Basquiat is a 1996 American biographical drama film directed, co-written and co-composed by Julian Schnabel in his feature directorial debut. The film is based on the life of American postmodernist/neo expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Basquiat, born in Brooklyn, used his graffiti roots as a foundation to create collage-style paintings on canvas.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Julian Schnabel|
|Screenplay by||Julian Schnabel|
|Edited by||Michael Berenbaum|
|Distributed by||Miramax Films|
|Box office||$3 million|
Jeffrey Wright portrays Basquiat, and David Bowie plays Basquiat's friend and mentor Andy Warhol. Additional cast members include Gary Oldman as a thinly disguised Schnabel, Michael Wincott as the poet and art critic Rene Ricard, Dennis Hopper as Bruno Bischofberger, Parker Posey as gallery owner Mary Boone, Christopher Walken as a villainous journalist, Willem Dafoe as an electrician, and Claire Forlani, Courtney Love, Tatum O'Neal, and Benicio del Toro in supporting roles as "composite characters".
The film is a lightly fictionalised account of Basquiat's life. Initially a struggling artist living in a cardboard box in Tompkins Square Park, he works his way up the rungs of the New York art world in the eighties, thanks in part to his association with Andy Warhol (David Bowie), the art dealer Bruno Bischofberger (Dennis Hopper), poet and critic René Ricard (Michael Wincott), and fellow artist Albert Milo (Gary Oldman).
Alongside the development of his artistic career, the film also follows Basquiat's tumultuous relationship with Gina (Claire Forlani), a fellow aspiring artist he meets while she is working as a waitress at a diner he frequents with his friend Benny (Benicio del Toro). Their romance is affected by Basquiat's affair with the so-called "Big Pink" (Courtney Love), a woman he picks up on the street, and his habitual abuse of heroin. Eventually, Basquiat finds himself isolated by his fame, the death of Warhol and his drug use. The film ends with a title card informing the audience that Jean-Michel Basquiat died of a heroin overdose on August 12, 1988, at the age of 27.
- Jeffrey Wright as Jean-Michel Basquiat
- David Bowie as Andy Warhol
- Benicio del Toro as Benny Dalmau
- Dennis Hopper as Bruno Bischofberger
- Gary Oldman as Albert Milo
- Michael Wincott as René Ricard
- Claire Forlani as Gina Cardinale
- Parker Posey as Mary Boone
- Courtney Love as Big Pink
- Elina Löwensohn as Annina Nosei
- Paul Bartel as Henry Geldzahler
- Tatum O'Neal as Cynthia Kruger
- Christopher Walken as The Interviewer
- Willem Dafoe as the Electrician
- Sam Rockwell as Thug
The film has a screenplay by Schnabel and a story by John Bowe, Michael Holman—a former member of theatrical rock group The Tubes, had first met Basquiat in 1979 and together that year they founded an experimental, industrial/electronica group called Gray.—and Lech Majewski.
Schnabel's art in filmEdit
As director, Schnabel inserted himself into the film by adding the fictional character, Albert Milo (Gary Oldman), who he based on himself. Schnabel also added cameo appearances by his mother, father, and daughter (as Milo's family). Schnabel himself appeared as an extra as a waiter.
Basquiat was the first commercial feature film about a painter made by a painter. Schnabel said:
"I know what it's like to be attacked as an artist. I know what it's like to be judged as an artist. I know what it's like to arrive as an artist and have fame and notoriety. I know what it's like to be accused of things that you never said or did. I know what it's like to be described as a piece of hype. I know what it's like to be appreciated as well as degraded."
Basquiat died in 1988 of mixed-drug toxicity (he had been combining cocaine and heroin, known as "speedballing"). Basquiat's estate would not grant permission for his work to be used in the film. Schnabel and his studio assistant Greg Bogin created paintings "in the style of" Basquiat for the film.
After the film was released, Jeffrey Wright said that "I think my performance was appropriated, literally, and the way I was edited was appropriated in the same way his [Basquiat's] story has been appropriated and that he was appropriated when he was alive. [...] Julian made him out to be too docile and too much of a victim and too passive and not as dangerous as he really was. It's about containing Basquiat. It's about aggrandizing himself through Basquiat's memory."
Comparing Bowie's portrayal of Warhol to others who've portrayed Warhol prior, Paul Morrissey (who directed many films that Warhol produced) said "Bowie was the best by far. You come away from Basquiat thinking Andy was comical and amusing, not a pretentious, phony piece of shit, which is how others show him." He also noted that "Bowie at least knew Andy. They went to the same parties." Bowie was able to borrow Warhol's actual wig, glasses and jacket from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh for the film. Writer Bob Colacello, who edited Warhol's Interview magazine in the 70's and early 80's, said "[Crispin] Glover walked the most like [the real] Andy, [Jared] Harris talked the most like Andy, and Bowie looked the most like Andy. When I first saw Bowie on the set, it was like Andy had been resurrected."
In 2018, musician and actor Lenny Kravitz revealed in an interview with V Magazine that he had been asked by director Julian Schnabel to play the role of Basquiat. Kravitz said, "I look back and I'm like, wow, I probably should have done that".
Basquiat opened theatrically on August 9, 1996 in 6 venues, earning $83,863 in its first weekend. The film ultimately grossed $3,011,195 domestically.
The film received positive reviews from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 70% rating based on 27 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. Metacritic reports a 65 out of 100 rating based on 20 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three and a half out of a possible four stars stating that in Schnabel's portrayal Basquiat "is a quiet, almost wordless presence, a young man who rarely says what he is thinking and often deliberately chooses to miss the point of a conversation. He is dreamy, sweet, and pensive. There are deep hurts and angers". Similarly, Janet Maslin in The New York Times called the film "bold, attention-getting and more than a little facile, a stylish-looking film without the connective tissue to give it real depth."
David Bonetti gave the film a poor review due to his perception of the inexperience of the director stating "Schnabel can't decide whether he wants to tell a traditional rise-and-fall morality tale or make an art film. His attempt at telling Basquiat's story straightforwardly collapses under its own banality". Similarly, the Los Angeles Examiner said that "Basquiat does not seem interested in anything that doesn't advance its director's personal agenda." The review stated that "Though as a writer-director, Schnabel's work is not the total fiasco the debut films of fellow artists David Salle (Search and Destroy) and Robert Longo (Johnny Mnemonic) were, it is fascinating to see what a compendium of Troubled Genius movie cliches he has turned out." Like several of the negative reviews, the review picked out for praise the acting of Jeffrey Wright as Jean-Michel Basquiat, saying "Basquiat's only genuine inspiration was casting Jeffrey Wright, who won a Tony for his work in Angels in America on the New York stage, as the artist. An actor whose talent is visible even in this standard role, Wright's ability creates more interest in Basquiat's fate than would otherwise exist."
The reviews in the art press focused more on the relation of Schnabel as director to his portrayal of Schnabel as artist in the film, and on changes to the facts of Basquiat's life introduced by Schnabel to make a more accessible film. In Art in America, the art critic Brooks Adams wrote:
Basquiat can be seen as a huge, lurking self-portrait of the artist-Schnabel, not Basquiat. So laden is the film with the innumerable coincidences of Basquiat and Schnabel's enthusiasms (among others, for pajamas and surfing) that the movie should be more appropriately called My Basquiat... To a remarkable degree, the movie succeeds, by dint of its authorial slant, in popularizing the myth of Basquiat as a young, gorgeous, doomed, yet ultimately transcendent black male artist, even as it extends and reinflates the myth of Schnabel as a protean, Picassoid white male painter... Yet for all one's apprehension about the very idea of Schnabel making such a film, Basquiat turns out to be a surprisingly good movie...It is also an art work.
The following songs are in order of their appearance in the film.
- "Fairytale of New York" – The Pogues
- "Public Image" – Public Image Ltd.
- "Girlfriend" – The Modern Lovers
- "Suicide Mode" – Nicholas Marion Taylor
- "Suicide Hotline Mode" – Nicholas Marion Taylor
- "I'm Not in Love" – Toadies
- "Lust for Life" – Iggy Pop
- "The Nearness of You" – Keith Richards
- "Waiting on a Friend" – The Rolling Stones
- "Pixote Theme" – Electro Band
- "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" – Them
- "You Can't Be Funky (If You Haven't Got Soul)" – Bush Tetras
- "Flamenco Sketches" – Miles Davis
- "Ko-Ko" – Charlie Parker
- "White Lines" – Melle Mel (as GrandMaster Flash Melle Mel)
- "Beast of Burden" – The Rolling Stones
- "Rise" – Tripping Daisy
- "Is That All There Is?" – Peggy Lee
- "Paris Je T'aime (Paris, Stay the Same)" – David McDermott
- "April in Paris" – Charlie Parker
- "Who Are You This Time" – Tom Waits
- "India" – The Psychedelic Furs
- "D'amor sull'ali rosee" (Il trovatore, Act 4 Sc. 1) – Renata Tebaldi
- "Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)" – Tom Waits
- "A Small Plot of Land" – David Bowie
- Symphony No. 3, Opus 36 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) – Henryk Górecki (London Sinfonietta)
- "Summer in Siam" – The Pogues
- "She Is Dancing" – Brian Kelly
- "Hallelujah" – John Cale
- "This Is the Last Song I'll Ever Sing" – Gavin Friday
- "BASQUIAT (15)". British Board of Film Classification. December 6, 1996. Retrieved January 10, 2016.
- "Basquiat (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 10, 2016.
- "Basquiat (1996)- Plot Summary". IMDb. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
- "Basquiat - Reelviews Movie Reviews". James Berardinelli. Reelviews. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
- "Basquiat" Interview. Ingrid Sischy. ArtForum July 1996.
- Charlie Rose interview with Julian Schnabel and David Bowie on the movie Basquiat. Aired on WNET, Channel 13, New York, Friday August 9, 1996. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 30, 2009. Retrieved January 26, 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Phoebe Hoban. Basquiat: A Quick Killing in the Art World (second edition). Penguin Books. New York, 2004.
- Jewel, Dan (August 26, 1996), "The Art of Being Andy", People, vol. 46 no. 9, p. 18
- Fulton, Nick (September 2018). "Lenny Kravitz". V Magazine.
- "Basquiat". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
- "Basquiat reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 10, 2016.
- Ebert, Roger. Basquiat. Chicago Sun-Times. August 16, 1996. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
- Janet Maslin, "Basquiat: A Postcard Picture of a Graffiti Artist" New York Times, August 9, 1996. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9E07E4DF123EF93AA3575BC0A960958260
- Bonetti, David (April 21, 1997). "Basquiat' trivializes talented painter's life". The San Francisco Chronicle.
- Kenneth Turan. "Movie Review: Basquiat: The Tortures of Creative Life" Los Angeles Times, Friday August 9, 1996. http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/reviews/cl-movie960809-2,0,6464898.story Archived October 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
- Brooks Adams. "Basquiat. - movie reviews" Art in America, Sept, 1996.