Exploring the pre-fame years of the celebrated American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and how New York City, its people, and tectonically shifting arts culture of the late 1970s and ’80s shaped his vision.
Never-before-seen works, writings and photographs offer insight into the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat as a teenager in New York in the late 1970s. The times, the people and the movements of the city help Basquiat form his artistic vision.
BOOM FOR REAL: THE LATE TEENAGE YEARS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT follows Basquiat’s life pre-fame and how New York City, the times, the people and the movements surrounding him formed the artist he became. Using never-before-seen works, writings and photographs, director Sara Driver, who was part of the New York arts scene herself, worked closely and collaboratively with friends and other artists who emerged from that period: Jim Jarmusch, James Nares, Fab Five Freddy, Glenn O’Brien, Kenny Scharf, Lee Quinones, Patricia Field, Luc Sante and many others. Drawing upon their memories and anecdotes, the film also uses period film footage, music and images to visually re-recreate the era, drawing a portrait of Jean-Michel and Downtown New York City -pre AIDS, President Reagan, the real estate and art booms – before anyone was motivated by money and ambition. The definition of fame, success and power were very different than today – to be a penniless but published poet was the height of success, until everything changed in the early 1980s. This is New York City’s story before that change.
A new film from the director Sara Driver is an unequivocal cause for celebration. Ms. Driver’s last feature, “When Pigs Fly,” was made over two decades ago. She does not direct all that often, instead involving herself behind the scenes in the work of Jim Jarmusch, also her partner in life.
But the short filmography of this New York-based artist is more distinctive than the aggregated accomplishments of many who are more prolific. Consider Ms. Driver’s 1981 Paul Bowles adaptation, “You Are Not I,” long thought lost and rediscovered several years ago. This tale of madness does an intense double Dutch between art and genre modes, without ever breaking an aesthetic sweat.
That Ms. Driver’s new picture, “Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” is a documentary ought not to dissuade anyone hungry for this filmmaker’s voice. While, in many respects, it is conventional in form, alternating archival footage from the late 1970s and early ’80s with newly shot interviews, the movie has a momentum (aided by an exemplary soundtrack of songs from the era) and a rare interrogatory spirit.