A blog of art happenings in and around Honolulu, Hawai'i

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Art in Motion: Tamra Davis' Jean-Michel Basquiat on Film

The jaunty opening trumpet riff to Dizzy Gillespie's bebop collaboration with drummer Kenny Clarke announces the opening of Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, and sets the tone for the rest of the film. Director Tamra Davis' choice of Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts," as well as the rest of the soundtrack, may be the highlight of the film. Davis' rapid-fire assemblage of sound and image serves to mirror Basquiat's working technique. Her use of bebop standards, sliced together with interviews from Basquiat's friends, lovers, gallerists and patrons from the New York downtown scene of the late 1970s to mid-1980s, depicts a very intimate side to Basquiat's rapid rise to fame. Although at times Davis' directorial choices appear clouded by her own fondness for the subject, the film on the whole is a useful and informative documentation of the artist's life.

At the heart of Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is an interview Davis shot with Basquiat in 1985. Davis' friendship with the subject and involvement in the downtown scene gave her an insider's entree to Basquiat's world. However, she put aside the footage after Basquiat's overdose in 1988 and put the entire project on hold, fearing that any further project activity would be capitalizing on the artist's untimely death. The footage is only now being shown for the first time.

Davis cuts up this core interview, and intersplices it with more recent interviews with figures ranging from art world heavyweights Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian, to fellow artists Fab 5 Freddy and Julian Schnabel, to former girlfriend (now successful psychiatrist) Suzanne Mallouk. These interviews tell a story that's already well known: that of the genius artist who rises to fame from the squalor of the underbelly of New York largely removed from his Caribbean roots, whose influence is equal parts street culture and some internal and unspoken drive towards destiny. What is left unsaid is much detail on Basquiat's high school years or younger, or on his ongoing drug problems (which one might surmise from the film, entirely inaccurately, only occurred in the last few years of his life).

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, was screened last month in Honolulu as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival but lucky art patrons will have a second opportunity to see it this week during several screenings at the Doris Duke Theatre of the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

1 comment:

harold hollingsworth said...

great film, just saw it the other day, so good!