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 »
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
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.'
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a funky experiment that has its peaks and valleys, more the former than latter
New York Beat Movie, or Downtown 81, is one of those unclassifiable oddball movies that just comes out from the underground but makes a little too much sense to be grouped in the classic underground movie definition like Andy Warhol. This is more akin to the Jim Jarmusch film Permanent Vacation where we follow a character- in this case a not-so-thinly-disguised version of Jean-Michel Basquiat- as he walks around the lower east side circa 1980, and gets into some mishaps and mini-adventures, usually with a musical beat. It's not entirely fiction, not entirely documentary, not entirely concert. It's more like a punk-new-wave fever dream with Debby Harry as a guardian angel and some bands that will be obscure except for the buffs of the music era (save for a couple of exceptions).
If there is any story, it's very light. It's like we're getting a view into how Basquiat goes about his day and night, and has to contend with getting kicked out of his apartment, his band equipment being ripped off (by just ONE guy!), and as he tries to track down a woman who he thinks is out of this world who says she'll take care of him for life. Fat chance. It's like a kind of travelogue through the dirt and grime, the beat boxes and graffiti artists, the weird WTF bands like DNA (it's not "good" music, but it is interesting in an avant-garde doing-what-we-like way like lesser Television), and some of the bigger bands like Kid Creole and James and the Blacks. It's a trip, man.
Some of the set-backs to the film are technical, and not entirely the fault of the filmmakers. Considering much of the film was thought lost until it was edited back together in 1999, it does flow well. It's the soundtrack that is very hit or miss. Saul Williams does a decent job conveying the quiet, thoughtful but forceful spirit of Jean-Michel, particularly in the semi-poetic narration, but the other voice-work is spotty and unconvincing. Only the music selections help carry through the flaws, such as that reggae song as Basquiat walks around at night, or when he wanders into a small studio and dances to 'Rapture'. It definitely has moments where you'll bop your head and tap your feet, and some of the art work and "Samo"'s graffiti is captivating.
It's less than great, but maybe that was the idea to start. It's more about getting the time and place, the mood of an artist or a musician out on the fringes and just getting by, than telling a story. That should be fine for the audience it's intended. Others proceed with some caution.
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