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The Doc Days of Summer: “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child”

The Doc Days of Summer: “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” (photo)

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Tamra Davis has seen the highs and lows of fame more than most. One of the most successful contemporary female filmmakers around (not to mention the wife of a Beastie Boy), she directed Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Dave Chappelle and Britney Spears in their first leading roles. She offered Drew Barrymore her couch to crash on and Barrymore’s first adult part in 1992’s “Gun Crazy,” a few years after the former child star was told by her agent her career was over at the age of nine, and hung around Kurt Cobain before his untimely passing.

“I’ve been in that position where I’ve seen people who have incredible talent but also who are very sensitive and have a very difficult time dealing with fame,” said Davis. “And I’m always amazed at the people that I know that keep going.”

Consider her latest film, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child,” as a way of keeping alive the memory of her friend, the wildly talented painter who died much too young at the tender age of 27, but not before she and their mutual friend Becky Johnson filmed an interview with him and other additional footage of him painting in 1984. Davis was a film school student working at the Ulrike Kantor Gallery in Los Angeles when she first met Basquiat at a gallery opening and was captivated from the moment he stepped in the room.

The beauty of Davis’ portrait of Basquiat is that it’s much like the man she met that night who insisted on setting up a dance area in the back of the gallery — it’s brash, engaging, impetuous, audacious and ultimately a bit transcendent.

“When you hung out with Jean-Michel, that’s what your world was like,” said Davis. “It was just so fast and so vibrant and he was always listening to all these different kinds of music and everything moved super-fast. I felt like that his world had that collage aspect to it and even now, when I stand in front of his paintings, they’re so loud. There’s so much information just pouring out of them, so I really wanted the film to have that kind of boom for real explosion of ideas.”

07212010_TamraDavisJeanMichelBasquiat.jpgWhile “The Radiant Child” touches on many of the combustible elements in Basquiat’s life — the drug use, the flings with ’80s scenesters like Madonna, the sometimes racist art snobs that claimed his contribution to the form was “practically nil” — it is primarily a celebration of his unusual and groundbreaking neoexpressionist work that marries personal accounts from friends, including Fab 5 Freddy, ex-girlfriends like Suzanne Mallouk and gallery owners such as Larry Gagosian with one of the most extensive retrospectives of his paintings and sketches imaginable.

Amazingly, it almost never left a drawer in Davis’ house. After Basquiat’s death in 1988, Davis shelved the film she had, only dusting it off in 2005 when a friend from the Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art mentioned they would soon be hosting an exhibit of his work. She edited the footage into a short that accompanied the exhibit, but between an offer from Arthouse Films’ David Koh to produce a feature version and Davis’ own desire to get away from the grind of directing narrative features on location away from her family, she decided to get serious about a full-length Basquiat doc.

“Having kids kind of gave me that opportunity to slow down a little bit and dig into projects that needed that kind of devotion and time,” Davis said. “I did like this little cooking show and I also think that gave me the confidence that you don’t really need a lot to make a movie, you just need a camera and a vision, so I was like okay, I think I can do this.”

Once she reached out to Basquiat’s father Gerard, who gave his blessing, Davis went about digging up old photographs and talking up the survivors of the decadent art world of the ’80s like Julian Schnabel. E-mails from photographers would lead to discoveries about Basquiat’s early period as the graffiti artist SAMO© and archival snapshots and recollections of Basquiat would reveal the artist to be a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum at six and recount his traumatic car crash at seven.

07212010_JeanMichelBasquiatRadiantChild3.jpg“Each person I’d talk to was like a new map,” said Davis. “Their memory of Jean-Michel was always so vivid still in their heads that they could even describe like details down to like the color of a car or the street corner they were on. He was such a character that their memories were still so strong.”

Although Davis was reluctant to include herself in the film, it’s her occasional interjections about rescuing her friend from the ever-ringing doorbell when he lived on Crosby Street in New York or sitting atop Mulholland Drive and eating Chinese food in her car that bring a humanity to the picture amidst the experts who rightly praise Basquiat as a visionary and extol his skills as a quick draw artist given to easy inspiration (Warhol envied his speed).

Davis hopes the doc will inspire other young artists to keep pursuing their talent, even if like Basquiat they are rejected at first, and she herself has been reliving her younger days as an independent filmmaker on the festival circuit, excited to travel to Deauville after stops at Sundance and SXSW. The post-screening parties have even brought out a few old friends.

“Chris Rock came [to one of the screenings] and afterwards, we just sat around having the best time saying like, “Chris, we’re still working. Can you believe it?”

Thankfully, Davis is preserving the work of others as well.

“Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” is now playing in New York before opening in Denver and Seattle on August 6th and Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston on August 20th.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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