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“Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child,” The Story of a Bright Light and its Dark End

“Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child,” The Story of a Bright Light and its Dark End (photo)

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Jean-Michel Basquiat gave the world thousands of pieces of art but very few interviews. His friend, filmmaker Tamra Davis (director of the cult films “CB4” and “Half Baked), recorded one of the rare ones in a room at the L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills in June 1986. Basquiat died two years later of a heroin overdose and Davis, worried she might be taking advantage of her friend’s legacy for personal gain, left the footage in a drawer for over 20 years. She was finally convinced to share it with the world, first in a 20-minute short film and now as part of the new feature documentary, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child.”

Davis’ candid interview with Basquiat is only a small (albeit crucial) element of her 93-minute film. The rest is a mixture of archival footage of late ’70s, early ’80s New York and reflections from Basquiat’s friends, collaborators, contemporaries, clients, and lovers. Collectively, they paint a portrait of the artist as a young, brilliant, and fragile young man with an almost uncontrollable need to create, an uncanny ability to filter history and culture through his unique perspective, and a precipitous fall from grace. “The Radiant Child” also features glimpses of many pieces from Basquiat’s prodigious catalog, but they’re just that: glimpses that rarely last longer than a second or two. The film is more interested in appreciating Basquiat’s legacy than any of his individual pieces.

The Basquiat conjured by his associates in “The Radiant Child” excelled at everything (well, almost everything; he never was great at talking about his work on camera). He was a suave dancer, a good friend, an ingenious self-promoter and, of course, a natural artist with a tireless work ethic and a rich sense of his medium’s history. Davis effectively places us right in the middle of the era’s hipster parties, couch surfing, and basement studios, but I wish she’d asked the question “Why?” a bit more.

Why did Basquiat have the sudden and epochal impact that he did? If he became such an enormous overnight success, then why did the biggest galleries and dealers suddenly refuse to work with him? The film’s tendency to favor rosy recollections from Basquiat insiders over probing analysis from art critics might make it play better for aficionados (who can fill in the details) than neophytes (who, like me, were left asking a couple questions).

07212010_radiant2.jpgSince I’m more familiar with the modern independent film world than the Lower Manhattan art scene of the 1980s, I found myself repeatedly drawing comparisons between Basquiat and “The Radiant Child” and another documentary about the art world from earlier this year, Banksy’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” Basquiat first rose to prominence as a graffiti artist with the handle SAMO (for “Same Ol’ Shit”) but like Banksy, Basquiat’s street art was a lot more than simple vandalism: it ran the gamut from pop aburdism to political statement to dry observational humor.

The art world of “Exit Through the Gift Shop” — money-hungry, star-fucking — hasn’t changed much since Basquiat’s days, though in making his own film to satirize it, at least Banksy’s gotten a modicum of revenge against the people who’ve exploited his work. Basquiat, on the other hand, was exploited and then discarded then exploited again once his death made his work that much more of a commodity.

Davis doesn’t necessarily hold the art world responsible for Basquiat’s premature death, but she also doesn’t paint it in a particularly flattering light either. Her view seems to line up with Bansky’s. At best, it’s a necessary evil. At worst, it’s a toxic mix of wannabes and parasites who attach themselves like leeches to genuine talents.

But despite the tragic ending, what lingers about “The Radiant Child” after it’s over is the amazing legacy that its subject left behind. Though it could have used a bit more critical context, the film offers exactly what it promises: a warm and intimate look at a talent who burned brightly, and all too quickly.

“Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” is now playing in New York.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.