Film by Sara Driver, Showing at the Barbican Cinemas, July 2018.
A 16 year old Jean-Michel Basquiat walks around the mean streets of New York City's Lower East Side surrounded by derelict buildings, drugs and poverty.
Unconcerned and radiant, on the screen he is purpose and poetry in motion. This is the late 70s, the bankrupted city is a playground for Punk and New Wave outsiders . A blank, if rather grubby, canvas for graffiti artists and about to witness the birth of Hip-hop.
Sara Driver's film chooses to bring together grainy footage, photographs and interviews with Basquiat's creative contemporaries including Jim Jarmusch, James Nares, Fab Five Freddy, Glenn O’Brien, Kenny Scharf, Lee Quinones, Patricia Field and Luc Sante who recall their encounters with the budding artist.
Driver cleverly shows us the art, music and fashion scenes that influenced Basquiat and helped shape his vision and in the process she creates a vivid narrative that goes beyond the usual constraints of a linear, biographical tale.
The artist himself remains silent. We discover him through the stories told by his friends and lovers. They speak of his charm and ambition, including his innate ability to court the limelight, and paint the portrait of a talented and driven young man, both wise and childlike, who was always convinced he was going to become a famous artist.
And then there is the art, described as 'vibrating' by those interviewed. We follow its development from SAMO's words on the walls to Basquiat's scrawly drawings and finally the magic moment when everything comes together at the 'Time Squares Show' and brings him firmly to the attention of the art world.
The end credits remind us that 7 years later the young prodigy would be dead.
But what shines through is the legacy of an artist who took on the art world from the street and became a recognised and celebrated artist at a time when black painters had so far been excluded from those dizzy heights of success. And a body of work which is still inspiring us to these days.
(Photos by Alexis Adler, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures) . More information about the film can be found at www.boomforrealfilm.com