Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (3 stars)

Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Sara Driver's unshowy documentary presents a personal take on the rise of the eponymous artist

The title of Sara Driver's documentary is highly specific; unconcerned with the childhood development of the American artist, nor considering his adult success, Boom for Real looks at Basquiat's emergence in the late 70s New York art scene, ending abruptly as he sells his first painting. It's tricky to justify such a restricted focus, but Driver gets enough access to the artist's contemporaries to make this granular approach worthwhile.

Initially announcing himself as a graffiti artist as part of the duo SAMO, Basquiat came to prominence as part of a punk wave of unconventional artistry, cycling through various forms of media as his canvas – including music, video, script and painting. His artwork inspired and divided; writing the words 'grape jelly' in grape jelly on a fridge door typifies his offbeat approach. Calmly discussing his potential stardom with other artists, Basquiat is revealed as a self-aware young man, executing his advance to fame with method and agency.

Driver has pulled together a strong collection of anecdotal evidence, with contributors including Fab 5 Freddy and her own partner, director Jim Jarmusch. Less satisfactory is the use of video and archive material: NASA footage of rockets to suggest a career taking off feels like a placeholder, as does an overused clip of Basquiat running. For an artist who dabbled in video, it's frustrating that there's so little of his original work here.

Already the subject of several documentaries and a 1996 narrative feature starring Jeffrey Wright, Basquiat's short career ended in a heroin overdose, aged 27. Driver's unshowy approach pays off by offering a vivid account of nascent talent. The motives behind Basquiat's art may remain elusive, but the film drills down on its subject to offer a personal glimpse of an artist as a young man.

Selected release from Fri 22 Jun.

Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • USA
  • PG
  • Directed by: Sara Driver
  • Cast: Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • UK release: 22 June 2018

Documentary about the emergence in the late 70s of the young Jean-Michel Basquiat, with enough access to his contemporaries to make the narrow focus worthwhile. Driver pulls together a strong collection of anecdotal evidence and it’s a personal glimpse of an artist as a young man.

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