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So you want to be an art world superstar? Turn your whole life into a creative canvas and use New York City as its frame. It’s a lesson that Jean-Michel Basquiat, then a precociously talented, occasionally homeless teenager, learned early in life. Drawing on the brash self-commodification of his hero, Andy Warhol, the wry sloganeering of the situationists and riding into the downtown art scene on the outlaw cool of the graffiti movement, Basquiat was always going to be a phenomenon. According to Sara Driver’s vivid portrait of the poster boy for New York’s new wave, Basquiat would announce to anyone who would listen that he was going to be the most important artist of his generation. And, for a brief, blinding moment, he was.
Driver is well placed to assemble this skittish scrapbook of a film: she, along with her long-time partner, the director Jim Jarmusch, was part of the scene that spawned Basquiat. She witnessed his puckish charm at first hand. “Jean was always trying to steal all the girls,” says Jarmusch, dryly. Boom for Real is as much an account of a specific, thrillingly gritty period in New York’s art history as it is a portrait of the young Basquiat. The two, after all, are inextricably linked. You could argue that without one, the other could not have existed in the same form. And the footage of the Lower East Side – pockmarked and scarred; the shattered, burnt-out windows like hollow eye sockets – gives a sense of the precarious impermanence and urgency that informed the art of the period, in particular Basquiat’s nervy, naive scrawls.
What’s missing from the documentary is an account of Basquiat’s early life and family and a sense of what shaped him. The way the film tells it, he is a creature spawned by the art world, largely disengaged from his past. And while there is no doubt how he appeared to the other young artists with whom he mixed, it means that the central character in the film remains curiously enigmatic, like a drawing that hasn’t been completely coloured in.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Boom for Real review – a vivid portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat | Film