Written & directed by Julian Schnabel
Starring Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Parker Posey.
Opens: Aug 16, 1996 | Rated: R
The tale of Jean-Michele Basquiat as told by his contemporary Julian Schnabel is an absorbing picture. Visually striking and expertly acted by a cast of notables (an exception made for a useless cameo by Courtney Love), "Basquiat" is a labor of love.
As the graffiti artist taken under Andy Warhol's wing, newcomer Jeffrey Wright has an incredible gravity about him that serves to balance some uneven storytelling. Just as Basquiat himself got lost in his own world, the viewer gets lost in Wright.
But one has to wonder about Schnabel's take on things. A fellow artist in The Factory scene, he wrote and directed the picture -- but without the cooperation or permission from anyone who has rights to Basquiat's works (Schnabel himself knocked off the paintings in the film!)
The film is chock full of celeb actors working for scale -- Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Parker Posey and David Bowie, who does a pretty good Warhol -- all of whom are quite good. And while "Basquiat" is a fascinating take on an artist's life, Schnabel is a disjointed story teller who pays no mind to period accuracies (modern clothes, pop cans and cars are in every scene) and doesn't explore Basquiat's psyche beyond the surface image.
Was his heroin death just an overdose, a suicide, or more complex? What race issues did he face as the first black artist considered important in his own lifetime? Was it necessary for him to die to make his work important?
A friend who is a Basquiat fan, a fellow critic and an artist himself complained, "It's so completely lightweight it's an 'After School Special'."
I would recommend it, he would not.
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