Tamra Davis’s documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child begins with footage of an interview she filmed with her friend, the artist, more than twenty years ago, not long before his death. Only recently did she have the courage to watch it -- and with their conversation, she frames her film documenting Basquiat’s life.
Basquiat’s life was remarkable because he was a remarkable artist. At age 26, he had created over 1000 paintings and 1000 drawings. He was a superstar by the age of 21, his work already brilliant. Davis’s film traces his confident and unlikely career: from a homeless graffiti artist in downtown New York to the world famous art star, a veritable celebrity, jetting around the world, palling with Andy Warhol, musicians, artists and models.
Davis provides a kind and intimate portrait through interviews with friends, ex-girlfriends, art collectors, contemporary art stars like Julian Schnabel and Kenny Scharf. She provides photos from Basquiat’s childhood, her conversations with Basquiat, and her own memories of her good friend.
She also shows the work. And what work it is. At times, I wish the documentary could have slowed down, stopped, so I could appreciate the paintings, read the text on the canvasses, what was written and what was crossed out, taken in the size and scope, the frames, the wooden doors. Admire.
A beautiful man, immensely likable, and a good dancer, Basquiat was much more than a passing fad. His work was genius. And he did not, of course, live long. Fame took its toll. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child does not romanticize or glamorize, but tells his story with love and respect.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2010)
Directed by: Tamra Davis
Produced by: Maja Hoffmann, Alexis Spraic, Stanley Buchtal
Running Time: 1 hr. 28 min.
Distributors: Arthouse Films
Release Date: July 23, 2010 (limited)