Linda Yablonsky covered ABMB for The New York Times’s The Moment blog. She was moved by the screening of “Jean-Michel Basquiat: Radiant Child” enough to offer this reminiscence:
The film, which will premiere next month at the Sundance Film Festival, was a labor of love for Davis, who met the artist in 1983 and, with the screenwriter Becky Johnston, interviewed him on camera two years before his death, at age 27, from a heroin overdose. That was in 1988. Davis then put the footage away until a traveling museum retrospective made it clear that there was little of the actual Basquiat on film.
“Jean-Michel was so angry about friends he felt had betrayed him by selling paintings he had given them,” Davis told the audience during a brief panel discussion at the screening, “that I felt making a film would be taking more advantage of him, even after his death.” Eventually she made a short and submitted it to Sundance, where the Arthouse Films producer David Koh saw it and encouraged her to turn it into a feature-length story.
At the screening, the hip-hop producer Fab Five Freddy, who was a Basquiat cohort, recalled the intense rivalry between Schnabel and the younger art star. “Julian making a film about Jean-Michel is like George Foreman making a film about Muhammad Ali,” he said, to knowing laughter. Tamra Davis’s Basquiat, he added, is the real thing.
I can vouch for that. Basquiat was someone I knew personally, and the film, which details his meteoric career and includes poignant interviews with key friends and colleagues (Glenn O’Brien, Diego Cortez, the dealers Annina Nosei and Bruno Bischofberger, Fab and Basquiat’s longest-term girlfriend, Suzanne Mallouk, among others), made my heart ache. Davis has created a profoundly moving testament to an artist who really could not do anything but make paintings, to the gritty New York of the early ’80s and to the creative community that helped foster Basquiat’s genius. It is also, as Davis put it, “a classic tale of what fame does to someone who is so beautiful and has such force.” At the end, everyone sat for several minutes in stunned silence, hardly a dry eye in the house.
Bask to Basquiat (The Moment/New York Times)