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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.


Julian Schnabel


Lech Majewski (story) (as Lech J. Majewski), John Bowe (short story) (as John F. Bowe) | 2 more credits »
4,120 ( 978)
2 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »



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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


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


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


Biography | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

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


Official Sites:

Official site




English | Spanish

Release Date:

9 August 1996 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Build a Fort, Set It on Fire See more »


Box Office


$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


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


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When Basquiat barely walks on the street after screaming at the asylum guard, when his younger self is running towards him, the child should disappear behind Basquiat, but you can clearly see his hand behind the main character for a few moments. See more »


[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 ...
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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 »


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Courtesy Jones Music
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User Reviews

An incomplete life, an incomplete film
29 July 2006 | by bandwSee all my reviews

This film biography of the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat left me wanting to have a better understanding of him as a person and as an artist. The movie takes us from Basquiat's being a graffiti artist sleeping in a cardboard box to being a major superstar cavorting with Andy Wharhol in such a halting way that I never felt I got to know the person or his art. You might think that in covering a decade of a person's life in less than two hours director Julian Schnabel could only skate on the surface and leave us with the superficial story we get here, but Schnabel himself proves that a more complete and satisfying film portrait can be accomplished by having given us a treatment of the entire life of the Cuban writer and poet Reinaldo Arenas in his magnificent "Before Night Falls." The contrast between these two movies illustrates the problems I have with "Basquiat." For example, we are told that Basquiat came from a middle-class family, so why did he wind up sleeping in a cardboard box in a New York City park? We are given a few hints about his relationship with his mother, who winds up in a mental institution, but not enough information to form any solid ideas about it. His father appears in one scene at an art opening, but we are left with no idea about the relationship between Basquiat and his father. So, whereas we come away from "Before Night Falls" with a firm grasp on Arenas' young life, we are left with knowing almost nothing about the early Basquiat.

Basquiat's personality remained opaque to me. I got very little feel for his work habits and almost no feel for his art. I knew little about his art going into this movie and was disappointed that we did not get to see enough of his work to have an opinion about it. After all, that is what he was famous for. Don't most artists say that in order to know them you should know their art? If that is true, "Basquiat" does not give us much of a chance to know the person. However, if Schnabel agrees with the statement made by a person in the movie that only about twelve people in the world understand art, then maybe he felt it would be pointless for us to see much of Basquiat's paintings. But Schnabel didn't seem to feel that way about his own work though, since much of the art we do see is Schnabel's.

Scenes that could clarify only confuse. Take for example the scene where Basquiat is being interviewed by a Larry King type reporter. Basquiat not only confounds the reporter, but us as well. Was he being arrogant or rude or inarticulate or embarrassed or shy or conflicted or what? He must have signed off on giving the interview, so why behave like he did?

What accounts for Basuait's decline and ultimate death by heroin overdose? In one scene between Basquiat and Andy Warhol Basquiat claims to be clean and there is an indication that his work has been on the decline at that point. Is the implication that drug use fueled Basquiat's work? This is not pursued. It *is* shown that Warhol's death was a tremendous blow to him.

The movie has a great cast, with some cameo appearances being throw-aways. Willem Dafoe appears as an electrician with the soppy advice to Basquiat, "You'll get there, you'll get there." For a moment I thought I was seeing a Disney movie. And Christopher Walken is pretty much wasted in his role as an interviewer. But there is some great work by Jeffrey Wright as Basquait, by Benicio Del Toro as Basquiat's early friend as well as by Dennis Hopper as an art dealer. David Bowie steals ever scene he is in as Andy Warhol - he alone makes this movie worth seeing.

One area where "Basquiat" feels authentic is in its depiction of the New York art scene. The complex interactions among art dealers, gallery owners, artists, critics, patrons, and hangers-on gives us an insider's view. Clearly Schnabel knows what he is talking about here.

The music is all over the map from the Rolling Stones' "Waiting on a Friend" to Henyrk Górecki's third symphony.

As in "Before Night Falls," Schnabel promotes the idea of art as the manifestation of an artist's pursuit of freedom. In a scene near the end of "Basquiat" we see the artist standing up in a jeep and delighting as it speeds along. We get the idea that Basquiat's life was a pursuit of personal freedom that was blunted in his confronting the real world.

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