Reviewer's Rating 3 out of 5  
Downtown 81' (2000)

Fashion-photographer Bertoglio's portrait of the sprawling New York art scene circa 1981 - hence the title - was kept from our screens for the best part of 20 years when much of the archive footage was thought to have been lost.

Taking as its main focus the provocative 19-year-old artist Jean-Michel Basquiat - recently immortalised in Julian Schnabel's so-so posthumous bio-pic - who was already well on his way to becoming the face about town with his excursions into street graffiti art and pioneering if primitive electro-beat. No small achievement when that town is New York City. A contemporary of Vincent Gallo, who featured in Basquiat's band, Gray, the precocious teenager was always destined to become something special. More a portrait than a documentary as such, the film, which possesses nothing if not energy, is notable mainly for its contributions, musical and otherwise from New York mainstays such as Debbie Harry, Arto Lindsay, and Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Fab Five Freddie - whom Harry later name checked in her song "Rapture" - also features, rapping for all he is worth.

It's very much a curate's egg and is decidedly uneven in places, with an added voice-over for the Basquiat character which serves little purpose other than to mildly irritate. That said, it's also a film of considerable pleasure, not least the archival footage and evocation of a city and individuals fair brimming with life.

End Credits

Director: Edo Bertoglio

Writer: Glen O'Brien

Stars: Jean-Michael Basquiat, Debbie Harry, Kid Creole & the Coconuts

Genre: Documentary

Length: 100 minutes

Cinema: 13 October 2000

Country: USA

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