Jean-Michel Basquiat's productive career spanned just one short decade, yet he is considered one of the best-known artists of his generation. Graduating from subway walls to canvas and from the streets of New York to the galleries of SoHo, the artist and his work will forever remain a mystery to those who seek explanation. Sadly, he lost his life to heroin at the young age of 27.
The film 'Downtown 81' is a real-life snapshot of the hip, drug fueled clubland that was downtown Manhattan during the post-punk era of the 1980's and tries to explain the identity of Jean-Michel Basquiat at the same time. It's basically a day in the life of Basquiat as he wanders around NYC trying to sell a painting he made in order to pay his rent. He was recently evicted and would wander different downtown clubs trying to pick-up women so they could take him home and give him a place to sleep, which in real life was going on with the artist as during the actual making of the film, Basquiat was homeless and would sleep in the production offices. Throughout the movie, several real-life downtown superstars make appearances, such as Blondie, James Chance, Fab-5 Freddy, Lee Quinones and a few others you might recognize. It was originally titled 'New York Beat', but the film was later abandoned due to various financial issues. Then in 2000 after original writer Glenn O'Brien purchased the rights to the film, it was resurrected as 'Downtown 81'. Just over an hour and ten minutes, I'm totally in love with the music and footage they display throughout and the way it's captured on film. A must see!
You can view the entire film below. Unfortunately, the audio is of slightly poor quality due to the original dialogue audio being lost, therefore actor Saul Williams stepped in and dubbed the late Basquiat's voice. However, the musical soundtrack, mostly live club performances recorded on location using a RCA 24 track mobile unit, survived. Be sure to also check out the 1996 biopic/drama feature film titled 'Basquiat' as well, which is based on his life and death. For more on Jean-Michel Basquiat, click here.