In his short career, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a phenomenon. He became notorious for his graffiti art under the moniker Samo in the late 1970s on the Lower East Side scene, sold his first painting to Deborah Harry for $200 and became best friends with Andy Warhol. Appreciated by both the art cognoscenti and the public, Basquiat was launched into international stardom. However, soon his cult status began to override the art that had made him famous in the first place.
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. Featuring interviews with Julian Schnabel, Larry Gagosian, Bruno Bischofberger, Tony Shafrazi, Fab 5 Freddy, Jeffrey Deitch, Glenn O’Brien, Maripol, Kai Eric, Nicholas Taylor, Fred Hoffmann, Michael Holman, Diego Cortez, Annina Nosei, Suzanne Mallouk, and Rene Ricard, among many others.
Tamra Davis’s documentary opens up with never before seen footage of a private interview she conducted with Basquiat a few years before his death. It’s unapologetically frank at times as Basquiat talks about his career, those around him and how he perceives his own work. There’s a bit of uneasiness throughout the interview as you can tell his withdrawal from society began to take its effect. It’s only one of many poignant moments in this documentary that studies this brilliant artist that was seemingly very tortured by his own success as well as the success that his fortunes brought to others.
I know nothing about art but I have heard of Basquiat’s name—at least in passing. I couldn’t tell you (prior to this documentary) what his paintings looked like but now I could at least harbor a guess at picking one out in a lineup. It’s a sign of a great documentary when you could care less about the profession it focuses upon and yet you still find yourself deeply caught up in it until the very end. Such is the case with Davis’s documentary as it focuses on everything from Basquiat’s early works to his final ones and the effect that being immensely popular (and rich) had on him.
I could attempt to speak more about his profound his art is but I would honestly be talking out my ass—I have no idea or eye for any of this stuff but the documentary itself is very much worth watching, regardless if you’re into the art scene or not. It’s a very moving and interesting portrait of a troubled artist that will continue to be talked about and shown for decades to come. Highly Recommended.
docuramafilms brings Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child to DVD in a standard (and clear!) amaray DVD case. Nothing overly special about the presentation of the documentary here—no fancy exterior cardboard slipcase and the cover itself looks like a rather laid back BBC special documentary release more than anything. Video and audio is a solid presentation overall and about what you’d expect from a documentary. As can be expected from a documentary the video is in 1.33:1 and the audio is a simple DD2.0 mix.
Extras include a 30-minute Uncut Interview with Filmmaker Tamra Davis that goes over her relationship with Basquiat a bit more in-depth.
Overall, again, a Recommended release for art buffs. Everyone else can safely walk on by it.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is now available on DVD.