Nobody loves a genius child
The documentary The Radiant Child opens with a poem by Langston Hughes titled “Genius Child” where the poet refers to a genius child as a wild and untamed monster, repeating the line “Nobody loves a genius child.” It would be fair to refer to late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat as a genius child, for at the height of his career he was only 25, working with some of the most well-regarded artists in New York City in the 80s, painting stunning works of art in just an hour, and combining his local street knowledge with seemingly deep and sociopolitical issues in his work. However, he was his own worst enemy, using heroine to hide from his own creative ability, which ended his life at the ripe age of 27.
This documentary, created by his friend Tamara Davis, sheds light on never before seen footage that–in pain, sadness, and anger–was stowed away in a drawer 20 years. The Radiant Child displays Basquiat’s developing talent, showing images of him smiling as he paints, along with his relationship to art big wigs such as Andy Warhol, Julian Shnabel and Thurston Moore. The film reveals testimonies of friends and lovers, and serves as a kind of elegy for Davis, his lost friend.
This is also not just any artsy documentary. There are a lot of really cool elements too it when it comes to scenes, music, and history. Basquiat was inspired by the talent, creativity and tragedy of jazz musicians, so the sound track is full of legends like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. The film has some amazing shots of vintage NYC, which seem to have slipped in almost by accident, giving the film a certain charm. Also, if you appreciate street and graffiti art, Basquiat was sort of the founding father of graffiti, creating one of the first tags. Basquiat spray painted poetry on brick walls and subway cars, tagging his work SAMO (Same Old Shit) all over the city. Its always good to know the history of what you love, and The Radiant Child is almost like a history of street art lesson. See this film!
You can see a great example of Basquiat’s work right now in Andy Warhol: The Last Decade at The Brooklyn Museum. Also, if you want to read more about this film, the New York Times has a great review of The Radiant Child. And they say it much better than I do. That’s why I have a blog that 7 people (hopefully?) read and they are…the New York Times.