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on 11 February 2011
I saw this film in America upon its initial release and then owned it for many years on VHS. It's such a soulful and poetically nourishing film that I again purchased it on dvd after moving to Europe, in this Pathe format. Unfortunately, the result of a poor digital transfer is such that the picture is partially blurred, the colors and contrasts muted, and the quality somewhat less, even, than what I had on VHS. This is particularly discouraging in the case of Julian Schnabel's masterpiece: being an accomplished NY painter himself, the photography and conceptualizations throughout the film rely heavily on color, contrast, and inspired photography to bring Jean-Michel Basquiat's unique work and passion to life.
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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 counter-balanced 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.
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on 24 December 2011
Basquiat, is a good general introduction to the artist. The age old story of the near starving artist living on the streets of NYC, who is discovered by chance. Yet then finds fame and money is not all it seems. Jeffrey Wright plays the role with some guts, but maybe not enough. Claire Forlani is the star of the film as the overshadowed girlfriend. There are strong but static performances from the rest of the cast. A film about art by numbers? This film could have been so much more, if they had showed the gritty NYC scene and Basquait's addictions and problems. There seems to be alot that has been overlooked. Overall the film makes a good effort to bring Basquait to the masses. The DVD needs to be re-released with some worthwhile extras. At the current price it's worth purchasing.
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Artist Julian Schnabel in his directorial debut captures the essence of the avante 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 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 the age of twenty eight, the world of Basquiat camed 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 the role of 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 tradition of independent filmmakers. 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.
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on 1 February 2004
Although this film is depressing in a way (it's sad to see how some people with great skill waste their life with drugs), it is also very inspiring and leaves you thirsty for more of the kind.
It describes the life of the only ever-really-important black artist in history up to now, Jean-Michelle Basquiat, and how fame and fortune can corrupt a personality.
Directed by Julian Schnabel, an artist himself, with an impressive cast (next to David Bowie, Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper you also get Courtney Love, Benicio del Toro and Claire Forlani (woman in "Meet Joe Black") - what more could you ask of a cast?), this is a seriously interesting movie that captures the spirit of the 80s NYC artscene like no other.
Definitely weird at times, a little odd, different to the old Hollywood-crap we get stuffed with all the time, but if that's just what you like and you're interested in Art or in ANDY WARHOL, then this is a must-buy.
I loved it, really did.
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on 11 June 2006
One of the best... well done, well acted, doesn't drag. Certainly gives one a feel for what it was like in the late eighties, if possible to be there in New York for one of the most productive art periods in the last century. Look for great performances by David Bowie, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman... and even Courtney Love is in this movie!

If you loved this movie, also see Before Night Falls, by the same director..
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on 5 April 2009
I wasn't sure what to expect with this film, knowing very little about Basquiat at the time. This film was truly excellent and I was certainly not disappointed. It has an all star cast and Bowie playing the part of Andy Warhol is worth watching the film alone. Jeffrey Wright who plays the part of Basquiat does so in an excellent and believable way. After watching this film I had a new appreciation of the art of Jean Michele Basqiat and have since then learnt more about the sad life of this artist.
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on 15 May 2003
This film is simply fantastic! It tracks the roots of the genius that is Basquiat and his rise and eventual fall from superstardom as one of New Yorks art elite. The acting is outstanding especially jeffrey wright whose portrail is amazing. Julian Schnabel's direction is second to none in bringing us both the human and the proffessional side of Basquiat and really thrusts us into the world of this great artist. A very powerful and poignant movie for everyone, both those who love Basquiat's work and those who love films. Diamond!
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on 11 July 2009
Good performances from a number of star names although David Bowie as Andy Warhol in a white wig took a bit of swallowing. Interesting soundtrack. My only gripe is that there are no subtitles and its sometimes difficult to follow.
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on 6 December 2007
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent, who first found fame as an eighteen year-old graffiti artist in the 1980 Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition in New York. In the following year, art critic René Ricard wrote a glowing promotion piece on him in Artforum magazine ('The Radiant Child'), which helped propel Basquiat's career onto an international stage. Subsequently he showed his "neo-expressionist" paintings in collaborative exhibitions in New York and solo exhibitions in major European capitals. Most well-known are probably the collaborative works he undertook with pop-artist Andy Warhol between 1982 and 1987.

Myths about his character and art quickly thickened after his premature death from a heroin overdose, aged 27, in August 1988. The dionysian excesses of his private behaviour, his mixed-race heritage and his phenomenal comet-like success helped elevate him into cult status. This film based on his life does not - and does not try to - demythologise him. Rather, we see a rather romantic dramatisation of his life. Basquiat (Jeffrey Wright) is shown as a boy in the opening scene, standing in front of Picasso's Guernica with his mother, and a shiny halo shimmering on his head. Basquiat is frequently depicted sleeping in a cardboard box in Central Park; in real life, however, his background was middle-class. He invites his father to his first solo exhibition in this film and he proudly introduces him to others; according to Phoebe Hoban, who published a biography of his life in 1997, he actually despised his father. Andy Warhol presents him in his diaries as much more of a happy-go-lucky womaniser than is shown here. Although director Julian Schnabel - himself a famous artist of the New York art scene in the 1980s - knew Basquiat personally, he nevertheless makes him into a fey sort of soul here. Some critics have suggested that Schnabel wanted to settle old scores with the scene that ultimately rejected him: the art dealers, gallery owners and patrons Bruno Bischofberger (Dennis Hopper), Mary Boone (Parker Posey) and Cynthia Kruger (Tatum O'Neal) are certainly presented as villains, who exploited and sought to handsomely profit from Basquiat's talent. Most controversial has been Schnabel's rather romanticised dramatisation of himself by Gary Oldman (Oldman is for starters a good deal thinner than the rather chubby Schnabel).

Yet in spite of these inaccuracies Basquiat is a very good film. This is partly due to the dreamlike sequences that allow the audience to enter into the artist's imaginative perceptions and partly because of the tremendous cast and soundtrack. Willem Dafoe and Vincent Gallo - who was a friend of Basquiat's and formed a band with him in the early 1980s - appear in side roles; Benicio del Toro puts in a stellar performance as composite character Benny. And David Bowie - even if his accent is still recognisably British and his own voice is so well-known - portrays Andy Warhol very well and very wittily. The film should also be given bonus points for refusing to portray Basquiat's drug-induced death; this is, as Schnabel has said, a celebration of his life rather than a dramatisation of his death. If the ending is a little mawkish and Basquiat remains in Warhol's shadow even in death, this film nevertheless goes some way towards recognition that Basquiat be no longer seen as an egocentric junkie, a glorified graffiti artist or demeaningly as Warhol's "mascot", but rather as a serious, prolific and prodigal artist of lasting creative influence.
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