DVD: Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
Tamra Davis’ Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child contains footage of an interview the filmmaker did with her friend Basquiat in 1986. Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in 1988. The footage from the interview has been unseen for 20 years.
The film is filled with details surrounding Basquiat’s work: how he contributed to the iconic SAMO© graffiti tagged throughout downtown Manhattan, how his lurid, colorful paintings were not an immediate fit for the New York art museums, how he sold his painted postcards to Andy Warhol and how, in 2007, a piece of his art sold for over $14 million.
For those of us who weren’t here, the film also gives us a taste of NYC life in the late 70s and early 80s. Compared to New York today, the city looked grittier, rawer and less commercial. This imagery, combined with the music used in the film, the images of Basquiat’s art and the footage of the artist himself are the highlights of the documentary.
After listening to the interviews with the art critics and collectors, I learned why Basquiat’s art is so famous, but I wanted to hear more about the man himself. The interviews felt removed from the artist. An interview with former girlfriend Suzanne Mallouk provides some insight in to what Basquiat was like to be around, but I wanted to hear from his family members or anyone who was close to him. His last girlfriend, Kelle Inman, and his childhood friend, Al Diaz, who were both in the film, seemed like great interview choices, but I wish they contributed more to the film.
Much like Basquiat’s life, the film was inspiring, discomforting and left a lot of questions unanswered.