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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Basquiat': A Vibrant Portraiture of Famed Neo-Expressionist Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Movie poster for the film Basquiat starring Jeffrey Wright

“Basquiat” (1996) is a stirring biographical depiction of famed neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Jeffrey Wright), from his days as a homeless dilettante living out of a cardboard box in Alphabet City, through to the heights of his success in the mid-1980’s under the guidance of Andy Warhol.

Lightly fictionalized in delivery, the storyline follows Basquiat as he initially develops his signature graffiti stylings on the streets of New York, before gaining the attention of Warhol (David Bowie) and his art world associates Bruno Bischofberger (Dennis Hopper), René Ricard (Michael Wincott) and Albert Milo (Gary Oldman). As much a biography as a candid slice-of-life chronicle, the film delves into his tumultuous relationship with a fellow artist named Gina (Claire Forlani) as well as his close kinship with childhood friend Benny (Benicio del Toro). Yet as his offbeat work becomes increasingly recognized and sought-after, Basquiat’s success is beset by growing transgressions including drug addiction, infidelity and increased bouts of isolation.

Co-written and directed by renowned American artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, “At Eternity's Gate”), the film benefits greatly from Wright’s naturalistic, at times impassive portrayal of the enigmatic Basquiat, as well as Schnabel’s entirely authentic depiction of his 80’s-era contemporary and the glamorous art world they both inhabited. Punctuated by a galvanizing and energized punk soundtrack, “Basquiat” is a vibrant, poetic portraiture of a truly fascinating 20th Century luminary whose life ended far too soon.


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