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BOOM FOR REAL is a great doc about Jean-Michel Basquiat, and about a community of artists and friendship - contains a lot of love

Charlie Ahearn (Wild Style), Sara Driver (Boom For Real), Jessica Green (Maysles programmer)


BOOM FOR REAL 5/2/18 Sneak Preview screening at Maysles Cinema, NYC - event notes

I had not watched a movie at Maysles Cinema before so I was excited to go see Sara Driver's new documentary BOOM FOR REAL, about artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, on Wednesday 5/2/18 night.  I was glad that I got there early - the event sold out.  Maysles Cinema is a small venue but when I sat down I was very impressed with the size of the screen.  I am showing my new movie Werewolf Ninja Philosopher at Maysles 10/25-31 of this year, so it was nice to see that I would be screening at a great venue.  All of the seats got filled, and the Maysles staff had to break out some folding chairs for the overflow crowd, and then the event started.

Maysles programmer Jessica Green gave a great introduction to the show.

Here are some thoughts I had about the movie:

I had seen a couple of documentaries about Basquiat and the early 80s NYC art scene before.  But BOOM FOR REAL covered new ground.  Driver said she used never before seen material that was stashed away in a vault for 30 years when creating the documentary.  Even though the main focus of the documentary was Basquiat, the movie steps back at one point and explains in some detail the late 1970s and early 1980s art world in NYC - apparently A LOT of artists were doing a lot of work - experimenting with various art forms, putting on DIY events, and attempting to network with the more established NYC art world in some cases.  I think there is still a lot of interesting information that was not covered by the documentary - about the art world in NYC back then.  Perhaps that could be a subject of a Netflix or Amazon documentary series or a drama series (and Driver would be a great producer/director for such a series).

Driver approaches the subject of Basquiat not just as a series of facts and figures, names and accomplishments - but instead places him in relation to his friends, lovers, co-workers on art projects - the community.  So a more complete and whole image of Basquiat emerges in BOOM FOR REAL.  The documentary charts not only his progress from one type of work to other, but also tells us about the evolving idea that Basquiat had about himself - in today's terms, how he developed his brand.  Very few artists have achieved the heights of success that Basquiat achieved while he was alive (and the value of his paintings have skyrocketed since his death) - and that success was not just due to luck.  Basquiat was apparently the creative and career building genius that people say he was.  So, unlike in other documentaries, hearing about Basquiat from his friends in great detail and also those who observed NYC art world changes, Basquiat's rise within it, BOOM FOR REAL gives us a more detailed picture about the artist and the time period.

There is also love, kindness, sympathy in this documentary.  Driver and others involved with the documentary are making a work about a friend that they miss - perhaps a friend whose death some are still having a difficult time accepting.  When the movie ended a couple of people in the audience had tears in their eyes and were attempting to hold back those tears as they asked questions from Driver during the Q&A session.

The fact that Basquiat was one of the few minority/Haitian-American/Black artists working in NYC in that particular art scene at the time was briefly commented on by a couple of subjects in the documentary.  During the Q&A a friend of Basquiat said that Basquait felt isolated in the arts community as a Black person, but that he was also able to succeed as few others had - that he was aware of the fact that he was, to some, a token, symbolic artist - but he was able to use that view to his benefit.  There is perhaps more to explore in that area - the racial politics of the time, and how Basquiat may have been affected by it.

One of the inspiring aspects of the documentary is being able to see young artists working together, putting on shows, making art for art's sake (in most cases), participating in DIY creativity - music making, movie making, painting, and more.  Reminded me of the 1990s DC punk/indie rock scene.  A positive, connected, useful community is essential for everyone's soul - perhaps specially for artists.  It was encouraging to see such a thing and to be reminded that such ways of being are possible.

All in all it was a great event.  I had an excellent time.  Check out BOOM FOR REAL when you can.  Watch it at a movie theater if you can.  Because the larger than life stories in the doc deserve to be seen large, experienced large - the large screen will make it easier for you to lose yourself in the story and events.  And watching the movie with other humans in the same space, with digital devices turned off, away from other cares of the day may create in you a positive reflection of the communal story and feelings that unfold on the screen.

Charlie Ahearn, Sara Driver, Sujewa Ekanayake - 5/2/18, Maysles Cinema