• [The Daily] NYFF 2017: Sara Driver’s Boom for Real

    By David Hudson


    “One of the most transporting depictions of the Downtown New York scene (in a field crowded with docs, memoirs and fictions—some by artists who weren’t alive at the time), Sara Driver’s Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat more than does justice to its acknowledged subject, partly by refusing to divorce him from his context,” begins John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. “Conveying his personal magnetism, eccentricity and non-stop creativity without romanticizing him, the doc also serves as another chapter in the ongoing effort to rescue Basquiat from his own hype. It makes an excellent counterpoint to Tamra Davis’s 2010 Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, which focused on his years in the spotlight, and to Julian Schnabel’s biopic. Of the three films, one guesses that many who knew the man will appreciate this one the most.”

    “And yet,” writes Phil Coldiron for Cinema Scope, “what we find out about him does little to illuminate the work or the man, and what we find out about New York seems a waste of Driver’s extraordinary eye for the city’s funkiest textures and sharpest angles. . . . Admitting that it’s a fool’s errand to wish a film other than that which its maker made, I wondered . . . what any of the numerous artists currently working in the wake of Basquiat’s unique conception of neo-expressionism might be turned on by in the work itself—the handling of paint, the free play of materials, the forcefulness of his line, the urgent mood of his color. And most of all, I wondered what any young artist working today might think about the fact that, in dying younger than Jesus, Basquiat—now the most expensive American artist to ever live, following this year’s $110-million auction sale of a painting that originally went for $5,000—became an eternally ‘emerging artist,’ the ideal figure of the art market that was blossoming in the year’s covered by Driver’s film, a massive, global shell game which looks, in a lot of ways, like New York City today.”

    Meantime, the exhibition Basquiat: Boom for Real is on view at the Barbican in London through January. “This retrospective—his first here, surprisingly—is heavily tipped towards the life and times,” writes Laura Cumming in the Observer, “and so stuffed with blown-up photos and footage of Basquiat dancing, musing, clubbing and hanging out with Warhol that it’s hard to see the art at first. But eventually it comes, fully formed, almost, from the start—the caricatural drawings, the names and epigrammatic phrases in block capitals, the darting cars, scudding planes, lists of heroes and historic faces, all sampled against glowing high-chrome backdrops with a DJ’s nonchalant energy.”

    John Wyver looks back to 1985, when he and his Illuminations team “filmed with Jean-Michel in New York for our Channel 4 series State of the Art. . . . Our 1985 footage has been used, both legally and not, in a number of subsequent contexts, including in Geoff Dunlop’s Channel 4 documentary about Jean-Michel Basquiat, Shooting Star (1990), which was produced by Linda Zuck. Most recently and remarkably, eighteen seconds of it was licensed for inclusion in Jay-Z’s eight-minute video ‘4:44.’”

    At Flashbak, Paul Sorene’s posted an interview with Basquiat conducted by Marc H. Miller in 1982.

    Update, 10/12: Charlie Fox has visited the exhibition for frieze: “We chase the artist’s spectre from room to room, loping, super-cool, through lower Manhattan in the semi-documentary Downtown 81 (1981/2000), mumbling to Glenn O’Brien on TV Party (1979–82) or goofing around with Warhol the extraterrestrial on his knee, who chats to him as if he’s a dumb midnight cowboy: ‘What’s your last name, sweetheart?’ Such focus is a hot tribute for an artist who craved fame, studying biographies of his favorite jazz cats like religious codices: the life and work entwined in the style of some killer chimera.”

    Update, 10/14: “‘We wanted turbulence,’ remembers critic Luc Sante in Sara Driver’s vivid and beautifully meditative memory piece on the downtown New York art and music scene of the late 1970s and early 80s,” writes Chris Barsanti for the Playlist. “As the ever-growing sub-genre of movies and books about that astoundingly fertile period have shown, turbulence they got. . . . There’s a wandering element to Driver’s narrative. This isn’t surprising, coming from a filmmaker who has collaborated on similarly laconic Jarmusch work like Stranger than Paradise and Permanent Vacation. The moments that linger are more like Sante’s memory of the Polish bar on his block that left its doors open at night so that you could hear the Bobby Vinton-stocked jukebox all down the street. ‘It was so quiet,’ he remembers of the collapsing city. The best elements of Driver’s movie illustrate how these artists located the beauty in that ruin and made a great and turbulent racket.”

    Update, 10/22: “Discovering Sara Driver’s No Wave narratives You Are Not I and Sleepwalk during an Anthology Film Archives retrospective of her work several years ago was revelatory,” writes Alex Engquist at In Review Online. “But Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat is a far cry from the formal daring of Driver’s early work; in fact, it’s downright conventional, a standard informational melange of earnest talking head interviews and archival footage. Disappointingly anonymous, especially coming from a filmmaker who was herself an active part of the scene her film focuses on, Boom for Real summarizes talking points of the period that have been more thoroughly explored in other works, and skims over subjects that have already been encapsulated in better documentaries like Tony Silver’s Style Wars.

    Update, 10/26: “The actor Jeffrey Wright, who played the painter in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 biopic, has pointed out that the mechanisms at work in Basquiat’s life informed even the filming of the movie,” notes Aisha Sabatini Sloan, writing for the Paris Review. “‘I really got some insight into Basquiat because I really had to travel through the same doorways and rooms and hallways that he did,’ he says. Schnabel’s choice to direct the film was especially notable given that Basquiat considered Schnabel, who is also a painter, a rival. Wright explains, ‘I think my performance was appropriated, literally, and the way I was edited was appropriated in the same way his story has been appropriated and that he was appropriated when he was alive.’”

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