BASQUIAT chronicles the meteoric rise to fame of the gifted and charismatic young New York artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, as he emerged from the streets of the East Village to become an internationally renowned sensation.
Jeffrey Ellis | Richardson, Texas United States | 10/18/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Painter Julian Schnabel made his film directing debut with his impressionistic biography of his late friend and fellow '80s Warhol hanger-on, Jean-Michel Basquiat. A charismatic, young heroin addict, Basquiat started out as a graffiti artist who called himself SAMO (as in samo bulls--t) and, depending on where your aesthetic tastes fall, his success represented either a great rebirth of artistic orgininality OR yet another sign that the American art scene was becoming a victim of trendiness. The same, of course, was said of Schnabel at the same time. Luckily for myself as a viewer of this film, I'm in the former camp. For the latter group or the growing number of people who see, "I don't know nothing about art but I like what I see," as the height of critical thinking, this film probably isn't for them.Told in a freeform fashion, Schnabel's vision of Basquiat's life is rather uneven. The story is occasionally rather muddled (Basquiat's rise from homeless drug addict to prodigal Warhol son seems to come out of nowhere) and plotwise, Schnabel is rather conventional in his structure -- Basquiat reaches the heights of fame and forgets all of his former friends before being redeemed at the end. (His own eventual death of a heroin overdose isn't shown beyond a title card at the end credits -- though the film strongly hints it was related to his own depression concerning the death of Andy Warhol.) However, the film is also blessed with occasional flashes of genius that make this a film that is worth watching. Not surprisingly, Schnabel has a strong visual sense and he uses his limited budget to his advantage, capturing a strange sort of grimy fantasy world. Some of his enigmatic images are haunting. Basquiat continually sees an image of a lone figure surfing whenever he looks up to the sky. Why does this child of New York have this surfer in his head? No explanation is given or really needed. The surfer just happens to be there, just as Basquiat's artistic talent just happened to be there -- unexplainable but definitely real.Schnabel also proves himself to be a capable director of actors. The film is full of cameos from the actors who always seem to show up in independent, art cinema and at first sight, the cast list looks a little self-conciously hip. At the same time, the celebrity casting somehow works brilliantly. Early on in the film, Basquiat stares through a window at the Warhol crowd standing in an art gallery. That "crowd" is made up of David Bowie, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, and several other recognizable faces and its somewhat jarring to see all of these familiar actors gathered together -- just as it was probably jarring for Basquiat to stare at the "icons" of his world. Plus, for the most part, these actors all give strong performances and don't just coast on their image. Bowie, especially, surprised me as Warhol. Its not a deep performance but at the same time, he never allows the artist to become a fey caricature. Parker Posey is wonderfully haughty as gallery owner Mary Boone while unusually restrained work comes from unexpected sources like Dennis Hopper, Paul Bartel, and Willem DaFoe. Christopher Walken has a wonderful cameo as a pretentious interviewer and nicely satirizes his own intense image. Of the supporting cast, the four strongest performances are given by Clare Forlani (who has never been allowed to be a strong and sexy as she is here as Basquiat's lover), Michael Wincott and a pre-traffic Benecio Del Toro (playing early friends of Basquiat -- Del Toro especially has some hilarious monologues early on), and Gary Oldman who is basically playing Julian Schnabel and brings a wonderfully arrogant glee to his scenes. (A highlight, late in the film, is the image of Oldman dancing with his daughter in front of one of Schnabel's trademark epic canvasses).The best performance and the linchpin that holds the film together comes from Geoffrey Wright who found his first taste of fame playing the doomed Jean-Michel Basquiat. Wright, quite simply, is a revelation. He brings a touch of childlike vulnerablity to a character who isn't always extremely sympathetic and manages to add a much needed cohesion to Schnabel's uneven composition. His scenes following Warhol's death are especially haunting. Much as Schanbel's second film introduced many of us to Javeir Bardem, Basquiat serves as an introduction to Wright as well. When Wright sees his surfer, you don't wonder what a surfer's doing above the New York skyline as much as you share Basquiat's (and Wright's) excitement at what possibilities the future might hold."
Deep movie about a shallow art scene.
Robert P. Beveridge | Cleveland, OH | 07/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Basquiat (Julian Schnabel, 1996)Schnabel has made two films in five years. I'm still wondering why the man hasn't yet been immortalized. Less talented directors have gotten stars on the Walk of Fame for less accomplishment than Schnabel showed with his second film, Before Night Falls, alone. His first, Basquiat, is damned close to being as good, and yet it fell almost completely below the radar of American cinema upon its release, despite a stable of talent so broad it's almost ludicrous.Schnabel (played in the film by Gary Oldman, incidentally-- and Schnabel's real-life family plays Oldman's family in the film. heh.) gives us the story of Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the brightest lights of New York's avant-garde art movement in the seventies and eighties before his 1988 overdose. Basquiat himself is played by the always-engaging Jeffrey Wright (recently seen giving Sam Jackson trouble in _Shaft_), and while the film never fails to center on Basquiat himself, Wright's brilliantly low-key performance seems almost a backdrop for a slew of A-list actors in minor roles (Willem Dafoe, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Tatum O'Neal, etc.) and up-and-coming stars who have since gone on to eclipse even Wright (Benecio del Toro, Courtney Love, Vincent Gallo, Linda Larkin, Caire Forlani, Michael Badalucco, et al.). But the show is truly stolen by David Bowie as (a believable, believe it or not) Andy Warhol. Bowie doesn't do a whole lot of acting, but when he does, he's usually wonderful at it (viz. The Hunger, Christiane F., etc.). He takes it to new heights here, and Bowie and Wright give a sense of the friendship between Warhol and Basquiat that does far more in far less screen time than most buddy movies could dream about. Of course, that may be because Schnabel, an artist himself, is a virtuoso at conveying the shallowness of the New York art scene. What's more, he manages to do so without turning Basquiat into a shallow film. Not an easy task, by any means.Fantastic all the way around. **** 1/2"
One of my favorite films of all time.
Jeffrey Ellis | 03/08/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Basquiat is a mesmerizing, intelligent, compassionate, and stunningly beautiful movie. Jeffrey Wright and David Bowie should both have been nominated for Academy Awards (and if they gave Academy Awards for bit parts, Christopher Walken would deserve one!!). I hadn't heard of Jean-Michel Basquiat before seeing the movie, but now I'm dying to see more of his art, and also to learn more about Andy Warhol's life. Even if you aren't a fan of Basquiat's or Warhol's art (I'm not sure yet whether I am or not), if you have an open mind you will almost certainly be touched by the beauty in this film. Basquiat is one of the few films I have really MISSED from the moment it ended. I can't wait to see it again, so that I can absorb Basquiat's art better, and experience David Bowie's entirely believable, lovable, and *funny* portrayal of Warhol again. One viewing is definitely not enough. DVD, where are you??"
A WANNA BE WHO BECAME...
Lawyeraau | Balmoral Castle | 06/10/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Artist Julian Schnabel in his directorial debut captures the essence of the avant garde art world of the late nineteen seventies through the eighties. His screenplay focuses on Jean- Michel Basquiat, a street person who started his career as an artist known for his memorable graffiti. Basquiat later catapulted to fame as the first African American artist to break out into the lily white New York art world, becoming pals with the likes of Andy Warhol. His struggle for acceptance and his inner demons ultimately proved to be too much for him, however, and at twenty eight, the world of Basquiat came to a stunning conclusion from an overdose of heroin. The role of Basquiat is deliciously and memorably played by Jeffrey Wright who portrays Basquiat as a fey sort of soul. His stunning portrayal of the artist is neatly counterbalanced by the earthy performance of a young Benicio Del Toro who plays Basquiat's friend. David Bowie is perfectly cast as an other worldly Andy Warhol. Dennis Hopper and Courtney Love also give compelling performances, as does Gary Oldham.This is a quirky, surprisingly good film in the best indie tradition. It is quintessential New York in feel. Native New Yorkers will know what I mean. Others will simply have to take my word for it. Like the city, the film has something for everyone.
Stunning film, definitely worth owning!
Eduardo Nietzsche | Houston | 07/26/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I bought this film on a discount rack in a video shop not having any idea who in the world Jean Michel Basquiat was, only remember hearing that it was an interesting, non-Hollywood art film about an artist. After watching it, I wouldn't mind learning more about the real Basquiat as all biopics take their poetic liberties, but to be honest I don't particularly care how factually accurate this film really is, or how good Basquiat's work may or may not have been. That's because this film simply SHINES and stands on its own as a celebration of true artists everywhere and at any time, famous or obscure. Just about every character is superb, from Wright to Oldman, Bowie, Del Toro, Walken, and especially the drop-dead, knock-out gorgeous Clare Forlani. The cinematography is beautiful (makes you want to move to NYC, 9/11 be damned), the music is perfectly chosen, the dialogue flows and crackles effortlessly. To those who disliked this film because they dislike Wright's character, who dislike the film's lack of a simplistic plot structure, who (perhaps understandably) dislike modern art and late 20th century art scene---I say, go out and rent some kitschy piece of [junk] like "The English Patient!" This film is really not so much about Basquiat but about art and artists, the best of which tend to be gloriously AMORAL and ANARCHISTIC. *Not* clean, cutesy, predictable or "respectable.""