Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Rebel With a Cause

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (Tamra Davis, 2010)

“This is the renewed rebellion. This is the recharged fight against the establishment of the expected. This is the rebirth of the battle for brave new ideas. This is sundance, reminded.” (Sundance manifesto, Sundance programme 2010)

The spirit of Sundance 2010 shone out of Tamra Davis’ documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. A friend of Basquiat’s in the 80s, Davis had filmed him as his career was reaching its great heights. After his death, she stashed the tapes away, sensitive to the dismay he had expressed when friends sold pieces of his work he had given as gifts. In the last few years she became aware through retrospectives of his work, that there was very little footage of him talking about his own practice and felt it was time to share his point of views and voice.

The documentary opens with the early seeds of Basquiat’s artistic presence in New York that he had begun to plant in the form of graffiti. Fab Five Freddy’s statement, that the objective for doing graffiti is fame, illuminates the energy and dedication that Basquiat channeled into generating intrigue while forging his place in the art world.

The documentary features interviews with Suzanne Mallouk, the long-term girlfriend he lived with as an unknown artist struggling for recognition. She recalls how he once got a job but returned home in tears, unable to cope with the disdainful treatment he received at the hands of his employers; from then on, she agreed that she would work and he could dedicate his time to painting.

Fab 5 Freddy provides an insight into the creative New York party scene, and the shocking racism that was still very much alive at the time, which meant that Basquiat could step out of his own gallery opening and struggle to get a taxi. Ignorance and prejudice emerge with jarring normality in conversation between Basquiat and certain interviewers. His neo-expressionist, or expressive style was often assumed to be a product of his ethnicity, with the word ‘primitive’ often dropped in by interviewers. Basquiat was a native New Yorker from an average American home, whose mother encouraged his creative side, but he left home at the age of 17 to reinvent himself as an artist. As his work attracted more attention, he began to feel as if he had been ethnically categorized into being a representative of black people; that his style, his voice and his content could not be appreciated autonomously or individually.

Basquiat’s astute memory is discussed as it is suggested that through his work he was conversing with art history. The documentary provides fascinating visual support of his remarkable memory and artistic awareness as it slides through a collection of classic pieces alongside works of his own. When asked about influences, Basquiat articulates “influence is somebody’s ideas going through my new mind.” William Burroughs was his favourite living artist, which indicates the appreciation for layering disjointed texts and cultivating experimental imagery. He was aware that his paintings looked ‘sloppy’ or coincidental, but he said not a line was out of place.

Competitive and intensely driven, he had presented a piece of his work to Andy Warhol, and became cherished by the icon himself. This connection broke after Basquiat was labelled Warhol’s ‘lapdog’, but Warhol’s unexpected death left him distraught. Beneath the ambition was a very sensitive young man who was suffocated with the pressure his success threw upon him. Burnt out, the documentary descends into the dark period of his life in which he briefly hovered, addicted to heroin and alienated from his former friends. The film revisits the paintings of his final show, morbid and unsettling, and talks to the people he tried to reconnect with in his final weeks. Through the course of this documentary and the soft eloquence of his words, Basquiat emerges as a fiercely intelligent, vibrant and prolifically creative individual who was passionate about revolutionizing art and making it more inclusive.

“I cross out words so that you will see them more”. (Basquiat)

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The 'profound' in film

Deep, mystifyingly intimidating or simply strange...

1. Twin Peaks - The Giant speaks...keep up with me now

2. Mulholland Drive - Another from Lynch...The deep sense of unease generated by The Cowboy teeters between the ludicrous and the terrifying.

3. No Country For Old Men - Call it. Here the thread of black humour is choked by what we know of Chigurgh's unflinchingly violent inclinations. This 'playful' toin coss trembles with the threat of his impenetrable murderous logic. He represents a relentless power, a sort of fierce religiosity as if his brutal actions signify an inexorable judgement that is beyond our mortal perception.

4. Night of the Hunter - Robert Mitchum's Love and Hate speech. Having detected an air of unease from the little boy, the child-killing preacher launches into an animated retelling of the struggle between love and hate. As he bellows the story, his arms shaking with fervor, the bewildered town folk look on, motionless and stunned by this striking new figure in town.

5. Rumblefish - The philosophical mystery of 'The Motorcycle Boy'. His younger brother, Rusty James perpetually stumbles in his attempts to impress upon his older brother's elusive ideology.

6. The Limits of Control - After two hours of contemplative, cryptic exchanges, the Lone Man, who has largely remained silent throughout his meetings, has mysteriously found a way into Bill Murray's office, and is waiting on the sofa...

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Sundance 2010. Exit Through the Gift Shop premiere.

Exit through the gift shop.

Banksy fired up an anticipatory buzz at Sundance. Billed as ‘The Spotlight Surprise’ and unveiled only a few hours earlier, people piled into the auditorium, half of which was roped off for ‘entourage’. Director of the festival, John Cooper, introduced the film with a handwritten note, apparently left for him by Banksy. The note explained that everything we were about to see was true, especially the lies.

Graffiti pieces were dotted around Park City, a mouse with 3D glasses, the man with the film camera and uprooted flower, the boy with angel wings and a monkey with a cctv camera. On the local news, Park City policemen confidently vowed to find Banksy…

For those outraged that the director himself had not bothered to show up, the opening credit, which displayed a mocked up ‘Paramount Pictures’ aped into ‘Paranoid Pictures’, probably went over their heads.

The ‘documentary’ focused on Thierry Guetta, a French man who was addicted to filming everything, endlessly filming, an embodiment of the figure graff’ed on the side of the Java Cow CafĂ© in Park City, obliviously destructive in his pursuit of capturing life with his camera.

As Thierry Guetta thunders through the underground culture of graffiti, the fast paced goose chase is dotted with questions about art, the nature of artistic merit or value and the boundaries between fact and fiction in art; toying with public opinion and negative responses to Banksy’s graffiti.

Guetta explains how after he befriended Banksy he decided that he would become an artist too, and after flipping through an art book and absorbing the classics he proceeded to simply copy them. Under the name ‘Mister Brainwash’, Guetta begins to put on wildly successful exhibitions, while a west country accented gentleman in a hoodie (titled ‘Banksy’), shrouded in darkness and vocally disguised, laments the friendship they forged, and vows never to recommend anyone to go into art again.

There is a self-awareness in this ‘documentary’ that criticises the desire for explanation; an inference that recording and documenting kills the essence of the mystery. This is an intelligent comment, but I squirmed in my seat paranoid that for all the wit in the film, the joke was on us, the audience – that at some point we had been pooled in with the rat in 3D glasses; vacuously paralysed with the promise of entertainment.