Film review: Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (MFF 2010)

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
Curiously Bright Entertainment, LM Media GmbH

PRODUCED BY Tamra Davis, David Koh, Lilly Bright, Stanley Buchthal, Alexis Manya Spraic
SHOT BY Tamra Davis, David Koh, Harry Gellar
EDITED BY Alexis Manya Spraic
MUSIC BY J. Ralph, Adrock, Mike D.

Screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival 2010 on 2010-09-28

I have a basic working knowledge of what went on in New York’s art scene in the 80’s, which this film wonderfully complemented (that is a compliment). The Radiant Child is brought to us by Tamra Davis, whom we have to thank for CB4, Billy Madison and Half Baked, at the least. Turns out she had been friends with Jean-Michel Basquiat, and had recorded years worth of intimate, personal interactions which she had shelved for two decades. Now we see! This feature-length documentary was expanded from a 20-minute short shown at Sundance through a generous amount of interview footage of Basquiat’s contemporaries. Together they tell every story and notable encounter involving Basquiat – which they’ve no doubt been rehearsing to the curious rabble for many years now – each one filling in a gap here or there where one story trails off. It’s very refreshing. When the film started, I wasn’t sure about the tone. I sensed a great starfucker urge and saw the rumblings of sentimentality… thankfully my bias was thwarted. The docu follows the most interesting meat of Basquiat’s life, from his street-walking hobo beginnings at 20 years old, to major global artistic renown in only two years and a neck-shattering rise to fame, through his intimate friendship to Warhol, to Warhol’s death to Basquiat’s death. He was just heartbroken, they say. One of the most satisfying aspects of this film is the amount of Basquiat’s work we are consistently shown – there is even footage of him painting them. The film is an excellent lesson in Basquiat and a primer for That New York Art Scene. Basquiat certainly appeared to be a genius, and we’re very fortunate for the footage.

written by David Ashley