Movie review: ‘Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child’ a fine bookend to earlier film
In the 1996 biopic “Basquiat” by artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel we were given a sympathetic but limited perspective on the ’80s Soho supernova Jean-Michel Basquiat that was rich in pop-psyche revelations and insider art-scene poop but short on images of the artist’s work itself.
That was perhaps due to copyright issues, but the end result was a craftily dramatized portrait of the artist as a wild child (with a marvelous Jeffrey Wright in the title role) that seemed so intent on codifying Basquiat’s tragic mythology that it neglected to let us fully see the paintings on which it rests.
In her fine, affectionate and clear-eyed documentary “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child,” director Tamra Davis gives us a fitting bookend to Schnabel’s film that goes a long way toward balancing the picture.
Not only does she give further insight into Basquiat’s cryptic lyricism, his junk-yard collage style and the canny knack for self-promotion that made him – before his death by heroin overdose at 27 – the first African-American darling of New York’s ultra-chic, ultra-white downtown gallery scene. She also provides ample samples of his artwork, some of which are rarely seen, that more fully illustrate the gifts of this enigmatic painter who rose to prominence in 1981 as the verbally inventive graffiti tagger called SAMO.
Davis, whose previous directing credits lean toward anti-hipster stuff like TV series and “Billy Madison,” was in her youth a confidante of Basquiat and a habitué of New York’s insular, hyper-sophisticated, downtown club-and-gallery scene.
The foundation of her documentary is built on footage she shot of Basquiat at 25 (including a rare, lengthy interview), as he was both indulging in and struggling with his meteoric rise to the rarefied heights of Manhattan’s snooty art world.
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