The opening credits, actually, but it works.

The second of our Tuesday night doubleheader (which happened to be the third and final film I saw at QFest) was a documentary chronicling the rise and fall of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a street poet turned world renowned artist.  By 25 he was the greatest known of the Neo-expressionist art movement that launched in the 70s and 80s.  By 27 he was dead, as the fame he had crushed him under a weight of drugs and personal loss.

Parts of the documentary were culled from an interview conducted by Tamra Davis when Basquiat was 25, around 1986.  A personal friend asked him questions, revolving around his life from when he left home until that point in time, when everyone knew he was taking drugs, but did nothing to try and deter him.  He seemed calmed, collected, even though he hated the presence of the video camera in his face.  He was able to open up, especially when it came to questions about his family and how he was raised.

The rest of the documentary pulls various clips and interviews from varying sources.  Growing up in the late 70s/early 80s, Basquiat lived in the period in which the earliest forms of hip hop and new wave were crashing the scene.  He hung with the likes of Deborah Harry, Madonna (whom he dated at one point), Fab 5 Freddy, and Andy Warhol, whom he collaborated with on an art show that proved critically disastrous.  It was Warhol’s death, actually, that drove Basquiat deeper into drugs.

Of obvious curiosity is the artwork, which at first was a major head tilt.  My reaction early on was that of possibly the museum curators that rejected Basquiat’s artwork while he was still alive.  Where exactly does this fit as art?  As time went on though, the artwork got better, more creative, more personal.  Knowing the artist behind the painting helps to understand why the art takes its shape, and makes the audience more appreciative of the work.  With Basquiat, his artwork was childlike for a reason.  An anatomy book, Gray’s Anatomy, provided further inspiration.  The result became his legend.

The documentary is easy to follow and quite linear (Tamra Davis is a seasoned filmmaker).  As of right now, I’m not sure of any further release for the film, though it did make its debut at Sundance before showing up at QFest.  It’s worth a look whenever it does come around.

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