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The Basquiat movie: an atmospheric fairy tale with great actors

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Making biographical films about those who lived recently is a rather risky task. There is always a chance that the relatives or friends of the hero would point at the inaccuracies and flaws. It happened so with the Basquiat movie (1996).
It is not surprising that the artist, musician and actor Julian Schnabel chose as the hero of his directorial debut Jean-Michel Basquiat, a talented young street artist who soared and quickly burned out. Schnabel was firsthand familiar with the New York art world of the 1980s, and showed the greedy collectors and merciless art dealers in his film very realistically. However, this, perhaps, is all the credibility of the movie.
Critics blame Julian Schnabel for introducing solely his own point of view to the film — the point of view of a successful white man. In this sense, he is not much different from the New York bohemia, which only saw in Jean-Michel a funny pet of Andy Warhol, which otherwise would have been forgotten immediately if someone even more extravagant appeared on the scene. Nostalgic for the good old days, Schnabel portrayed Basquiat as a rather clichéd "unappreciated genius", a lost child with a shy smile. And as a result, a very banal story of rise and fall unfolds before our eyes with a flat protagonist who hardly speaks 30 lines of text for the entire film.
A shot from the Basquiat film
Jean-Michel Basquiat
A famous film director Jim Jarmusch also ranted about the Julian Schnabel’s film. He was friends with Jean-Michel in the 1980s, and stated in an interview that he would never watch the Basquiat movie, despite his good attitude to Schnabel: "I knew Jean-Michel, and he was not Julian’s friend. When Schnabel made his film, I refused to talk to him about Jean-Michel because I did not want to betray him."
A scene from the film set: Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie, Gary Oldman and Dennis Hopper
However, the Basquiat movie received a lot of positive reviews as well. The only thing the film critics (even those who substantially scolded the film) were unanimous about was their admiration for the acting of Jeffrey Wright, the lead actor. However, after the release of the film, Wright himself stated that Schnabel’s goal was not to make a true film about Jean-Michel, but to exalt himself through his memory: "Julian made him too humble, too victim, passive and not at all as dangerous as he was really."
A shot from the Basquiat film

Film critics also spoke very well about the acting of David Bowie, whom Schnabel invited for the role of Andy Warhol. Bowie knew the pop art king closely, and for this role he managed to borrow the real glasses, wig and jacket of Warhol from his museum in Pittsburgh.

Schnabel surely managed to gather an amazing cast for the Basquiat film. In major and minor roles, you can see Benicio del Toro, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Willem Defoe and Courtney Love. If you forget about how freely Julian Schnabel treated the figure of Jean-Michel and his personal story, the Basquiat film is worth watching at least for the sake of great actors. And, of course, for the sake of atmospheric pictures of the New York city in the 1980s.

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