Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Basquiat 81

After seeing Art School Confidential I became interested in researching how art is portrayed film-wise. I saw Ed Harris in Pollock a while back but never saw Basquiat for some reason. Schnabel’s film is a real rags to riches story about the early eighty’s wunderkind It is a straight forward morality tale that doesn’t end well. Sort of rock and roll really and I’m not sure if it rings true or not. I suspect that given the celebrity lineup even in cameos that it is a too Hollywood to be an honest depiction. Wilhem Defoe has a small part as an electrician and Christopher Walken plays a journalist for about 3 minutes! The time is sure interesting and I am wondering about the Basquiat/Warhol relationship. Basquiat died one year after Warhol oddly enough and I have a vague memory of seeing a show of work they made together. The film made in 96 already has the notion that art is only made to sell in the opposite way from the Van Gogh myth of the starving misunderstood genius. Remember Kirk Douglas going mad in a straw hat? I prefer the Alec Guinness sort of con-man/alcoholic/genius artist in the Horse’s Mouth, a little gem way before Star Wars. Now that I’m on the subject of morality, what about The Portrait of Dorian Gray? I saw that on PBS recently. Dorian sells his soul for everlasting life and what a drag that turned out to be. It’s basically a Victorian horror film which brings me back to the art world. The Soho boom of the 80’s petered out with a recession but those swinging days are nothing compared to what is going on now. Perhaps the figures aren’t looming as large, but there are more of them. You even see a little of the ancient New Image inflections returning now and again. After seeing Basquiat, I watched Downtown 81, a nearly plotless romp which caught the street mood better, including the bad acting and excellent glimpses of bands like Tuxedo Moon and the Plastics. That was worth the price of rental on its own. Still, no film maker has ever caught that sixties/seventies Me-Generation evolving into a major New Wave Party. The music was rich and it is ripe for parody. Just watch out for the water bugs on Avenue B.


Gerard Brown said...

The artist movie list could go on forever, and there are a few people who've given it some serious thought elsewhere. I just wanted to remind you of a classic, point out a newer film too often over looked because its subject is a photographer - not a painter - and put in a good word for my favorite example of the genre.

The overlooked film is Martin Scorsese’s segment in New York Stories where Nick Nolte does his best lion-in-winter, chewing up the scenery as a lecherous, aging Ab-Ex painter. One of my professors in undergraduate school actually took time out of a drawing class to show this on video - presumably because he thought it was inspiring (this was before irony had been invented...). Yipes.

The overlooked film is John Waters’ 1998 movie, Pecker. Not so recent after all, but a film that is much more watchable than Zwigoff’s awful, muddled Art School Confidential (when I think of all the therapy Daniel Clowes could have gotten for his animosity toward art schools with the money spent making this film, I cry). Pecker’s meteoric rise and subsequent fall from art world grace is all the funnier because we know that he has no talent – unlike the Jerome Platz character (catatonically played by Max Minghella) in Art School, who’s supposed to be brilliant but whose faux academic chops are entirely unconvincing.

The personal fave is Hal Hartley’s 1997 Henry Fool. This is really a movie about art in general, not only about poetry. It’s shot in Hartley’s stiff, almost kabuki style, which at first just feels weird, but then seems like the most natural way to address the artifice of art itself. When trash-collector-turned poet Simon Grim (masterfully played by James Urbaniak) lectures Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) on how working - not leading a romantic lifestyle that looked like a poet’s - had turned him into a poet, it breaks your heart and sends you running to the studio for some honest labor.

I thought I’d put this in there so your Netflicks list would stay long. Keep up the good work, James. And – one little favor? Remember to use paragraphs writing your blog. They make it easier to read for those of us with attention deficit disorder…

James Rosenthal said...


Thanks for the excellent suggestions. I shall check out those films. One I forgot was High Art which lampoons NY gallerists magnificantly. The other thing about Art School Confidential: Why all the British actors? I counted three!


dan said...

Henry Fool is among my favorites! It resonates at many levels of process and persona. I hear Hartley is coming out with a sequal based on Simon Grim's sister (played by Parker Posey). Anyone hear word on its eta?

Horse's Mouth is a hoot, and the book is even hootier. One of the great opening paragraphs full of visual info, as if looking at a painting.

another movie missed, and in the line of Scorcese's shorts (Nick Nolte made a great AbEx man)was Dreams, by Kurasawa, which feature a japanese painter who had a passion for Van Gogh and actually walked into his landscapes. Scorcese played a torqued soul of Vincent in a cameo.