Boom for Real

 

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Basquiat: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

 

Boom for Real

 

This documentary feature by Sara Driver comes with a subtitle that appears to define its concerns: 'The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat'. It is indeed the case that it concentrates on the period between 1978 and 1981 without venturing beyond that even though it was the next seven years that would see Basquiat establishing himself as a major artist (he would die young in 1988). Thus, Boom for Real joins those documentaries about artists no longer alive and prompts comparisons with such fine works as Amy (2015) and the recent McQueen. However, that comparison underlines the fact that Driver lacked what they had, namely a huge amount of historical footage in which we could see and hear the artist in question. Driver does have images of the young Basquiat - many of them telling (he looks great in black and white photos) - but there is nothing to give us his words. We end up with impressions of the man rather than any detailed portrait.

 

It is also a fact that Basquiat was somewhat on the sidelines of the scene on New York’s Lower East Side that at that time brought together so many younger artists of mixed ethnicity and background allied in challenging conventional art. The Lower East Side was in a state of decay when this happened, but against that background these people and their downtown arts scene came to be seen as a movement representative of the times. Many of them linked art with activism, rap music developed and graffiti (a format that attracted Basquiat who initially signed off his contributions anonymously as SAMO) were all the rage. As though to compensate for the limited material about Basquiat himself, Driver makes this milieu very much part of what she portrays in this film.

 

Many people are on hand to discuss their recollections of this time and, since they include colleagues and friends of Basquiat, we do get some idea of him as a young man and of the path that would lead him to finding his own voice as an artist. Nevertheless, this film is as much about this wider arts scene as it is about Basquiat and figures such as Jim Jarmusch, who was part of it, appear here along with many others whose names will probably mean less to most cinema audiences. What this means is that Boom for Real is efficiently assembled but comes across as a standard mix of interview footage and historical images without offering any real cinematic impact as such.

 

Furthermore, one cannot but feel that, in contrast to Amy and McQueen, which were both able to appeal to viewers with limited knowledge of the artists they portrayed, this film is unlikely to make any comparable impact. Those who come to the film with an existing fascination with either Basquiat or the arts scene from which he would emerge may regard it as a very worthwhile watch, but those who approach it in relative ignorance hoping to learn from it may well find it able rather than gripping.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Jim Jarmusch, Alexis Adler, Luc Sante, Al Diaz, Diego Cortez, Patricia Field, Michael Holman, James Nares, Felice Rosser, Jennifer Jazz, Sur Rodney, Glenn O’Brien.

 

Dir Sara Driver, Pro Sara Driver and Rachel Denzig, Ph Adam Benn, Ed Adam Kurnitz.

 

Hells Kitten/Faliro House/Le Pacte/Leopardo Filmes/Bunny Lake Films-Modern Films/Munro Films.
78 mins. USA/Greece/France/Portugal. 2017. Rel: 15 June 2018. Cert. 15.