Downtown 81 (1981)
"New York Beat Movie" (original title)

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The film is a day in the life of a young artist, Jean Michel Basquiat, who needs to raise money to reclaim the apartment from which he has been evicted. He wanders the downtown streets ... See full summary »



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Credited cast:
Ted Bafaloukos ...
Junk Dealer
Tom Baker ...
Go-Go Bar Patron
Roberta Bayley ...
Street Girl
Snooky Bellomo ...
Manic Panic Girl
Tish Bellomo ...
Manic Panic Girl
Bemshi ...
Victor Bockris ...
Conversationalist at Mudd Club
Byron Bowie ...
Joe Bowie ...
Himself - Trombonist, James White & The Blacks
Diane Brill ...
Kid Creole Announcer
Steven Brown ...
John Browner ...
Go-Go Bar Patron
Clem Burke ...
The Felons band member


The film is a day in the life of a young artist, Jean Michel Basquiat, who needs to raise money to reclaim the apartment from which he has been evicted. He wanders the downtown streets carrying a painting he hopes to sell, encountering friends, whose lives (and performances) we peek into. He finally manages to sell his painting to a wealthy female admirer, but he's paid by check. Low on cash, he spends the evening wandering from club to club, looking for a beautiful girl he had met earlier, so he'll have a place to spend the night. Downtown 81 not only captures one of the most interesting and lively artists of the twentieth century as he is poised for fame, but it is a slice of life from one of the most exciting periods in American culture, with the emergence of new wave music, new painting, hip hop and graffiti. Written by Sujit R. Varma

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis



Official Sites:



Release Date:

14 March 2001 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Downtown 81  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$11,436 (USA) (13 July 2001)


$100,293 (USA) (26 October 2001)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


In 1981, financial problems prevented the post-production and release of the film. Subsequently, parts of the film became lost over the years. After much searching, the missing materials were located in 1998. Finally, post production began in 1999 and the film was released in 2000. See more »


Jean Michel Basquiat: I'm an artist. When you tell people that they usually say, 'what's your medium?' I usually say, 'extra large.'
See more »


Featured in Basquiat (1996) See more »


Mr. Softee
Written by Kid Creole
Performed by Kid Creole and The Coconuts
Published by Raineyville Music
See more »

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User Reviews

A snapshot of 1981 Post-Punk, New-Wave Manhattan
24 July 2006 | by (The Dutch Mountains) – See all my reviews

Usually referred to by its original title "DOWNTOWN 81", the film gives a snapshot of life in run-down Lower East Side Manhattan in the early '80s. Shot in 1981, the film portrays the day-to-day routine of Jean-Michel Basquiat, "graffiti"-artist, musician, or perhaps more accurately, artist in general, as he tries to survive amidst rappers, junkies, strippers, models and uptown art-lovers. Due to financial difficulties, the film apparently got lost, but part of the original material was recovered in 1998 and was finally released in the year 2000. The original soundtrack remained lost, so Basquiat's voice had to be dubbed.

It's an interesting time-capsule of Post-Punk, New-Wave New York, with a sometimes fascinating compilation of interesting vignettes from the scene, but as a movie, it's less rewarding. The story is practically non-existent and there is no acting really, as everybody play themselves. There's much resemblance to the experimental films Andy Warhol made about the New York art scene. It's a typical example of a "fiction" film with a very lose story line combined with mostly real-life characters from the period, like Deborah Harry, Fab Five Freddy, the music of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Tuxemodoon, The Plastics, DNA, The Lounge Lizards and Basquiat himself with his own band, Gray. A long segment in the film is reserved for a live performance of Kid Creole and the Coconuts. If you're a fan, it's great fun.

In the end a mixed bag, a film mainly of interest for fans of Basquiat and the music of the era. So, if you like the period, it's definitely worth checking out.

Camera Obscura --- 7/10

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