Jean-Michel Basquiat
Although it seems like chaos, Basquiat put everything there for a reason.

Theatrical Release Date: 09/10/2010
Director: Tamra Davis
Featuring interviews with: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schabel, Fab 5 Freddy, Kenny Scharf, Larry Gagosian, Diego Cortez, Suzanne Mallouk, Annina Nosei, Bruno Bischofberger

Watching director Tamra Davis’ documentary “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child”, I quickly realized that I knew nothing about the art world in the late ’70s/early ’80s. Aside from Andy Warhol, I wasn’t too familiar with any of the artists in the scene at the time (and his influence was waning) and when it came to the subject of the film, Basquiat himself, all I knew was that there was a film made almost 15 years ago about him.

Well, if it’s any indication of how much I enjoyed watching Davis’ film (who was also a friend of Jean-Michel’s), my Netflix queue has been updated with “Basquiat”, and should you be in the mood for a documentary, “The Radiant Child” is definitely one to check out.

Davis begins with an interview she shot with Jean-Michel in 1986, two years before a heroin overdose claimed his life. She intersperses this footage with a host of notable artists and friends recalling their experiences with Basquiat, and their estimation of who he was as both an artist and a cult figure within the New York underground scene.

Although he started as a graffiti artist, his energy and unique perspective would propel him to create thousands of drawings and paintings which would find themselves featured in galleries all around the world. The journey, however, from runaway teen to internationally acclaimed neo-expressionist is really at the center of Davis’ film.

She includes a huge volume of his work in the documentary, but always within the context of the story or time period being discussed. We never lose sight of the fondness his friends and colleagues share, or of their respect for Basquiat’s talents. And like how effortless it seemed that Jean-Michel would create striking art pieces that incorporated art history, pop culture, societal issues and primal emotions, Davis’ film moves along in a sure and constant manner. She and her editors are to be commended for being able to condense so much material into 94 minutes.

Although there was a lot to take in, as she and her interview subjects inundate the audience with stories about Basquiat’s life, there’s always a desire to know more. He was such a fascinating figure; and like other great artists who died before their full story had been told (James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, etc.), being able to burn so bright, even for so short a time, leaves an indelible mark on the world they left behind.

Even if you’re not an art fan or are completely unfamiliar with art history, the story of Basquiat is fascinating and Davis has captured the spirit not only of the artist, but the times in which he lived and the culture that he affected. A 4 out of 5, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” will be on my short list for Best Documentary of the year.