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New York Beat Movie
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Reviews & Ratings for
Downtown 81 More at IMDbPro »New York Beat Movie (original title)

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8 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

A snapshot of 1981 Post-Punk, New-Wave Manhattan

Author: Camera Obscura from The Dutch Mountains
24 July 2006

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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9 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Absolutely fascinating...

Author: Xanadu-2
22 November 2000

...document of life in downtown New York 1981. I saw this at the Stockholm film festival, November 2000. Apparently the film had just been completed. Where has it been for 20 years????

I loved seeing all of those people from the art and rock worlds. Jean Michel Basqiat is so cute and a good actor too! What a shame he died young. I didn´t know he had a band too. It´s fun seeing New Wave bands like Kid Creole and the Plastics. Gorgeous Debbie Harry is in it too!!! *sigh!*

Everyone is so colorful! I love the 80´s fashions... It has a dreamlike feel to it. See it if you can!

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Reply to Xanadu-2, as to where it has been for 20 years

Author: chichi-3 from Brussels, Belgium
20 October 2002

Hello there, The fact that this movie came out after 20 years is due to some kind of miracle : business problems prevented post-production to be completed in 81 and then part of the footage of the film was lost in Europe. It took about 16 years to find it again. It contributed to building the legend of some underground artists like Tuxedomoon who, in 1981, kind of counted partly on that movie to make them famous, as they well deserved, on the East coast. In 2000, when the film came out at the Cannes festival, it contributed to put them back together after about ten years of solely concentrating on their solo career, being now dispersed all over the world (Mexico, New York, Athens, Brussels), as the footage of this film once was...

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A portrait of a lost time

Author: ihash from United States
1 February 2011

Your assessment of this movie depends completely on what you are looking for. If you come to this film without any knowledge of who and what and why, it will be disappointing. But if you approach the film not as a movie in the regular sense but as an historical document of a moment in time, then it becomes an entirely different experience. In this sense it helps to understand what is being documented and who these people are. Some working knowledge of the late 70s NYC downtown scene, the Mudd Club, T.V. Party, the lower east side art boom, the post-punk music world, etc. gives you a much greater sense of appreciation. Understood historically and not just as another film, whether the movie works as a traditional film, whether the plot is interesting or the characters well developed (a tricky proposition seeing that the original dialogue was lost and had to be re-dubbed) doesn't matter. What you are seeing is the last truly avant garde art and music scene in the US before AIDS, money, MTV and the rest destroyed it. And it focuses on someone right at the center of the storm, Basquiat before his rise to international fame. (Another commentator questioned Basquiat's cultural credibility, but I'm not sure what culture he is talking about). Beyond that the musical performances are exceptional and rare and are worth the price of admission by themselves. This is a portrait of something lost and timeless. It is a fascinating historical document and should be appreciated as such.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Art Trance (I've Got A Boo Boo/Broken Record)

Author: druid333-2 from United States
2 July 2009

For anybody born after 1990 that ever wondered what the 1980's was all about,this film may (or may not)answer a few questions. Jean Michelle Basquiat stars as himself,in a "day in the life" of a graffiti artist who is trying to raise some money to pay his rent. Along the way, he meets up with one interesting character after another. This film also features performances by some of the era's proto punk/New Wave/No Wave/Hip Hop/etc. musical acts (including out of towner's,Tuxedomoon,in what looks like a very hip music video that MTV would never even consider airing). This started out as 'Glenn O'Brien's New York Beat Movie'(O'Brien co-wrote the screenplay),but was shelved,due to a lack of finances before it was finished filming. The film was directed by Edo Bertoglio, has only directed one other film ('Face Addict'),like 'Beat Movie',dealt with the New York uptown/downtown art scene . The fact that over the years,the soundtrack became lost to time only made matters worse. In the late 1990's,however, the original 16mm negative was found (sans soundtrack),a new soundtrack was made up (using a brand new soundtrack,including a replacement voice over dub for Basquiat,who, had died in 1988),and the film was finally given a limited "art house" release in 2000,under the new title,'Downtown 81'. Not the best film depicting the 1980's,but certainly not the worst. Not rated,but contains some rude language.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Bad narrative film...Great Performance Film

Author: Joseph Sylvers from United States
13 December 2007

Has some really good music and performances; Kid Creole and the Coconuts, James White and the Blacks, DNA, Tuxedo Moon, the Plastics, Melle Mel, Vincent Gallo, Lydia Lunch...etc, but aside from this there isn't much more to it. The dialog, especially the narration(by Saul Williams), is actually pretty good, but the performances are all pretty bland or outright bad, no matter how many hipsters are thrown in; Debbie Harry and Jean Micheal Basquit(the latter being the leading role) both still don't have enough cultural cred to keep this film from being a novelty item. It goes for the a Jack Kerouac style roving spontaneity, but doesn't have the insight to keep it moving along, which is where the band performances come in. I guess its pretty balanced in that regard between great music and bad acting, and I did enjoy it, but I just expected more. Though it does have a fairy tale ending.

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a funky experiment that has its peaks and valleys, more the former than latter

Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
26 August 2010

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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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Great Film For Those of Would Care

Author: Jordan-James-101 from United States
17 February 2008

I'd give it a 10 but I don't want to seem too irrational. I think this films acing was terrible, the voicing was as well, but for god's sakes people this is Jean Michel Basquiat. There is nothing I'd rather watch, I had a blast just sitting here watching this man play himself and understand how this guy made out in the world of art. I however get a kick from the feel and vibe and the subject matter. It's something that keeps me watching, as for someone who does not care for this subject matter, be ready to find something better to do or dream because this film most likely will not hold you any longer than the first few minutes. Olives. Me and my friend quoted that part about the olives. Good times, and yes I love the olives much. Always have, always will baby, but I hate martinis. And if yo don't like Basquiat's work but are into the subject matter, then give it a chance you might actually appreciate the time wasted on the film.

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8 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Art is empty

Author: Fredericmignard (
17 March 2001

Nothing but the void, a pleasant one for those who have known the eighties, but well, quite boring for those who are not interested in it. NO screenplay in this film, but a hero wandering in an underground New York full of arstists and night clubbers. It is aimless, pointless and naive. But not entirely unpleasant.

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5 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Not very good unless only interested in NY music scene of '81

Author: (elriley) from Arizona, USA
22 September 2002

The only redeeming quality of this film is that it shows bands and their music when it was changing in NY during '81. As for the film itself it has at least three major flaws. First of all, there is narration throughout the film, which is not required at all. In the few places where there is some explanation necessary just adding a little dialogue would have gone a long way. Secondly, there was no obvious attempt to synchronize any of the audio, in fact it is quite apparent that most of the dialogue was recorded later with no attempt to match the film. The third flaw was in the ending. I will not give the ending away for those brave souls that would endure the torture of sitting through the film, but it commits a cardinal sin in screenwriting. Not worth the money or time it takes to see this, unless you are a fan of one of the represented bands.

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