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Basquiat (1996)

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The brief life of Jean Michel Basquiat, a world renowned New York street artist struggling with fame, drugs and his identity.

Director:

Julian Schnabel

Writers:

Lech Majewski (story) (as Lech J. Majewski), John Bowe (short story) (as John F. Bowe) | 2 more credits »
2 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Jeffrey Wright ... Jean Michel Basquiat
Michael Wincott ... Rene Ricard
Benicio Del Toro ... Benny Dalmau
Claire Forlani ... Gina Cardinale
David Bowie ... Andy Warhol
Dennis Hopper ... Bruno Bischofberger
Gary Oldman ... Albert Milo
Christopher Walken ... The Interviewer
Willem Dafoe ... The Electrician
Jean-Claude La Marre Jean-Claude La Marre ... Shenge (as Jean Claude LaMarre)
Parker Posey ... Mary Boone
Elina Löwensohn ... Annina Nosei
Paul Bartel ... Henry Geldzahler
Courtney Love ... Big Pink
Tatum O'Neal ... Cynthia Kruger
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Storyline

Basquiat tells the story of the meteoric rise of youthful artist Jean Michel Basquiat. Starting out as a street artist, living in Thompkins Square Park in a cardboard box, Basquiat becomes a star and a part of Andy Warhol's art world circle. But success has a price, and Basquiat pays with friendships, love, and eventually, his life. Written by Martin Lewison <lewison+@pitt.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

In 1981, A Nineteen-Year-Old Unknown Graffiti Writer Took The New York Art World By Storm. The Rest Is Art History.

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for drug use and strong language | See all certifications »
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Details

Official Sites:

Official site

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Spanish

Release Date:

9 August 1996 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Build a Fort, Set It on Fire See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$3,300,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$83,863, 11 August 1996, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$2,961,991, 24 November 1996
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Some of the footage that Basquiat is watching on old 8mm film are segments to what would become Scenes from the Life of Andy Warhol: Friendships and Intersections (1982). See more »

Goofs

When Jean Michel is first painting in his new basement studio, he's painting two paintings simultaneously; a large and a small one, both on the floor. He paints a large black stripe on the small one, which disappears then reappears between shots. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Rene: Everybody wants to get on the Van Gogh boat. There's no trip so horrible that someone won't take it. The idea of the unrecognised genius slaving away in a garret is a deliciously foolish one. We must credit the life of Vincent Van Gogh for really sending this myth into orbit. I mean, how many pictures did he sell, one? He couldn't give them away. He has to be the most modern artist, but everybody hated him. He was so ashamed of his life that the rest of our history will be ...
[...]
See more »

Crazy Credits

At the very end of the credits, a short clip showing a surfer riding on a wave is displayed. It's very similar to the surfing/wave shots that Basquiat keeps seeing whenever he looks up to the sky during the movie, but it's in full color instead of being blue-tinted. See more »


Soundtracks

Koko
Performed by Charlie Parker
Written by Charlie Parker
Published by Charlie Parker Music Co.
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Genius or exploitation?
14 August 2006 | by jse126See all my reviews

"Basquiat" is a film with an agenda. Far from being a neutral stage upon which the life and emotion of the artist is played out for us to observe, this film wants to make a point about the art world, casting Basquiat as Oliver Twist. If you are looking to find out what drives an artist you are not going to find it here - unless the answer is money. The filmmakers did not go very far into the head of their subject - either that or he was a very shallow and vapid person. I did not get the feeling from this film that Basquiat was a true artist; rather, he came off as an opportunist who figured out how to capture the mechanics of bad abstract impressionism and pass himself off as one. Then a lucky break, combined with silly art collectors who have way too much money and not enough of their own thought processes, multiplied by a guilt ridden population of white people flush with 1980's cash, combine to equal the phenomenon of Basquiat.

I am not saying that this is (or is not) the truth. In the world of art there are no truths anyway. What I am saying is that this is not a neutral biography. It may pay to do a little bit of research into Basquiat before watching the film. As for myself, I admit to watching it only because I was bored and nothing else was on. I knew vaguely the story, and who Basquiat was, but had no opinions of and no real knowledge about him. Since I am not the type of person who forms his opinions on any subject based on information from only one source, I did some research into Basquiat after the film before coming to any sort of conclusions. What those conclusions were are irrelevant as far as this review is concerned - but what does concern me are the many people who undoubtedly had their opinion about Basquiat fed to them by this film and who now consider themselves educated on the subject.

As far as the film itself, it is not bad. Not great, but not bad. It had a certain feeling to it. But it is hard to get beyond its portrayal of the subject, as he is the reason for the film. As noted, Basquiat comes off as an empty headed and shallow individual without a lot of talent or original thought who likes to use drugs and drink a lot. The film's Basquiat seemed not to care much about art, that it was an afterthought to him. He was shown as a dabbler - dabbling in music too but not doing much or giving it much effort. Perhaps that is the truth, I don't know, because overall the film is more a study of art and what constitutes it and gives it value than a biography of an artist - and postulates that today's art is more about the name than the actual piece. The same thing that is given away for free by a homeless man who lives in a box can be worth six figures if the right people decide that it should. I also felt that he filmmakers relied on cliché' a bit too much for my liking. The scene that sticks out in my mind is the one where Basquiat was on a schoolyard basketball court with his buddy, who was trying to get him to play. Basquiat was totally inept at the game and had no desire to play whatsoever. The filmmakers were obviously trying to demonstrate either one or both of two things - that Basquiat was so much of a cerebral artist that he was incapable of physical sport, or that Basquiat was a black man who could not play basketball. Whatever the case, the scene was painful to watch. It was ham-fisted imagery at its worst. A well done scene with some good conversation and emotion could have sent the same message intended in the schoolyard - actually could have done it better because as blockheaded as the schoolyard scene was, it still did not send a clear and defined message.

The acting in Basquiat was for the most part serviceable, with David Bowie turning in the most inspired performance as Andy Warhol. Bowie brought a subtle warmth and humanity to a person who is often portrayed as a cold cartoon character. Although Warhol was clearly intended to be an exploiter in the film, Bowie managed to show him as a person who felt that Basquiat was a true friend and not just a paycheck. This is an Andy Warhol who cared about people, and who could have his feelings hurt just like anyone else. This is not the stereotypical movie Warhol, playing with people like the proverbial chess pieces. This Warhol genuinely admired the work of his protégés. And David Bowie would know, wouldn't he? He was there. I got the feeling that Bowie took the part to make a statement about Warhol - as if he was annoyed by younger filmmakers using the stereotypical Warhol image in an exploitative way. I felt that he was subversively reading the lines between the lines. Good for him.

This film is more a commentary on the art world, on racism, and on exploitation than it is a biography. I would say that it is better to look at it this way, for as a biography it is biased and somewhat mean-spirited. Remember the first line of this review? It seemed to me that the filmmakers were saying that Basquiat was bereft of talent and inspiration - that he was a bum and a drug abuser who got lucky. Perhaps he was, but I'd prefer to make up my own mind. So it would pay to know a bit about the subject before watching - this Basquiat is a light dessert, not the main course.


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