“In movies there are parallel lives that can run alongside each other like dreams and out of those dreams you can find a configuration that has meaning.” —Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel’s first film was his way of recuperating an intense and important friendship with another artist. It follows the meteoric rise and tragic demise of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died in 1988 at age 27 of a heroin overdose. In one poignant scene, the troubled artist Basquiat cocks his head and peers up towards a large painting with the letters JMB carefully inscribed in its corner. Gary Oldman, playing Schnabel’s alter ego Albert Milo, softly states, “I painted that for a friend of mine who died.” Through the art of film, Schnabel enacts what many of us desire: to be able to not only speak to the dead, but to also say what you could not the first time around.
Basquiat is a vivid portrait of the downtown New York art scene in the 1980s, and of the personal and professional relationships within that world that supported Schnabel as a painter. Collaborating on the screenplay and teaching himself the techniques of cinema, Schnabel’s first foray into the world of movie-making laid the foundation for him to continue his career in film.