Director Tamra Davis’ early works may have included music videos and films like Billy Madison and Half-Baked, but it turns out her passion project was always nearby, tucked away in a drawer: a feature-length interview with her friend, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Just months before his death, Davis filmed the painter in a casual setting, talking with him about his life, influences and his perceptions of the art world. After his passing, she put the film away and forgot about it. 20 years later, we have Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, a documentary that incorporates that earlier footage of the soft-spoken iconoclast with new and archival interviews with the people that surrounded Basquiat from as far back as his beginnings as a homeless graffiti artist.
Basquiat left home in 1978 to end up in the Lower East Side of New York, tagging cryptic messages under the name SAMO (“Same old sh*t”), which instantly garnered him a following in the burgeoning SoHO arts community. He sold his first painting to singer Deborah Harry, became fast friends with Andy Warhol, and soon was the favorite of the art-world elite, gaining cult status with the likes of Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf.
Overlong but definitive, The Radiant Child is worth a look, especially if you have an interest in New York Expressionists and how a cult of personality impacts the artist.
Catching up from Monday: Kim Ji-woon’s The Good , The Bad, and The Weird is a terrific western-style action/thriller that gets a second screening on Wednesday, April 14th. The film mirrors a certain Clint Eastwood western only by degrees, but legal action has prevented the film from being seen prior to now (it was released in South Korea in 2008) due to some minor similarities to that other film’s title. Check it out on the big screen while you still have the chance!
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