Thursday, September 20, 2012

jean-michel basquiat: the radiant child

Last week I watched another winner from the Arthouse Films company, this one about the life of artist Basquiat called "Jean-Michel Basquiat: the Radiant Child". Thanks to some candid, unearthed interview footage from friend and filmmaker Tamra Davis, we get a rare glimpse into the real Basquiat. Chronicling the young man's meteoric rise to fame in the early eighties, we see Basquiat in action, from his early days dabbling as graffiti writer SAMO and playing in the experimental post-punk outfit Gray, to an extremely ambitious painter trying to deal with the attention and wealth that comes with fast fame.  The early eighties saw the art world transform almost overnight from a scene dominated by an often alienating European minimalism, difficult to grasp by the general public, to a bold populous type of art, born in the streets of NYC thanks to the likes of Basquiat, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. It was Worhol's death in 1987 that helped trigger the downward spiral Basquiat fell into, as he was something of a parental figure to the young prodigy, whose own father, a New York business man of Haitian descent, didn't quite acknowledge him, even at the height of his artistic career.

The myth of Basquiat as icy-cool bad boy art star is quickly dispelled as soon as the film begins, and what we see is a soft-spoken, sensitive soul playing with paint and smiling like a child. The interview footage from Davis is perhaps the most crucial footage in the documentary, with Basquiat wearily and wholeheartedly expressing his dismay at the way the media has portrayed him as a young, black artist on the rise. While he attempts to brush it all off as mildly amusing, in an almost nonchalant manner, there is a pain in his eyes that can't be masked - a pain that will eventually consume and destroy such a radiant, promising young human being. As the most comprehensive collection of Basquiat footage available, "the Radiant Child" gives Jean-Michel Basquiat a voice beyond his life's work, and we get to know the man and the artist in a much truer light long after the initial flame has burned out. This movie is not to be missed.