Jean Michel-Basquait: The Radiant Child
“Jean-Michel Basqiat: The Radiant Child” is a colorful, exuberant documentary about the famed downtown artist who died in 1988 at the age of 25. Filmmaker Tamra Davis, a friend of Basquiat, shot a video taped interview with him in Beverly Hills in 1986. After Basquiat’s death Davis did not want to exploit the footage. She recalled that Basquiat did not like it when friends sold art work which he had given to them. Therefore she did not want to profit from the footage. However with the passage of time Davis realized that what she had was a rare and intimate look at an important artist. She has used the footage as the basis for this captivating, non-exploitive documentary.
I have always maintained that a good documentary is one that can take a subject about which I have limited knowledge or interest and make it compelling. While I admit to not being knowledgeable about the modern art world “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” swept me up through its brisk, lively editing, loving display of Basquiat’s artwork, the aforementioned interview footage, stills, footage of the artist at work, archival footage and interviews with those who knew Basquiat and appreciate his work.
Interview subjects include artist Julian Schnabel, who not only was a contemporary but also directed the 1996 movie “Basquiat.” Other interviewees include Suzanne Malloulk, Basquiat’s former girlfriend, hip hop pioneer and former graffiti artist Fab 5 Freddy and various art dealers and gallery owners. The story also chronicles Basquiat’s close friendship with Andy Warhol and the devastating effect that Warhol’s sudden death in 1987 had on the artist.
The film not only showcases Basquiat’s work but captures the atmosphere in which it was created. The downtown New York art scene of the 1970s is shown as a wonderfully Bohemian world with a community of people who were free to do whatever they wanted artistically and who supported each other’s work.
The film follows the short trajectory of Basquiat’s life and career which takes him from an unknown graffiti artist going by the name of Samo to his meteoric rise in the art world which then dove tails as he becomes a lonely man who had trouble handling sudden fame and riches but who ultimately left behind an incredible legacy of paintings and drawings.
“Jean-Michel Basqiat: The Radiant Child” will run at Film Forum from July 21 through August 3.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, Director Tamra Davis, 2010,
Arthouse Films, 90 minutes