the one producing the art films and punk bands.

Noone was painting in the east village at the time. One was either a film maker or a member in a punk band. Cool art was graffiti, because it was not considered art by the status quo, and that was precisely what the scene of the east village was looking for: anti-art.

It was not so much wealth what we were after, but be part of the pantheon of die-hard hipsters.

Punk musicians were more and more expressing themselves through film. Basquiat was a member of Gray.(a No Wave Band)(NO Wavers was the underground within the underground in those days)

Debby Harry a member of Blondie. It was said at the time that what made Basquiat truly known within that underground was his encounter with Blondie, who got him into the film. IT is true that he was known as Samo, but that was something else.

Why is this film a holy grail?
Read more ›
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Movie is really a "loose term" here, there's not much of a linear story going on, but it is excellent for capturing a exciting time period for NYC.
Enjoyed seeing the different groups, Kid Creole and Deborah Harry a/k/a Blondie in their respective primes. I bought it for Basquait, but it was decent. Yeah, the dialogue sucked, watch it on mute and turn up the musical #'s... I don't blame the filmakers though, apparently the original sound was lost.
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One of the great period pieces of all time. if you are in love with 1980's New York, then you must watch this. I used to make everyone I knew watch it in my Battery Park City apartment that became a party space for the LES after my wife left me (2007-2009). Everyone who lives in the East Village or LES today should see this.
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