Film by Julian Schnabel
"When you first see a new picture, you don't want to miss the boat. You have to be very careful. You might be staring at Van Gogh's ear."
I always think of Basquiat as a real Art Movie. I don't know if this is an actual term or one I invented. But what I always mean by that is that it is not just a movie about an artist, it is, in itself, a work of art. The use of music, filming techniques, imaginary sequences and probably a little artistic licence makes this movie a true joy to watch. For instance, the first scene is of a young Basquiat and his mother visiting the art gallery. When they look at the painting Guernica, his mother begins to cry, but then looks down at her son and sees a glowing crown on his head, which he also reaches up and feels. This scene, while it may have been a part of one of the characters' imaginations, becomes real for the viewer through the artistic licence of the film. Also, yet again at the beginning, Basquiat looks up at the sky, in his point of view, surfers surf giant waves in the sky.
Jean Michel Basquiat was an artist, starting as a graffiti artist writing clever and strange comments on walls under the name of SAMO. (If you look up SAMO graffiti on the internet, you can see more about this). He became an artist, and for a time was very successful and popular, although I have read that people took advantage of him, and he never really made much money at all. His exact circumstances and history have often been under contestation, with people like his father dismissing some of his claims, such as that he lived in a cardboard box in the park because he had no money.
As it was, for a while Basquiat was the toast of the town, spending time with contempararies such as Warhol, and briefly dating Madonna. His work has maybe a naive aspect, and seems very emotional. Anyway, the movie is amazing, with stellar performances from talented actors such as Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, and Claire Forlani. As Basquiat, Jeffrey Wright delievers just the right amount of naivete to make the character believable and likeable. Courtney Love also has a cameo role and David Bowie plays Warhol wonderfully. The soundtrack is amazing, with songs by David Bowie, The Pogues, Iggy Pop, Keith Richards, Miles Davis, Tom Waits and many others. This film is a real must see!
If you are looking to learn more about Basquiat, the biography Basquiat: a Quick Killing in Art seems quite good, although like the Amazon review states, it doesn't quite seem to get close to the person as much as the events that surrounded him. I did start reading it ages ago, but after the film, which really draws you in, it was hard to rationalise this solid view of reality with the surreal world that Basquiat seemed to live within in the film, and I decided I preferred the story offered in the film to questionable reality. After all, what is reality? Who is really telling the truth in these cases? We can never know. Reality seems to be something that is unique to each person, and no one's experience of events seems the same as another's. Basquiat lived and breathed art, and I think he would have liked this portrayal of his life.