Basquiat (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Julian Schnabel
Produced by
Written by
Music by
Cinematography Ron Fortunato
Edited by Michael Berenbaum
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release dates
  • August 9, 1996 (1996-08-09)
Running time
106 minutes[1]
Country United States
  • English
  • Spanish
Budget $3.3 million
Box office $3 million[2]

Basquiat is a 1996 American biographical drama film directed by Julian Schnabel and written by Lech J. Majewski and John Bowe based on the life of American postmodernist/neo expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Basquiat, born in Brooklyn, used his graffiti roots as a foundation to create collage-style paintings on canvas.

Jeffrey Wright portrays Basquiat, and David Bowie plays Basquiat's friend and mentor Andy Warhol. Additional cast members include Gary Oldman as a thinly disguised Schnabel, Michael Wincott as the poet and art critic Rene Ricard; Dennis Hopper as Bruno Bischofberger; Parker Posey as gallery owner Mary Boone; and Claire Forlani, Courtney Love, Tatum O'Neal, and Benicio del Toro in supporting roles as "composite characters".

The film was written by Schnabel and Michael Thomas Holman, who was also credited for story development, with story by Lech J. Majewski and John F. Bowe. Holman, a former member of theatrical rock group The Tubes, had first met Basquiat in 1979 and together that year they founded an experimental, industrial/electronica group called Gray.[3]



Schnabel's art in film[edit]

As director, Schnabel inserted himself into the film by adding the fictional character, Albert Milo (Gary Oldman), who he based on himself. Schnabel also added cameo appearances by his mother, father, and daughter (as Milo's family). Schnabel himself appeared as an extra as a waiter.

Basquiat was the first commercial feature film about a painter made by a painter. Schnabel said:

"I know what it's like to be attacked as an artist. I know what it's like to be judged as an artist. I know what it's like to arrive as an artist and have fame and notoriety. I know what it's like to be accused of things that you never said or did. I know what it's like to be described as a piece of hype. I know what it's like to be appreciated as well as degraded."[4]

Basquiat died in 1988 of mixed-drug toxicity (he had been combining cocaine and heroin, known as "speedballing"). Basquiat's estate would not grant permission for his work to be used in the film. Schnabel and his studio assistant Greg Bogin created paintings "in the style of" Basquiat for the film.[5]


Box office[edit]

Basquiat opened theatrically on August 9, 1996 in 6 venues, earning $83,863 in its first weekend. The film ultimately grossed $3,011,195 domestically.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received positive reviews from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 70% rating based on 27 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10.[6] Metacritic reports a 65 out of 100 rating based on 20 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[7]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three and a half out of a possible four stars.[8] Conversely, Janet Maslin in The New York Times called the film "bold, attention-getting and more than a little facile, a stylish-looking film without the connective tissue to give it real depth.[9]"

"Directorial Debut Fails as Film, History"; review of Basquiat, by Julian Schnabel, San Francisco Examiner, August 16, 1996.[10]

Similarly, the Los Angeles Examiner said that "Basquiat does not seem interested in anything that doesn't advance its director's personal agenda." The review stated that "Though as a writer-director, Schnabel's work is not the total fiasco the debut films of fellow artists David Salle (Search and Destroy) and Robert Longo (Johnny Mnemonic) were, it is fascinating to see what a compendium of Troubled Genius movie cliches he has turned out." Like several of the negative reviews, the review picked out for praise the acting of Jeffrey Wright as Jean-Michel Basquiat, saying "Basquiat's only genuine inspiration was casting Jeffrey Wright, who won a Tony for his work in Angels in America on the New York stage, as the artist. An actor whose talent is visible even in this standard role, Wright's ability creates more interest in Basquiat's fate than would otherwise exist."[11]

The reviews in the art press focused more on the relation of Schnabel as director to his portrayal of Schnabel as artist in the film, and on changes to the facts of Basquiat's life introduced by Schnabel to make a more accessible film. In Art in America, the art critic Brooks Adams wrote:

Basquiat can be seen as a huge, lurking self-portrait of the artist-Schnabel, not Basquiat. So laden is the film with the innumerable coincidences of Basquiat and Schnabel's enthusiasms (among others, for pajamas and surfing) that the movie should be more appropriately called My Basquiat... To a remarkable degree, the movie succeeds, by dint of its authorial slant, in popularizing the myth of Basquiat as a young, gorgeous, doomed, yet ultimately transcendent black male artist, even as it extends and reinflates the myth of Schnabel as a protean, Picassoid white male painter... Yet for all one's apprehension about the very idea of Schnabel making such a film, Basquiat turns out to be a surprisingly good movie...It is also an art work.[12]

After the film was released, the actor Jeffrey Wright said that "I think my performance was appropriated, literally, and the way I was edited was appropriated in the same way his [Basquiat's] story has been appropriated and that he was appropriated when he was alive. [...] Julian made him out to be too docile and too much of a victim and too passive and not as dangerous as he really was. It's about containing Basquiat. It's about aggrandizing himself through Basquiat's memory."[13]

Comparing Bowie's portrayal of Warhol to others who've portrayed Warhol prior, Paul Morrissey (who directed many films that Warhol produced) said "Bowie was the best by far. You come away from Basquiat thinking Andy was comical and amusing, not a pretentious, phony piece of shit, which is how others show him." He also noted that "Bowie at least knew Andy. They went to the same parties." Bowie was able to borrow Warhol's actual wig, glasses and jacket from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh for the film. Writer Bob Colacello, who edited Warhol's Interview magazine in the 70's and early 80's, said "[Crispin] Glover walked the most like [the real] Andy, [Jared] Harris talked the most like Andy, and Bowie looked the most like Andy. When I first saw Bowie on the set, it was like Andy had been resurrected."[14]


The following songs are in order of their appearance in the film.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BASQUIAT (15)". British Board of Film Classification. December 6, 1996. Retrieved January 10, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "Basquiat (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 10, 2016. 
  3. ^ To read more about Holman and Basquiat forming Gray and hear some Gray tracks:
  4. ^ "Basquiat" Interview. Ingrid Sischy. ArtForum July 1996.
  5. ^ Charlie Rose interview with Julian Schnabel and David Bowie on the movie Basquiat. Aired on WNET, Channel 13, New York, Friday August 9, 1996.
  6. ^ "Basquiat". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved August 31, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Basquiat reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 10, 2016. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger. Basquiat. Chicago Sun-Times. August 16, 1996. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  9. ^ Janet Maslin, "Basquiat: A Postcard Picture of a Graffiti Artist" New York Times, August 9, 1996.
  10. ^ Bonetti, David (April 21, 1997). "Basquiat' trivializes talented painter's life". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  11. ^ Kenneth Turan. "Movie Reivew: Basquiat: The Tortures of Creative Life" Los Angeles Times, Friday August 9, 1996.,0,6464898.story
  12. ^ Brooks Adams. "Basquiat. - movie reviews" Art in America, Sept, 1996.
  13. ^ Phoebe Hoban. Basquiat: A Quick Killing in the Art World (second edition). Penguin Books. New York, 2004.
  14. ^ Jewel, Dan (26 August 1996), "The Art of Being Andy", People (magazine), vol. 46 no. 9, p. 18 

External links[edit]