Movie Review: The Radiant Child (2010)
Plot Summary (Taken from IMDB): Director Tamra Davis pays homage to her friend in this definitive documentary but also delves into Basquiat as an iconoclast. His dense, bebop-influenced neoexpressionist work emerged while minimalist, conceptual art was the fad; as a successful black artist, he was constantly confronted by racism and misconceptions.
My Review: One of the best things about this documentary was how well its subject matter was presented. The director Tamra Davis did an excellent job combining her own personal interview footage of Jean-Michel Basquiat with interviews of those who knew and worked with him. In addition, images of Basquiat’s artwork were well shown because you also see what influenced it. For instance, you would see footage of the cut-out method used by the poet William S. Burroughs and then see that method in a colorful Basquiat painting.
Another good aspect about this documentary was how Langston Hughes’ poem “Genius Child” was used to sum up his life. The poem is used as an epigraph at the beginning of the film and then spoken aloud as an epitaph at the end. For the first time viewers, it haunts them and makes them think more about who they are learning about.
Besides the use of the poem “Genius Child”, the way blues, jazz, and classical music was used in the film was poignant. It immerses the viewer in different moments in Basquiat’s life and puts the viewer in either Basquiat’s point-of-view or his peers point-of-view. One example is when his work ethic is being described and you hear fast-paced jazz music. As a viewer, one can then imagine Basquiat painting like crazy.
The only flaw in the film is that you don’t see if Basquiat influenced any of today’s artists. Given that Basquiat was a graffiti artist and then a painter during the emergence of hip-hop culture, he must have had some influence on hip-hop artists today. In fact, it would have been interesting to see if Basquiat influenced any of today’s artists in general. His work that focused on black history could have easily been an influence on today’s Afrofuturism culture.
Overall, this was a great documentary on a brilliant yet fragile artist. I recommend this to any art enthusiast and any black person who wants to see art they can relate to.