Sunday, January 31, 2010

Is it just me. Or were the 80s really hard on artists.

It was tough being an artist in the 80s and early 90s.  AIDS was killing off artists left and right from Keith Haring to Felix Gonzales-Torres. Andy Warhol died unexpectedly. And a lot of artists were dieing from drug overdoses.  One such artist is Jean-Michel Basquiat, the subject of a new documentary by Tamra Davis. 

The filmmaker knew Basquiat and interviewed him on video in Los Angeles.  When the artist died shortly thereafter, the filmmaker put the video interview away and did nothing with it.  Some 20 years later, the video interview is the basis for this Sundance documentary.

Even though it's a little long, I like this movie for its insight into Basquiat's life.  The interviews with those who knew Basquiat including art luminaries like Julian Schnabel are fascinating.  And the way the film ties Basquiat's life to the reality of the time (Madonna and Deborah Harry show up several times) makes the story more engaging.

I also liked seeing footage of the original Basquiat gallery shows.  I've always thought Basquiat's work was interesting but much of it seemed trivial.  Seeing the work in their original exhibitions gave me a new appreciation for the raw power of Basquiat's style.

The best moments of this film are from the filmmaker's original interviews, even though the quality is awful.  Every time Jean-Michel Basquiat looks directly at the camera, you see a sparkle of genius in his eye. You witness his devious smile. And you understand why we as humans are somehow drawn to the mystery that of the artist.

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