7.2/10
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10 user 22 critic

Downtown 81 (1981)

New York Beat Movie (original title)
Unrated | | Comedy, Drama, Musical | 14 March 2001 (France)
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 »

Director:

Edo Bertoglio

Writer:

Glenn O'Brien

On Disc

at Amazon

3 nominations. See more awards »

Photos

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Jean Michel Basquiat ... Jean
Richard Weigand Richard Weigand ... Doctor
Cyndy Schneidau Cyndy Schneidau ... Nurse
Millie Schneidau Millie Schneidau ... Nurse
Steven Z. Soszynski Steven Z. Soszynski ... Grocer
Anna Schroeder Anna Schroeder ... Béatrice
Giorgio Gomelsky Giorgio Gomelsky ... Landlord (as Giorgio Giomelsky)
Ted Bafaloukos Ted Bafaloukos ... Junk Dealer
Bobby Grossman Bobby Grossman ... East Village Junkie
Mickey Clean Mickey Clean ... Pot Dealer
Roberta Bayley Roberta Bayley ... Street Girl
Dave Street Dave Street ... Musician
Tish Bellomo Tish Bellomo ... Manic Panic Girl
Snooky Bellomo Snooky Bellomo ... Manic Panic Girl
Kool Kyle Kool Kyle ... Rapper
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Storyline

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

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Comedy | Drama | Musical

Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »
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Details

Official Sites:

New York Beat Films

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

14 March 2001 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

Downtown 81 See more »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$11,436, 15 July 2001, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$100,293, 28 October 2001
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Dolby

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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 »

Quotes

Jean Michel Basquiat: I'm an artist. When you tell people that they usually say, 'what's your medium?' I usually say, 'extra large.'
See more »

Alternate Versions

In the 2001 version, Downtown 81, Saul Williams does the voiceover for Jean-Michel Basquiat's character. See more »

Connections

Followed by Face Addict (2005) See more »

Soundtracks

Cavern
Written by Hartley, MgGuire, Principato, and Young
Performed by Liquid Liquid
Published by Liquid Liquid Publishing (BMI)
See more »

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User Reviews

 
a funky experiment that has its peaks and valleys, more the former than latter
26 August 2010 | by MisterWhiplashSee all my reviews

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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