A documentary by Sara Driver. Rated PG
Veteran docmaker Sara Driver, who interviews long-time partner Jim Jarmusch alongside numerous other survivors of the Lower East Side art scene of could have dropped her Basquiat. As a breezy, often compelling overview of that period, when the murder rate was high and rents were low, Boom for Real clicks. As biography, less so.
Driver is taking for granted that her film will mostly attract viewers who already know the late artist’s back story, possibly via other docs or contemporary Julian Schnabel’s biopic. Still, at 78 minutes, the film could have recapitulated a little of the background that made Jean-Michel Basquiat such an instigating outsider in an already volatile milieu. Although he was born in Brooklyn, his erudite father was Haitian and his mother, who had serious mental problems, was Puerto Rican, and the young Basquiat was trilingual. After a childhood car accident, he recuperated while learning the clarinet and studying a copy of Gray’s Anatomy—things that would show up later in his paintings, and in his art-rock bands.
He arrives here at the age of 16, as a high-school dropout and incipient graffiti artist. His erstwhile tagging partner, Al Diaz—one of the most interesting interview subjects here—shared with him the pseudonym SAMO, short for “Same Old Shit”. Their mysterious afterlife on the subway cars and buildings of Lower Manhattan made them the Banksy of their day, but Diaz was later pushed out when Basquiat claimed the project as his own. This was the first of numerous bus-throwing incidents, although the various girlfriends, gallerists, and musical partners captured on-screen have long since forgiven the charmingly opportunistic wraith—even if his tendency to blast Einstürzende Neubauten at 3 a.m. still rankles a bit.
Our shaggy-haired antihero eventually attached himself to godhead Andy Warhol and took off like a heroin-fuelled rock star before hitting the 27 Club, in 1988. But Boom (again based on something Basquiat liked to say) really just uses him as ghostly tour guide of the hothouse environment that gave rise to the Ramones, Blondie, and Talking Heads. The main subject seems almost an afterthought at times. But as one of these heads puts it, “He liked to put his asterisk on everything!”