Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jeffrey Wright, Michael Wincott, Benicio Del Toro, Claire Forlani, David Bowie, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Jean-Claude La Marre, Parker Posey, Elina Lowensohn, Paul Bartel, Courtney Love, Tatum O'Neal, Chuck Pfeifer, Rockets Redglare
Written by: Julian Schnabel, based on stories by John Bowe, Lech J. Majewski
Directed by: Julian Schnabel
MPAA Rating: R for drug use and strong language
Running Time: 108
Date: 08/09/1996

Basquiat (1996)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Graffiti Fridge

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Pulling off a biopic is a tricky business. You have to get just the right balance of mystique, reality and fiction. If you do it right, you can have something special, like Ed Wood or Schindler's List. If not, you end up with something like the John Belushi biopic, Wired. Basquiat is directed by Julian Schnabel, who knew the real Jean-Michel Basquiat and whose first film this is. It seems that he knew him too well to distance himself from his film. The real Basquiat was a graffiti artist who made the big time New York art scene. He must have been fascinating. The character on the screen (played by Jeffrey Wright), however, is nothing more than a surface -- an interesting, colorful surface, yes -- but nonetheless with nothing inside. A movie lacking an interesting lead character is bound to leave its audience writhing and checking their watches, and that's what it did to me. It's a gorgeous film, full of great paintings, and interesting images. (And David Bowie plays Andy Warhol!) But in the end, we never know who Basquiat really was; we can't feel anything, and we give up caring.

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