Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat died at the rock-star age of 27 after becoming one of the most important figures in 20th-century art. Those who were a part of the creative scene during the late 70s through to the 80s will doubtless know his name – or his Banksy-like graffiti alias, “Samo” – but novices are none the wiser. Boom for Real, the new documentary from Sara Driver, tries to focus on Basquiat’s late teenage years – as if in an attempt to do something different from the four other movies made about the artist (including Rage to Riches, released only last year).
The film starts by setting out the context: 70s New York on the Lower East Side – revealed to the audience in grotty, 4:3 footage from the time, showing skeletons of buildings and addicts shooting up at their windowsills. It wasn’t a pleasant area, but it’s where many American artists of the late 20th century grew up and practised, including Basquiat. Driver tracks his time sleeping in artists’ apartments and poetically graffitiing the sides of trains, just prior to becoming famous for his work.
The director omits the figure’s troubled childhood, his parents’ divorce and his mother’s committal to a mental institution – leaving those new to the scene tripping in the dark, fumbling for something accessible to cling onto. They have no connection to the person, only the art he made. It’s like making a narrative filled with plot but empty of characters: it just doesn’t work.
There are large, sluggish sections describing the art scene of the time without Basquiat playing a substantial role. Since the feature doesn’t explore in depth his inspirations (save a mention of William S Burroughs), he often feels like a coincidental presence. Driver can’t seem to decide between telling the story of the setting or the character.
On top of the filmmaker’s wobbly direction, the piece feels like it’s been cut together by a lethargic editor. Documentaries on punky art tend to move with the pace of an athlete or a gun-fight, whereas Boom for Real barely has a pulse.
Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat is released in select cinemas on 22nd June 2018.
Watch the trailer for Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat here: