Downtown 81

  • Film
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Years before Jeffrey Wright starred in Julian Schnabel's posthumous biopic, ill-fated NY artist Jean-Michel Basquiat more or less played himself in this ramshackle portrait of the city's intermingling art and music scene, c. 1981. Basquiat was 19 at the time, yet to have his first show, but he did have his own band Gray (with one Vincent Gallo in the line-up) and he was already using the city streets as a canvas for his graffiti-related art. As he trudges the city sidewalks, Basquiat's an undeniably charismatic figure, the trouble is that this flimsy slice of celluloid hipness doesn't really give him a chance to do an awful lot else. Although shot in 1980-81 by fashion photographer Edo Bertoglio, much of the footage was lost until 1998, when post-production included adding a voice-over for the Basquiat character (courtesy of Slam star Saul Williams). Despite some pretentious narration, there's significant archival interest in the musical contributions from New York No Wavers Arto Lindsay's DNA and punk-funky James White and the Blacks, plus Japanese electro-popsters The Plastics, and prime-time Kid Creole and the Coconuts. It gives good cameo too, with Debbie Harry as a bag lady and some very early rapping from Fab Five Freddie.

Release details

Duration: 75 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Edo Bertoglio
Screenwriter: Glenn O'Brien
Cast: Jean-Michel Basquiat
Anna Schroeder
Giorgio Giomelsky
Marshall Chess
Deborah Harry
Arto Lindsay
DNA
Kid Creole and the Coconuts
James White and the Blacks
Saul Williams
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