Projections - Movie Reviews

Downtown 81

Downtown 81

Downtown 81 is the fractured, flimsy tale fictionalized around the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, here in Edo Bertoglio's lost film, as the bludgeoning legendary artist stars as himself.

Completed in 1981, the film was left on the shelf in Europe until a couple of years ago when it was reassembled, unfortunately not into a documentary, but a slight, if stylized format of mini-plays that is sometimes a credible tribute to the relatively unknown New York City underground art scene.

These little vignettes pieced together by Bertoglio has the struggling artist narrating his attempts to get back into the apartment he was evicted from through the sale of one of his paintings.

The subordinate plotting features a mysterious model and a slippery record producer, as well as pilfered instruments, but there's nothing here or in the narration to make more out of a makeshift docudrama or concert movie.  The music is more deftly depicted in Downtown 81 than what's going on in the life of this penniless artist who became an art-world sensation.

Downtown 81 is a lesser effort than the self-titled Basquiat which starred Jeffrey Wright as the artist who was involved in the drug scene, meeting up with patrons, fashion models, and dealers.  It does almost break through the periphery of an aura of creativity prior to the destructiveness of AIDS.  The rebels in the visual arts lend themselves to how Downtown 81 is shot using video and 16mm cameras.  So if Basquiat is slighted by how his spray-painting dizzying artist is romanticized (as he would die seven years after the making of this fragmented artifact), Bertoglio has something for the curiosity of hipsters who were excited by the downtown revelry twenty years ago.

Downtown 81

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