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Basquiat Movie Review

warhol bowie andy toro

Jean Michel Basquiat is not exactly a household name today, although he has all the ingredients for legendary status: early fame, early death, umpteen mentions in Andy Warhol's diary, etc. He was an artist who slept on the streets, but believed he was fresh as a daisy (although Warhol's diaries say otherwise). At his scruffiest, he romances waitress Gina Cardinale (Claire Forlani); their moments together are the least interesting in the film. There are other rewards in Julian Schnabel's onscreen study of his fellow artist, though. David Bowie, who had the benefit of the most personal contact with Warhol, is the third actor to play him since 1991. (Crispin Glover and Jared Harris preceded him in The Doors and I Shot Andy Warhol.) Although the physical resemblance isn't particularly striking, Bowie is otherwise persuasive as Basquiat's patron and friend. The fickle cruelty of the New York art world is rendered with economic precision in a vivid restaurant sequence. Moreover, the evolution of Basquiat's longtime friendship with Benny Dalmau (colorfully played by Benicio Del Toro) reveals how Basquiat is changed as the opinion of his new acquaintances comes to mean more to him than he may care to admit. Familiar folks from other indie flicks (Dennis Hopper as a shrewd art buyer, Gary Oldman as artist Albert Milo, plus Willem Dafoe, Parker Posey, Elina Lowensohn, Paul Bartel, and Courtney Love) help to enhance Basquiat's sense of time and place. Christopher Walken has his usual one sequence as a nut (an interviewer this time), and Tatum O'Neal, then 32, drifts in and out of focus in a bit as a stereotypical (mindless, rich) customer. At the core, Jeffrey Wright plays Basquiat as gifted, sweet, and hell-bent on accumulating an impressive resume before the ultimate fix. Basquiat boasts an excellent soundtrack. (Recommended for further research: Mary Woronov's terrific 1995 book, Swimming Underground, which spares no one in Andy Warhol's set, least of all herself.) AKA: Build a Fort, Set It on Fire.

1996 (R) 108m/C Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Michael Wincott, Benicio Del Toro, Parker Posey, Elina Lowensohn, Courtney Love, Claire Forlani, Willem Dafoe, Paul Bartel, Tatum O'Neal, Chuck Pfeiffer; D: Julian Schnabel; W: Julian Schnabel; C: Ron Fortuna-to; M: John Cale. Independent Spirit Awards ‘97: Best Supporting Actor (Del Toro); Nominations: Independent Spirit Awards ‘97: Debut Performance (Wright). VHS, LV, Closed Caption

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