askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
[personal profile] askygoneonfire
Basquiat (1996)

Everybody wants to get on the Van Gogh boat. There's no trip so horrible that someone won't take it. The idea of the unrecognized genius slaving away in a garot is deliciously foolish one. We must credit the life of Vincent Van Gogh for really sending this myth into orbit. I mean, how many pictures did he sell, one? He couldn't give them away. He has to be the most modern artist, but everybody hated him. He was so ashamed of his life that the rest of our history will be contribution to Van Gogh's neglect. No one wants to be part of a generation that ignores another like Van Gogh. - 'Rene' in Basquiat.
 
I only became aware of Jean-Michel Basquiat as a result watching this film because of what I'm calling the 'David Bowie factor'. Since then I have encountered some Basquiat paintings in the Tate Modern.  I'm not a fan but it's hard not to be moved and engaged by his work.

Watching the film today was only my third viewing; a big problem of this film for me is that Basquiat is a hard character to like. The film itself launches with a heavy art-house style but quickly abandons this style which is both disorientating and inexplicable; it's as though the director couldn't work out how to tell the story and maintain an impressionistic style so he did one and then the other. It's at the point the storytelling style shifts that you begin to connect to Basquiat but I fear rather a lot is lost in the intervening period. To say Basquiat's work has been hailed as speaking about and against racism, power structures, class, and was generally understood as social commentary, it's hard to explain why none of that is conveyed in the characterisation or speech of Basquiat. Ironically, I fear the filmmakers just made a movie about "a black painter who died", missing completely the content and form of his life and work.

Bowie comes in late and doesn't have a huge amount of screen time, however, I think it's one of his best performances. He produces a very believable humanity in his portrayal of Warhol that allows us to connect to Basquiat - and believe that Basquiat could find something in him to connect with. Bowie's performance is fully formed, textured, and delivered with a gentle, warm humour. In many ways, it is all the things that the character[isation] of Basquiat is not.

Interestingly, to me at least, this is the third Bowie film I've reviewed which references Kabuki theatre (Cracked Actor, The Man Who Fell to Earth being the other two).

'A Small Plot of Land', a track from the Outside album, features quite beautifully in one scene and demonstrates Bowie's versatility as an artist and the emotional clout his songs can deliver.

Basquiat is not a 'must-see' but there are moments of real beauty and strikingly good acting from Bowie so worth adding to your list.

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