A beautifully produced feast for the eyes, Sara Driver’s new documentary, Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat is chock-full of information, (skillfully edited) entertaining, uplifting, informative, gripping, and, most of all, a love letter to artists, art lovers, and the East Village. The October 8th screening was one of the very first showings of the finished film, as well as the New York premiere; it was shown as part of the New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall, with Driver and many of the film’s collaborators in attendance. It has recently been acquired by Magnolia Pictures and will open in theatres in 2018.
The film spans only three years: 1978-1981, but is vibrant and incredibly exciting; New York was a volatile city in the 1970s - filled with poverty, crime, and desperation, but also a breeding ground for new ideas, art, freedom and the joy of possibility. It was a cheap place to live, and artists were able to create and explore ideas and different ways of existing; unburdened by so many of the trappings of domestic life their parents – the generation who gave birth to the Baby Boomers – had dreamed of. It was the perfect place for Basquiat (a native Brooklynite) to create; in 1978, eighteen-year-old Basquiat begin crashing at friends’ apartments, absorbing the city, hanging out at the Mudd Club, partying, asking many questions, falling in love, exploring ideas, exposing himself and his work to other artists, taking drugs and, most importantly, painting. Driver mentioned in the Q&A after the screening that she hoped the film would inspire young people to invest in their dreams and not to settle for what others may expect of them - to allow themselves to grow, develop, and blossom.
Some of the film’s contributors and collaborators include the graffiti artist who was the first to paint subway cars: Lee Quiñones, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, art critic Carlo McCormick, writer Luc Sante, singer/songwriter Felice Rosser (who has the last spoken line in the film and I won’t spoil it for you here because it’s so terrific) fashion stylist and designer Patricia Field, hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, filmmakers Michael Holman and Coleen Fitzgibbon, archivist and embryologist Alexis Adler, painters James Nares and Kenny Scharf, and the assistant publisher of Bomb Magazine, Mary-Ann Monforton, also one of Basquiat’s many lovers. It was such a joy to see so many familiar faces: their candor, humor and insight contributed greatly to the film’s richness and depth. The film also has an extensive, fabulously curated selection of B-roll footage including covers from Leonard Abrams’ downtown magazine the East Village Eye (1979-1987), many images from Colab’s (the artists’ group Collaborative Projects) Real Estate Show and the Times Square Show (both 1980) and bits and bobs of the happenings at the Mudd Club and Club 57.
The film is dedicated to the memory of Glenn O’Brien who passed away this past April and was also a contributor to the film. Boom for Real chronicles Basquiat’s discovery of himself as an artist and his rise as a creative force and public figure, not his downfall. His use of language in his paintings was inspired in part by the work of William S. Burroughs: he was as much of a wordsmith as he was a visual artist. He painted not only on canvases but on walls and the sides of buildings, furniture, household appliances and clothing - many pieces of which were sold in Pat Field’s now defunct store on Eighth Street. This film is not going to break your heart; it will lift you up and make you cheer. Driver has created an extraordinary work of art: Boom for Real is enlightening, enthralling, intelligent, articulate, and inspiring. It is one of the best documentaries I have seen about the birth of an artist. Driver is a hugely skilled filmmaker with compassion for her subjects and she has given us a gorgeous gift that was worth waiting for: it’s one helluva film.