Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is a respectfully vivid, accurate, and entertaining homage to a painter who led a radical life and left an ambitious body of work behind after his premature death. The film opens with 1986 footage of Basquiat being interviewed in a hotel room by friends Becky Johnston and director Tamra Davis. For Basquiat fans, this film will prove essential viewing to flesh out an understanding of downtown New York's art scene in the 1980s, and to see Basquiat's pivotal role in this. While Downtown 81 is an awesome fictionalized portrait of Basquiat and his crew, and Julian Schnabel's feature Basquiat serves as tribute via Schnabel's dramatic artistic interpretation, Radiant Child offers the best possible documentary coverage of Basquiat's triumph and demise.
This feature-length film, constructed after Davis unearthed her 10-years-buried Basquiat footage to make a 20-minute short, then buried that another 10 years because of her strong wish to avoid exploitation, contains so much footage of Basquiat painting, partying, and being his charismatic self that one trusts it immediately. Additionally, Davis has interviewed every affiliated gallerist, among them Diego Cortez, Larry Gagosian, Bruno Bischofberger, Tony Shafrazi, Annina Nosei, and Jeffrey Deitch, not to mention all of Basquiat's surviving close friends, including Schnabel, Fab 5 Freddy, Glenn O'Brien, Maripol, and Thurston Moore. The film, organized chronologically to chart Basquiat's move out of Brooklyn to Manhattan, his beginnings as an itinerant street artist named Samo, his rise to gallery stardom, and his struggles at the end, marks time by showing paintings throughout that commemorate moments in Basquiat's life.
While the film obviously ends on a melancholy note as a warning about sudden fame and fortune, this film is ultimately more than a documentary about one man. It is a well-made testament, from the actual participants' perspectives, about what conspired in New York to allow Basquiat to shine. For viewers who recall those times, it may feel nostalgic; for viewers who glorify 1980s New York, this film will solidify New York's greatness; viewers who are artists may identify most, as one experiences a glimpse of a New York lifestyle that has come and gone.
"As I had discovered, Jean-Michel could be pretty awful. He also could be very kind and sweet, and The Radiant Child apparently showcases that side of Jean's character. In my presence he was often very paranoid about the people surrounding him, and he certainly was right to be that way as so many people were using him in one way or another. At least one of the people who was around his studio stole drawings, and I tend to think that Jean liked to be stolen from: he could then amaze the thief by confronting them and knowing exactly what they had taken." - John Seed, Driving Mr. BasquiatHe died on Friday August 22 1988 at his live in studio at 57 Great Jones Street, amidst a heatwave in New York, alone and using. A girlfriend in the lounge downstairs, who waited for him to wake up alone. He was a junkie, a genius and too young but so wise.
"Basquiat was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn five days later. His father invited only a few of the artist's friends to the closed-casket funeral at Frank Campbell's; they were outnumbered by the phalanx of art dealers. The heat wave had broken, and it rained on the group gathered at the cemetery to bid Jean-Michel goodbye. The eulogy was delivered by Citibank art consultant Jeffrey Deitch, lending the moment an unintentionally ironic tone. Blanca Martinez, Basquiat's housekeeper, was struck by the alienated attitude of the mourners. "They were all standing separately, as if it were an obligation," she says. "They didn't seem to care. Some looked ashamed." People began to leave the cemetery before the body was buried. Ignoring the objections of the gravediggers, Martinez tearfully threw a handful of dirt onto the coffin as they lowered it into the grave." From Basquiat - A Quick Killing in Art By PHOEBE HOBANIn the studio apartment was found finished and unfinished paintings, other artists' works (including several dozen Warhols and a piece by William Burroughs), a vintage collection of Mission furniture, a closet full of Armani and Comme des Garcons suits, a library of over a thousand videotapes, hundreds of audiocassettes, art books, a carton of the Charlie Parker biography Bird Lives!, several bicycles, a number of antique toys, an Everlast punching bag, six music synthesizers, some African instruments, an Erector set, and a pair of handcuffs.