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Jean Michel Basquiat,
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. Written by
Sundance Film Festival
makes you aware of the artist's life and times, and gives a fair view on the subject
Jean-Michel Basquiat wasn't always a wonderful guy. He could be stubborn, and a "work-aholic" when it came to his art (he ultimately made over 1,000 paintings and postcards in his ten years making art), and got addicted to heroin which, if anyone brought it up around him, he would get vicious and vindictive. He died when he was 27 years old, and at a low point in his life and career following the death of his good friend Andy Warhol. But this isn't really what Tamra Davis wants to show, at least not entirely. She wants to give a fair assessment of her friend's work, a true artist in the sense that he pushed boundaries and conventions, did things his way, and got recognition and praise though somehow stayed on the fringe when it came to widespread acceptance. Like Jimi Hendrix, he was even revolutionary in his efforts at what he did, borrowing from others in a "neo-expressionist" style that was fresh, hip, but had a basic quality to it that could be understood.
We get a view of his career- how he started off as an underground artist living downtown Manhattan at a time where, as one person puts it, "everybody did everything." No inspiration was lost on people who painted, had a band, made movies, wrote poetry and fiction, and made other art projects or graffiti. Basquiat, or "Samo" as he was called (such as "Same Ol' S***"), put up worded graffiti all over the city that got him some attention, and he had a band with Vincent Gallo where nobody could play an intstrument. But it was the very graffiti drawings he did, starting with postcards that he got sold to Warhol on a whim, and then with paintings by the dozen that he took off. One of the joys of the film is Davis showing us so much of the art, how much there was variety in his work even if so much seemed the same child-like drawings. For how simple and crude they appear, one sees a pattern, and there's an amazing sophistication in his work.
Perhaps those who are not fans of Basquiat- and the documentary shows how there were some who looked down on his work, some of which (like the current MoMA director) have recanted- may not get a lot out of the movie. But as a film about the nature of an artist, how he works and how he interacts with people, some infamous like Warhol (their collaboration story is one of the highlights), and some not like the hangers-on at his apartment, it works very well. Some of Davis' low budget aesthetic makes it a little less than great, such as the newer interviews she's done with former curators, artists, musicians, and art dealers and buyers, are lessened in quality by bad audio and video. But perhaps (?) that was part of the point, too. She has an artist as her subject, also a close friend (Davis has some nice if uninteresting anecdotes about eating Chhinese food with Jean-Michel), and the work, and his life and his stories told from a 1986 interview done personally with him, speaks for itself.
This all said, if you are a fan, or think you are, or even just enjoyed Julian Schnabel's 1996 movie, this goes more in-depth and you get a lot of great looks at his daring, provocative artwork, and his process. 8.5./10
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