"Nobody loves a genius child," wrote Langston Hughes, and rarely has there been a better description of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the short-lived artist who is the star of an adoring biographical film that will opens today and will spend the weekend as part of the Webster University Film Series.
"Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child," suffers from writer-director Tamra Davis' all-cleaned up approach to the artist who was only 28 when he died of a heroin overdose in 1988. There may be a mention of drugs here and there along the way, but Basquiat's deep addiction never is discussed. We get a lot of comment, all favorable, from such as Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, Julian Schnabel and many other painters, writers and "famous people." Basquiat was a famous person, too, and like others who show up in the movie, he was famous for being famous.
He first gained it with his graffiti displays, many of them signed SAMO in partnership with Al Diaz. He then went out on his own, scored a space in the Times Square show that opened the door to many people to produce various creations. Basquiat did a lot of paintings that included writing, some it crossed out, and much drawing that looks like primitive comic books. Many were marked with radical social commentary
Basquiat may have been a genius. Born in Brooklyn to a Puerto Rican mother and a Haitian father, he was fluent in English, Spanish and French, but when his parents divorced when the boy was 12, things fell apart. While he apparently sought approval from his father, the two could not live together, and Basquiat lived on the streets from the time he was 15 or 16. Much detail is fuzzy, and neither Annina Nosei, who was sort of a mentor and who hung his work in her gallery, nor the other women in his life will speak ill of him. Basquiat fans will be very impressed; others will be less so.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Chld, opens today and runs through Sunday at the Winifred Moore Auditorium, Webster University.