[1996. Directed by Julián Schnabel. Cast: Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie, Dennis Hopper. Miramax Films. 108 mins.] Artist Julián Schnabel shouldn't be encouraged to give up his day job any time soon. This first-time filmmaker has concocted little more than a half-satisfying glimpse of the 1 980 's Big Apple art worid with his recently released Basqulat. What Schnabel knows about the 1980s NYC Village milieu is compelli ng. Yet his insights aren't translated effectively as a movie. His rambling tale of this fabled street artist who died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27 is only intermittently interesting despite its high-powered background. The film's talented trio of young leading actors - Jeffrey Wright (Jean-Michel Basquiat); Benicio del Toro (friend, Benny Dalmau); and Claire Forlani (girlfriend, Gina Cardinale) - are contrast ed against an all-star supporting cast of would-be hipsters including David Bowie, Willem Dafoe, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Tatum O'Neal and Christopher Walken. Decent performers, one and all, they 're in this fight alone because there isn't much help being provided f rom the director's chair. Schnabel ex hibits no fee) for film narrativo; little sense of cinematic pacing; and, perhaps most unfortunate of all, a penchant for remarkably sophomoríc visual clichés. When wefirst see young Basquiat, he and his mom are standing in front of Picasso's Guernica at MOMA. The pretentious inference, of course, is that he'll someday be worthy of Picasso's mant Ie. But Schnabel wants to mak e su re we get the point. So little six-year-old Basquiat is magically depicted wearing a golden crown (inad vertent iy looking like one of the kids in those schlocky margarine commercials of yestery ear). We next see Basquiat is destiny 's child when Schnabel shows us the 1 9 yearold crawling from acard board box after spending a homeless night on the town. As played by Broadway's Jeffrey Wright, Basquiat is something of a cross between Dostoyevsky's Prince Myshkin and a visual arts idiot savant. The rest of the film's cast strains against equally inadequate characterizations. For example, Dennis Hopper gets lost in the shuttle as arts dealer, Bruno Bischofberger, and David Bowie does a wry imitation of Andy Warhol. Bischofberger we can brush aside (like virtually everyone else in the film), but Schnabel's script reduces one of the few legitimately interesting art personalitles of this hatf-cerrturyinto a one-dimenston ai caricature de void of talent. Schnabel knows better - like we know better. Perhaps Andy Warhol turned himself into a parody of himself, but it's also easier to score laughs off a dead man than K is to craft a reasonable portrayal of the many contradictions he presented to modem art. The film only comes to life when Schnabel drops his story to concéntrate on the atmospherics of NYC's East Village arts scène. His visuals are as richly informative as his grasp of thematic narrativo Is nonexistent, but at least we know he 's comfortable at gallery openings. Indeed, had the film been structured as a post-modem Last Year at Marienbad, Schnabel might have sculpted a full-fledged success. His sweeping camera lovingly captures opening night's cupidity with the insight of one who knows of what he speaks. Unfortunately the good times have to e ventually end and Schnabel still has a movieon his hands. And it's between these intermittent bursts of art promotion that Basquiat has to endure. We nave to wait for Schnabel to end the story as he chooses because the film has no other climax to speak of. There may be a point to the filming of this biography, but we're not let in on the secret. Schnabel half-heartedly mingles race and economics with Street aesthetics to Ilústrate the picture of a misunderstood inner-city urchin who literally went from rags to riches to rags again in less than a decade. But Schnabel's heart isn't really in polemics. What's worse, we're ultimately left with only a vague sense of Basquiat's creativity and that's a shame because this is the meat of the story. It's this promiseof revealing Basquiat's potential that propels this unusual biography regard less of its many intrinsic flaws. Schnabel shouldn 't have left half of his movie canvas unfinished. One sensesthat in spite of his personal weaknesses, Basquiat wouldn't have crafted this undisciplined cinematic work of art himself. And this is the final irony because this is why the film was made in the first place. RATING KEY i& Acting 0 Cinematography Direction L Editing Lo Narrative Sound Special Effects Hften a symixV appears lollomng a Díte, il nphes tfial (he comsponding category is a strength of the movie.
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