Julian Schnabel’s first feature film, which follows the tragically short life of fellow painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, was taken on by Schnabel after he read an early script and became displeased with its misrepresentation of the 1980s art world and prominent figures such as Andy Warhol. His decision to take over as director was auspicious in some ways, as it led to “the first feature about an American painter written and directed by another artist,”as the New York Times reported in 1996, the year the film came out. Schnabel and Basquiat were linked professionally and personally, having been featured in the same exhibitions during this era. Schnabel has recounted: “We were both in a similar situation, in the maelstrom of the 80’s art world. And I’m here, and he’s not.”
Looking back, Basquiat opened doors for several who were involved in its production. Schnabel has, by now, achieved enormous success as a director with such features as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Jeffrey Wright’s role as Basquiat garnered him considerable acclaim, putting him on the Hollywood map. And David Bowie, whose career was already a thing of its own by that point, offers an amusing and somewhat playful performance as Andy Warhol.
In recent years, Basquiat’s work has become a heavily sought-after commodity; just this past June, one of his pieces sold for almost $7 million in London. Taking into account his struggles as an artist and a black man in 1980s New York, even after achieving notoriety and recognition, it’s a sad reality that he couldn’t be here to represent his own art. But Schnabel’s biopic – while criticized by some for rearranging and compressing certain historical details of the time – manages to preserve Basquiat’s charisma, creative energy, and the vivid nature of his work.
dir. Julian Schnabel
Screens Monday, 9/12 @ Coolidge Corner Theatre, 7:00 PM