Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Photo courtesy: https://www.ourtimepress.com/bottled/
Photo courtesy: http://www.ourtimepress.com/bottled/

This is the story of how anarchy, community, and creativity gave birth to Basquiat. Now playing at The State.

At age 17, Jean-Michel Basquiat found himself at the epicenter of an art movement that would become one of the most important of the twentieth century. Director Sara Driver was also a part of that close-knit community of artists. While visiting her friend Alexis Adler (a close friend of Basquiat’s in the late 70’s) she discovered Alexis’ archive of Jean-Michel’s early work: poetry, sketches, and photographs that would inform all of the seminal artist’s later work, and her inspiration for Boom For Real, a documentary that focuses on painter Basquiat’s pre-fame years.

In 1978, the city of New York was bankrupt. Living downtown cost almost nothing. East Village landlords started setting their buildings on fire to collect insurance money; the murder rate was at an all time high; and the AIDS epidemic was not yet identified. This environment gave birth to a community of artists with almost unlimited self-expression. Featuring interviews with artists who were a part of that scene, we get an up-close look at the time, place, and people that shaped Basquiat

“I don’t think about my work while I’m painting, I try to think about life.” — Basquiat

Some reviewers complained that there isn’t anything in this film about Jean-Michel’s biological family. In spite of its title, this isn’t a literal biography of his teenage years. It’s about Basquiat converging with this implosion of bold, rebellious, DIY artistic expression, including the birth of hip-hop, happening in downtown New York City. Jean-Michel knew instinctively that it was an inspired, combustible, fleeting time, and his sense of immediacy to take it in and get it all down through his work is insightfully conveyed.

“ I wanted him to be like a ghost, a reverberating, very important memory.” – Sara Driver, director

The film’s ability to show Basquiat’s complexity is another of its virtues. He was incredibly sophisticated in his ability to recognize and internalize great art, but he also had a child-like innocence and naiveté to his personality and in the way he took in everything he saw, repurposing it in his own distinct voice. Seeing this process, as up close as one possibly could without actually being there, captures the essence of inspiration itself.

When asked why she wanted to make this film, Driver’s response was: “I made this film for the kids. I want young people to break out of the corporate system, form their own communities, get off their iPhones, start making art, and finding their art the way we did. That (downtown) movement was as rich as Café Society in the 1930’s. I feel computer culture separates us from our tribes, our storytelling – which is what we need in order to be human and create great art.”

Boom for real was a catchphrase Basquiat said when something really wowed him. It’s impossible to believe that anyone seeing this film won’t walk away feeling inspired; the film is a boom, for real.

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