Basquiat (1996) Poster


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Inscrutable, yet interesting study....
MarieGabrielle4 June 2006
of Jean Michel Basquiat and the art world of the 80's. Granted, the film is a bit abstruse, and some viewers have complained about the music tracks (actually Basquiat's own music from his band); but it does serve to show the disaffected life of an artist, who seemed to gain fame, money, and fair-weather friends, despite himself.

Jeffrey Wright is very understated, but believable as Basquiat. Apparently he and his father were estranged, until he became famous. Then everyone wanted something from him. Not just another story of fame and its vices, however; because the film does NOT show his life as glamorous, indeed once he has "made it" we still see him dining at Lutece, people critiquing, being unaccepting of him as a person. Perhaps in real life this was one of the sources of his insecurities, and reason for his drug addiction. Certainly, if one believes even half of what is written about the NY art world- it cannot have been a forgiving place.

That aside, the film also has some interesting cameos, David Bowie as Warhol is excellent, Dennis Hopper as the Zurich art dealer, Bruno Bischofsburger is very believable. An amusing cameo with Christopher Walken as a James Lipton character; a pretentious interviewer. The only annoying performance was Parker Posey, as gallery owner Mary Boone, who perhaps portrayed this person too close to the mark.

Keeping in mind that Basquiat was under age 30 when he died, this story is credible. An artist who rose too fast, was used and discarded- apparently in real life Basquiat had a tendency to be generous, and gave away many of his paintings. There is one scene where he is beaten up so two street people can take steal a "SAMO" inscription on a piece of metal.

The visuals are also noteworthy, while an earlier review critiqued the surfboarding sequence, I find that a preferable segue to Basquiat's need to escape; apparently he owned a good deal of property in Hawai'i and spent time there as well.

The scenes with Claire Forlani are also effective, Basquiat's some-time girlfriend, we see her as a waitress, then a junkie, then a cleaned-up version, going to Columbia. The NY street sequences are realistic, It is not glamorous (though the accompanying jazz music is). It shows the schizophrenic nature of NY; Lutece, a homeless person sleeping outside, a man selling stuffed animals on the street, and Bruno Bischofsberger(Hopper) who mistakes Basquiat for a homeless person, trying to clean the windows on his Mercedes. Very realistic.

I highly recommend this film; it does not glamorize the story, and while it may not be completely accurate, it rings true, and portrays a life many artists may wish for, until they get it. 9/10
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Basquiat - an inspiration.
kickice18 March 2004
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie 'Basquiat'. It is a subtle portrayal of a complex character, beautifully acted by Jeffrey Wright. It would have been easy for the film-makers to go over board with this movie. Basquiat sure did have the character to allow that. And the fact they didn't feel the need to do that, is why I like this movie so much. It'd been easy to concentrate more on the drug taking, on his immense paranoia, and on his lively lifestyle that went beyond Andy Warhol and Madonna. And doing that would have probably got the movie more hype, attention and plaudits. Instead the makers of this movie just give glimpses of his life and merely suggest a whole lot more, and this works well. It's a movie that goes along more at a stroll than a run, and grows in stature and depth as it does so.

But, the 'problem' if you can call it that, with 'Basquiat' is that you need to know this man's art, and this man's character to really enjoy and appreciate this movie. And that's why I think it maybe doesn't get the sympathetic reviews or attention it deserves. If you didn't know about this man's life before seeing the movie, then I don't know what you could take from the film. And if you watch it without knowing about him and his art, then I can imagine it wouldn't really hit the mark.

What makes this movie beautiful in it's subtlety is that it does great justice to the wonderful talent and nature of Jean Michel Basquiat. And if you love his art, then do watch this movie, it's well worth it.

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Genius or exploitation?
jse12614 August 2006
"Basquiat" is a film with an agenda. Far from being a neutral stage upon which the life and emotion of the artist is played out for us to observe, this film wants to make a point about the art world, casting Basquiat as Oliver Twist. If you are looking to find out what drives an artist you are not going to find it here - unless the answer is money. The filmmakers did not go very far into the head of their subject - either that or he was a very shallow and vapid person. I did not get the feeling from this film that Basquiat was a true artist; rather, he came off as an opportunist who figured out how to capture the mechanics of bad abstract impressionism and pass himself off as one. Then a lucky break, combined with silly art collectors who have way too much money and not enough of their own thought processes, multiplied by a guilt ridden population of white people flush with 1980's cash, combine to equal the phenomenon of Basquiat.

I am not saying that this is (or is not) the truth. In the world of art there are no truths anyway. What I am saying is that this is not a neutral biography. It may pay to do a little bit of research into Basquiat before watching the film. As for myself, I admit to watching it only because I was bored and nothing else was on. I knew vaguely the story, and who Basquiat was, but had no opinions of and no real knowledge about him. Since I am not the type of person who forms his opinions on any subject based on information from only one source, I did some research into Basquiat after the film before coming to any sort of conclusions. What those conclusions were are irrelevant as far as this review is concerned - but what does concern me are the many people who undoubtedly had their opinion about Basquiat fed to them by this film and who now consider themselves educated on the subject.

As far as the film itself, it is not bad. Not great, but not bad. It had a certain feeling to it. But it is hard to get beyond its portrayal of the subject, as he is the reason for the film. As noted, Basquiat comes off as an empty headed and shallow individual without a lot of talent or original thought who likes to use drugs and drink a lot. The film's Basquiat seemed not to care much about art, that it was an afterthought to him. He was shown as a dabbler - dabbling in music too but not doing much or giving it much effort. Perhaps that is the truth, I don't know, because overall the film is more a study of art and what constitutes it and gives it value than a biography of an artist - and postulates that today's art is more about the name than the actual piece. The same thing that is given away for free by a homeless man who lives in a box can be worth six figures if the right people decide that it should. I also felt that he filmmakers relied on cliché' a bit too much for my liking. The scene that sticks out in my mind is the one where Basquiat was on a schoolyard basketball court with his buddy, who was trying to get him to play. Basquiat was totally inept at the game and had no desire to play whatsoever. The filmmakers were obviously trying to demonstrate either one or both of two things - that Basquiat was so much of a cerebral artist that he was incapable of physical sport, or that Basquiat was a black man who could not play basketball. Whatever the case, the scene was painful to watch. It was ham-fisted imagery at its worst. A well done scene with some good conversation and emotion could have sent the same message intended in the schoolyard - actually could have done it better because as blockheaded as the schoolyard scene was, it still did not send a clear and defined message.

The acting in Basquiat was for the most part serviceable, with David Bowie turning in the most inspired performance as Andy Warhol. Bowie brought a subtle warmth and humanity to a person who is often portrayed as a cold cartoon character. Although Warhol was clearly intended to be an exploiter in the film, Bowie managed to show him as a person who felt that Basquiat was a true friend and not just a paycheck. This is an Andy Warhol who cared about people, and who could have his feelings hurt just like anyone else. This is not the stereotypical movie Warhol, playing with people like the proverbial chess pieces. This Warhol genuinely admired the work of his protégés. And David Bowie would know, wouldn't he? He was there. I got the feeling that Bowie took the part to make a statement about Warhol - as if he was annoyed by younger filmmakers using the stereotypical Warhol image in an exploitative way. I felt that he was subversively reading the lines between the lines. Good for him.

This film is more a commentary on the art world, on racism, and on exploitation than it is a biography. I would say that it is better to look at it this way, for as a biography it is biased and somewhat mean-spirited. Remember the first line of this review? It seemed to me that the filmmakers were saying that Basquiat was bereft of talent and inspiration - that he was a bum and a drug abuser who got lucky. Perhaps he was, but I'd prefer to make up my own mind. So it would pay to know a bit about the subject before watching - this Basquiat is a light dessert, not the main course.
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This movie is impressionist art on film. Julian Schnabel proves to be as talented behind the lens as he is "on canvas."
JB-1456 June 2000
If you love art, this movie is definitely for you. If character development and good writing are important elements in your movie selections, definitely add this one to your list of "must sees." However, if you typically only prefer major "blockbuster hits," you may want to forego it.

Intricately performed and written, this film is "art-house" & "independent" at it's very finest. David Bowie is perfection as Jean Michel Basquiat's friend and mentor, Andy Warhol. Michael Wincott sheds his usual grovel-voiced tough guy persona to play Basquiat's first flamboyantly feminine art dealer. Jeffrey Wright's brilliant performance as the complex Basquiat received a nomination for "Best Debut Performance," and Benecio Del Toro won "Best Supporting Male Performance" at the 1997 Independent Spirit Awards. Even the minor characters (Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Parker Posey, Willem Dafoe) add colorful performances to Julian Schnabel's first "canvas on film." --J.B.
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I think this film is great
egloff4 June 2003
I thought this film captured the feel of SoHo and the downtown art scene in 1980's NYC. (I lived in NYC from 1986 until 2001.) I really like the untethered, free-spirited, and dangerous elements of Basquiat's character. The movie doesn't fit into the film school model of a perfectly constructed piece, but I find that appealling; the film is artful and enjoyable. I watch it whenever it shows up on one of the film channels unedited and uninterrupted. Hope you enjoy it as well.
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everyone with a brain should see this movie
andrfenlon1 April 2001
I cannot believe that Basquiat isn't high in the top 250; it is easily the best movie I have ever seen. No matter whether or not you like/liked Basquiat's art, this movie is amazing. In fact, you'll probably enjoy the movie more if you don't like his art. Basquiat was a crackhead who chose to live on the street. None of his art demonstrated amazing artistic technique, yet with the help of some exorbitantly rich, twisted and influential people in the art world, he rose from the gutter and gained international stardom. Whether he deserved his fame, wealth and glory is addressed throughout the film, but the movie is more about how his self-destructive tendencies managed to get the better of him and lead him to an early death. The movie is very depressing, but also inspiring. The acting is fantastic overall, although Dennis Hopper was awful as Bruno and I wish that Courtney Love were not cast as Big Pink. The film itself is even a work of art. Don't see it if you're only into mystery, horror, suspense, or action films, but if you like art or are at all intellectual, see it see it see it see it see it!
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Fascinating look at New York art world
SKG-218 March 1999
I'm a sucker for movies set in New York City, which is one reason I decided to see this, that and the supporting cast. I don't know much about Basquiat, his life or work, so I don't know how accurate the movie is, nor do I know much about art, but this film drew me in. I know the film was made by a friend and compatriot of Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, and if there's a weakness, it's that sometimes we feel this is an inside job. Nevertheless, we do go inside the art world, get to know about graffiti, and we get to understand what makes Basquiat tick. I also thought Jeffrey Wright was good in the title role. The supporting cast were all first-rate as well.
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Great Films
Michael-2824 January 2000
Once in a while a movie is perfectly acted; this is one of them. David Bowie does the best Andy Warhol ever captured on film. The film in itself is a work of art, as much as Basquiat was himself. I'm unaware of how factual the film is, but I'm guessing it's not too false. It's a near perfect film and that's why I give it a solid nine.
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Err... Can we mention the unmentionable, please?
hobbittall4 June 2018
While the evocation of the 1980s, obvious passion for the artist's work and magnificent acting from the ensemble cast should have made this movie a '10', it has one fatal flaw: this film, Basquiat, dealing with a young man's struggle for identity, fails to mention or even hint at the fact that he had both female and male sexual partners. While I highly respect the acting ability of Jeffrey Wright (just check out his performance in Westworld), he was not only misdirected but simply miscast. To understand the real Basquiat, see the 2010 documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat - The Radiant Child. There, you see a cute, good-looking, charismatic, ambitious although introverted young man whom you could easily imagine receiving offers from men and women alike - and equally imagine the offers being taken up. The portrayal in the film, Basquiat, is of a slightly autistic, inarticulate, heterosexual boor with a 'junkie walk' before he was even a junkie. It is well documented that the artist David Bowes was a male lover of Basquiat's, and other characters from the era, some still alive today, attest that while living on the street he would often exchange sexual favors with both males and females for a place to sleep for the night; not uncommon practice for the homeless. I mention all this not to disrespect the memory of Jean-Michel as I'm actually a great fan of his. Let's instead respect him by honoring him truthfully and mentioning the unmentionable: male-to-male sexuality.

Directors and scriptwriters be damned; you spoil otherwise good movies. Just when will film-makers get over their homophobic paranoia? Why make a movie about Howard Hughs and not mention he had bedded most Hollywood leading men of his day? Why make a movie about Alexander the Great misrepresenting his life-long male lover and companion, and not mentioning his Persian male lover? Why make a film about Archilles and pretend that his male lover, whose death caused his downfall, was his platonic cousin? Why make a movie about Cole Porter and not mention anything? The list goes on.
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One of my favorite movies
r_skvaw20 February 2003
Basquiat is one of the most beautiful and spiritual yet honest and unpretentious movies I have ever come across... I have watched it many times and it has never failed to move me and give me a surge of both melancholy and creativity!
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Like the artist himself, this movie had style
Tiger_Mark9 September 2003
I enjoy Basquiat's artwork. When I look at it, It doesn't look like it took a great amount of talent. His work tended to look very simple, really basic ideas. However, the creativity is overwhelming. He was a minimalist, that came up with simplistic masterpieces. Yeah, it was not real hard to do, but few have ever had such creative ideas. This film reminds me so much of the artist himself. It has a ton of style, it is fun to watch, somewhat uneventful, and like the artist, it is destined to be remembered, because style never dies. Heavyweight talent is everywhere, with actors such as Dennis Hopper, Benecio Del Torro, Geofrey Wright, David Bowie, Willam DeFoe, etc. I don't think either the film or the artist were that special, so why can't I forget either?
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Interesting Film about the Art World
gaylealstrom-128 January 2016
If you are a New York art world fanatic, you would probably enjoy this film, but if you care nothing about art or artists, forget it. It's more about Basquiat's drug and personality problems than anything else. He's so bombed out all the time, it's hard to understand how he accomplished as much work as he did. I'm sure Basquiat had a much richer and fuller life than you get from this film. This film won't make you like Basquiat as a person. He didn't come off as a sympathetic character. In almost every scene, he is strung out on drugs to the point, he's barely functioning. It gets to be a little much after awhile. The film did nothing to help me understand his art or help me to appreciate it more, or Warhol's art, who is an accessory to Baquiat in this film. The film is more about Basquiat's social life or lack thereof. I kept thinking throughout the film "Grow up already." The best thing about the film is that it shows how empty success can be. Basquiat chased success as am artist, but when he found it, he didn't find happiness just more emptiness. David Bowie is good as Warhol.
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brilliant, hysterical, all time classic
c_feroz28 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
first of all this movie is not hardly a realistic bio of Basquiat. it is Julien Schnabel using Basquiat's basic story in caricature to make a vividly colorful music video dramedy about fame and art. (even the art in this movie presented as Basquiat's was Schnabel's, not Basquiat's.)

taken as this, I think the movie succeeds on every level. of COURSE there is a pretentious mention of VanGogh in the opening narrative--everything in this movie is exaggerated--that's the point! the colors are lurid, the soundtrack is well meaning and occasionally innovative, and the cast is incredible. still my all time favorite Benicio Del Toro role. Bowie here remains the best ignorant art screen Warhol ever, and his sidekick Dennis Hopper is perfectly toady. arguably in this context Jeff Wright was a better Basquiat than Basquiat himself. Gary Oldman is also very memorable. Maybe Dafoe wasn't fully employed but it was a glorified cameo, and other cameos by Vince Gallo, Christopher Walken, Courtney Love and the like were perfect spices.

this is not a serious movie people. it's a very tasteful loving joke by some of the folks who knew Basquiat. it's not high art like Basquiat himself, but then Downtown 81 isn't altogether as amusingly crafted as this is. It's all round fun in nearly the vein of Royal Tannenbaums (except halfway true)
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Terrible direction
jesbeard1 January 2003
This is one of the worst movies I have ever sat thru, start to finish. While the acting is not a problem, the direction and editing are terrible. I will concede that I have little use for Basquiat as an artist, but I also have no use for Jackson Pollack as an artist and the recent movie on his life was very good. The problem was not the subject, it was the presentation.

This film on Basquiat's life not only fails to leave you caring about Basquiat, but with about 20 minutes to go in the movie it honestly had me wishing someone would spring out from nowhere and murder Basquiat in some act of random violence which would at least end the film.

Jump-cuts being used for no apparent effect, b-rolling of audio tracks of conversations that would have been happening only minutes prior to the time of the visual image on the screen, when NOTHING is happening in the visual image that advances the story. This technique works great as a means of compressing time, showing a visual image to tell one part of a story, while simultaneously presenting audio from another time and place and allowing the viewer to absorb both in half the time. But here it was used for NO purpose.

In a later scene, in one of Basquiat's non-fatal heroin overdoses, we are shown what his girlfriend sees when she finds him with his heart temporarily stopped and we are to realize as she did that it was a drug overdose. Well, this is fine when you are watching on DVD and can go back to take a second look at the shot, but when the "tight shot" of the syringe is simply not tight at all and when the thing is shown amid clutter and for only a second and a half, (I timed it) the director and editor fail to allow us the opportunity to see what they are trying to show us.

The movie has recurrent visual images of surfers and watersports that might have some great significance to Basquiat's life, but which the director fails to even begin to convey. They might as well be random images on the screen.

The movie, in a nutshell, stinks, and to see reviews here praising it make me wonder what planet the authors are from.

This was the first directorial effort of Julian Schnabel, and it is amazing anyone else trusted him with their money or careers to direct another on in 2000. That 2000 film, Before Night Falls, was his only other directing effort.
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the pretentious make a movie about themselves
vivesi-129 July 2003
The art world in NYC is the least movie-worthy crowd in the world. There are so many pretentions that you couldn't grind your way down to real character with a jackhammer. Yet, it was inevitable that one of them would try--and get backing for it (and also show their own paintings). What a trite exercise in narcissism this movie is. They liken Basquiat to Van Gogh in the opening narration and never follow up on the assertion. Why? Because they can't. His work was the beginning of cultural diversity and the end of a (published) critical eye. But that doesn't even address the failure of the movie--the characters are lifeless; the story is typically uninteresting and the direction adequate. I agree with the person who commented that this was a wasted cast.
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Shame on the critic...
x111b382516 June 2002
Why is it whenever a work comes out about an artist of a modern slant, there arrives the masses claiming their dogs might paint better...and how about the simple complaint that "they didn't show us what was going on in his mind..."

Hogwash. Art will always be in the eye of the beholder, and unless you hear it from the horse's mouth, nobody knows what is going on in the head of anyone else. Take a look at Julian Schnabel's most recent work "Before Night Falls," and subject it to the same analysis. The only reason we might know more about Reinaldo Arenas is because he wrote it down...the motives are not always as clear as we might hope to believe we have grasp of...

How about Jackson Pollack? How many of us know that the "Wizard of Oz," an apparently simple, innocent childhood fable, was actually a political statement of the author (and this is from the "horse's mouth")?

Take the film for what it is and don't spend your time looking for the boom mic to peek into shots or read Basquiat's mind and you might find it enjoyable. For the art critics out there, let us not pretend to understand the process unless you are somewhat of an artist yourself, okay. Because you cannot understand the motive does not change the fact it may exist on some other plane than we perceive. Okay, off of my soap box!
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A waste of an outstanding cast.
=G=25 February 2001
"Basquiat" tells the story of a NYC street tagger's rise to moderate success and a brief career as a legitimate artist. This unfortunate flick loses on all levels with a litany of cinematic faux pas too long to list here. Perhaps the main fault is central character is given no depth. Rather the camera spends huge portions of time showing the laconic "Basquiat" doing mundane nothings of things. Also the creative force behind the film clutters the work with capricious nonsense such as surfers in the sky, incongruous music and sound, and other junk. If this film is for anyone it would be the artsy/fartsy crowd..with the empahsis on fartsy.
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A beautiful and artistic tribute to a good friend.
Tavison11 August 2000
This is among the best movies I've ever seen. Is it accurate? Does it tell the whole story? Isn't it giving a slanted perspective on Basquiat's life? Who cares? Watch Biography on A&E or something for an historical account of his life if that's what you're looking for.

This movie is a beautifully filmed tribute to an artist by an artist. There is a scene in the film where we watch old 8mm clips of Basquiat's friend Andy Warhol. I get the feeling Julian Schnabel wished there was a big collection of 8mm home movies with which to make a tribute out of, but lacking that did the next best thing and made a movie. I felt like the whole movie was a film version of friends getting together and saying "remember that time he...." The film does tend to jump around a bit, and not everything is explained fully. Think back on someone close to you who died. Think of how you remember that person. Not as a complete biography, but a collection of memories. Times that make you laugh, times that make you cry, times you wish others had experienced so they can know fully what the loss means to you. This movie captures that feeling and draws you into this close group of friends. It lets you share those times from the inside. Each person is represented by at least one clip. Each person has at least one memory to share. Basquait drifts around the film in a dreamy disconnected way. These scenes are only memories. The character does not grow or change because we remember our friends the way they were when they died. We freeze them and wrap them in a protective blanket that repels all fault we may have placed on them in life. I have never watched a film that captures these feelings so well. This film made me feel like I was invited to Basquiat's wake and allowed to share in the memories.
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An incomplete life, an incomplete film
bandw29 July 2006
This film biography of the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat left me wanting to have a better understanding of him as a person and as an artist. The movie takes us from Basquiat's being a graffiti artist sleeping in a cardboard box to being a major superstar cavorting with Andy Wharhol in such a halting way that I never felt I got to know the person or his art. You might think that in covering a decade of a person's life in less than two hours director Julian Schnabel could only skate on the surface and leave us with the superficial story we get here, but Schnabel himself proves that a more complete and satisfying film portrait can be accomplished by having given us a treatment of the entire life of the Cuban writer and poet Reinaldo Arenas in his magnificent "Before Night Falls." The contrast between these two movies illustrates the problems I have with "Basquiat." For example, we are told that Basquiat came from a middle-class family, so why did he wind up sleeping in a cardboard box in a New York City park? We are given a few hints about his relationship with his mother, who winds up in a mental institution, but not enough information to form any solid ideas about it. His father appears in one scene at an art opening, but we are left with no idea about the relationship between Basquiat and his father. So, whereas we come away from "Before Night Falls" with a firm grasp on Arenas' young life, we are left with knowing almost nothing about the early Basquiat.

Basquiat's personality remained opaque to me. I got very little feel for his work habits and almost no feel for his art. I knew little about his art going into this movie and was disappointed that we did not get to see enough of his work to have an opinion about it. After all, that is what he was famous for. Don't most artists say that in order to know them you should know their art? If that is true, "Basquiat" does not give us much of a chance to know the person. However, if Schnabel agrees with the statement made by a person in the movie that only about twelve people in the world understand art, then maybe he felt it would be pointless for us to see much of Basquiat's paintings. But Schnabel didn't seem to feel that way about his own work though, since much of the art we do see is Schnabel's.

Scenes that could clarify only confuse. Take for example the scene where Basquiat is being interviewed by a Larry King type reporter. Basquiat not only confounds the reporter, but us as well. Was he being arrogant or rude or inarticulate or embarrassed or shy or conflicted or what? He must have signed off on giving the interview, so why behave like he did?

What accounts for Basuait's decline and ultimate death by heroin overdose? In one scene between Basquiat and Andy Warhol Basquiat claims to be clean and there is an indication that his work has been on the decline at that point. Is the implication that drug use fueled Basquiat's work? This is not pursued. It *is* shown that Warhol's death was a tremendous blow to him.

The movie has a great cast, with some cameo appearances being throw-aways. Willem Dafoe appears as an electrician with the soppy advice to Basquiat, "You'll get there, you'll get there." For a moment I thought I was seeing a Disney movie. And Christopher Walken is pretty much wasted in his role as an interviewer. But there is some great work by Jeffrey Wright as Basquait, by Benicio Del Toro as Basquiat's early friend as well as by Dennis Hopper as an art dealer. David Bowie steals ever scene he is in as Andy Warhol - he alone makes this movie worth seeing.

One area where "Basquiat" feels authentic is in its depiction of the New York art scene. The complex interactions among art dealers, gallery owners, artists, critics, patrons, and hangers-on gives us an insider's view. Clearly Schnabel knows what he is talking about here.

The music is all over the map from the Rolling Stones' "Waiting on a Friend" to Henyrk Górecki's third symphony.

As in "Before Night Falls," Schnabel promotes the idea of art as the manifestation of an artist's pursuit of freedom. In a scene near the end of "Basquiat" we see the artist standing up in a jeep and delighting as it speeds along. We get the idea that Basquiat's life was a pursuit of personal freedom that was blunted in his confronting the real world.
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Another Hollywood Attempt To Make A Loser Look Like A Winner
ccthemovieman-118 February 2007
In a nutshell: an interesting cast but a lousy movie. Make that a "horrible" movie. Real-life artist Jean Michel Baquiat died at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose, and he's pictured as the hero even though he's barely a step above being a sleazy street person in mentality, morals and beliefs. In other words, he's the kind of guy Hollywood loves.

Basquiat (played by Jeffrey Wright) is surrounded by like-minded people in the art world: in other words, a lot of weird people, most of them pretty disgusting. It's the kind of film an agnostic and basically ignorant 18-year-old kid would like: sick.

Having said all that, I like Basquiat's art. I've always found it fascinating, which is why I looked at the movie in the first place. I also like a lot of actors and actresses in here. It's just too bad the film wasn't nearly as good as the art and the actors.

Another reviewer here, "Synchonic," said it best: "Empty movie full of empty people." I totally agree with that.
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Weak subject ...... weak film ..................
merklekranz16 December 2009
I cannot believe this was supported by so many good actors, considering the subject was so boorish. Glorifying drug use as contributing to art sounds pretty boring and it is. The artists represented are so pretentious, they would not appeal as even casual acquaintances to most people. So why should anyone looking for entertainment be anything but disappointed with "Basquait"? This film probably should have been locally released in New York to the art house clientèle and then dumped. They say art is in the eye of the beholder, well if this movie is art then it should hang on a wall, and not subject an audience to it's glorified nonsense. - MERK
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Yipes. About as cohesive as an Arrowroot left in a mug of Pepsi overnight.
maxtuckett11 August 2001

What was this movie trying to say?

I could glean very little theme to it, other than just reveling in being an aimless mosey through JMB's rise to fame.

The characters personalities were so shallowly explored that the sorrowful moments, accompanied by overused blurring montages and jaunty music, failed to evoke any emotion whatsoever.

And the director consistently resorted to lame cliches. -Look! Basquiat is walking down the street in a drug-induced daze, and golly! he catches a glimpse of a small child skipping past who resembles him as a child! -

Wow. Deep!

The only interesting part was Bowie's wispy portrayal of Warhol, but even he couldn't breathe life into this limp cinematic attempt.

I want my hour and forty-six minutes back!
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So what?
robolly11 April 2002
Saw this film at a preview screening back in 1996. The director was there to tell us how great it was. There was some nice photography, but the way the story was told, I found nothing compelling about the character. I guess we're supposed to care because, you know, they made a movie. By the end of the film I thought "So what?"
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An Empty Canvas
nycritic16 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The pain of creating, the pain of creating, the pain, the pain, the pain of creating! How many times have I read the biographies of artists who came into this world and in a brief lifespan revolutionized the art world but went ignored by their contemporaries? You would think that someone who comes from the art world -- like I do -- would appreciate this film and stand in (snobbish) applause after seeing the all-too-brief life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist who created thoughtful meditations on graffiti art which burnt a sieve throughout the New York art scene of the 80s, but I can't. Despite Jeffrey Wright's performance as the title character and David Bowie's spot-on vapidness as Andy Warhol (another artist whom I fail to see his significance), there's no profound connection with the audience. I can't seem to relate to the self-involved superficiality that Julian Schnabel brings to the screen, and much less so when he self-promotes his own art while telling the story of another who isn't alive to stand up for himself in defense. Also, some scenes of people acting outrageously seem made just to shock -- for example, when Rene Ricard rips into Basquiat's dinner party because he's accepted an offer which does not include Ricard in any way. What on Earth is a party guest doing dancing from table to table and singing in a falsetto? Snobbery of the worst kind. If I had seen this film when it came out and while I was active in the art scene I would have blindly accepted it as the Next Major Vanguard Film About An Artist, but seeing it for the first time as a much older person, I can't see it, I don't get it, because creativity is not that profound and painful and doesn't warrant that much existentialism.
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Spaced-out Drama
harry-7613 April 2000
Just becuase the talent "graffiti painter" Basquiat was turned on drugs, and drifting through life, doesn't mean Julian Schnabel's direction and Lech Majewski's script need be also. What a limp, unpertinent style and feel this production has. On the other hand, there's David Bowie doing a most impressive Andy Warhol, Dennis Hopper convincing as Warhol's colleague, and Jeffrey Wright nicely responding to the director's instructions. As a added bonus, the fine Gary Oldman gives us yet another of his amazing characterizations as a fellow artist. If only Schnabel and Majewski put some life into their work, this would have been a pointed biopic. As is, it's a case of a whole in desperate search of its parts.
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