Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the more documented artists of recent history. The work from his mid-1980s heyday decorates the background in many a movie scene, Jeffrey Wright played him in an autobiographical film, books, poems and songs have been penned about his short 27 year life and he himself appears in a laundry list of documentaries. “Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years Of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” a new doc from New York scenester Sara Driver examines a lesser known facet of his life, the pre-fame years on NYC’s gritty streets.
Basquiat’s fame and magnetism make him a natural for this kind of up-close-and-personal treatment but Driver wisely takes time to place the artist in context. She paints a picture of late 1970s New York City as a crumbling mecca for underground artists. Deserted and dangerous streets, cheap rent and drugs attracted a cultural; elite to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Among them, Basquiat and Al Diaz who began spray painting graffiti on buildings, working under the pseudonym SAMO. From there we learn of his charismatic appearances on Glenn O’Brien’s live public-access television show TV Party, his noise rock band Test Pattern and his unquenchable thirst to express himself. It is a journey from homelessness to the very centre of the art world, a trip that took mere years and was only cut short by a heroin overdose in 1988.
The story is told from first hand sources who provide colourful stories about the New York City’s nascent hip hop, punk, and street art movements and place them in context as to how they influenced Basquiat and vice versa. Archival footage and many never-before-seen artefacts from the Basquiat and contemporaries complete the picture.
“Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years Of Jean-Michel Basquiat” ends before the end of the artist’s life. Here he is still a shining star, very much alive in the memories of his friends and colleagues.