Sunday, April 19, 2015


Movie Name: Basquiat
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Julian Schnabel
Stars: Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Wincott, Claire Forlani, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Walken, Parker Posey, Paul Bartel, Elina Lowensohn, Courtney Love
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Celebrated artist Julian Schnabel made his debut feature with the biopic for fellow artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. The film focuses on the beginnings of the artist, as he struggles in the streets of New York, basically living on the streets and doing remedial tasks to survive. Basquiat eventually gets discovered by Andy Warhol, who becomes a friend and a patron. He has a meteoric rise in popularity in the art world, but in the process alienates some of his friends and former partner, not to mention he becomes increasingly addicted to drugs.
Julian Schnabel introduces us to Basquiat when he's already an adult and living in the streets of New York. The fact that the artist had a big connection to the music world, is somewhat sidestepped, but his involvement with Andy Warhol, is deeply explored, which is where the film actually soars. The director captures the dynamics of an artist with fears of fading away, versus someone who's rising on the scene, and for whom everything is fresh, unique and challenging. The film is surprisingly hollow in terms of understanding why Basquiat was the artist he was, but deftly manages to create an interesting fabric of the relationships he built, populating the story with interesting supporting characters and providing insight into the art world of New York in the 80s. It's a film that lives more from broad strokes, than an integrated narrative, and unlike Martin Scorsese's "Life Lessons", the audience is never really ingrained in this artist's process. The cast is uniformly good, particularly the fantastic Jeffrey Wright and David Bowie who has a fantastic performance as Andy Warhol. An interesting first feature from a director who went on to do far superior work.