Skip to content
Still from Julian Schnabel's Basquiat showing a surfer in the sky

Still from Basquiat, 1996, dir. Julian Schnabel.

The Christmas after 9/11, my older brother returned to Seattle from his first semester at Cooper Union, bringing with him tales of the painter Basquiat and the 1996 biopic Basquiat. I was fourteen and had not yet been to New York; up to this point my visions of the city came from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Home Alone II, Men in Black, Seinfeld and the American Godzilla. Basquiat was my first glimpse of NYC as a place where artists stayed up all night collaborating on records and videos, trading drugs for paintings, endlessly discussing their ideas and passions while chain-smoking in diners and back alleyways; a New York where punks, bohemians, children of the working and elite classes alike could bump shoulders at the same sooty nightclubs. (Shot entirely on location, Basquiat is as much an ode to the good/bad old days of the Lindsay-Koch era as it is, in hindsight, a document of Giuliani-era Manhattan that looks pretty good/bad compared to the version rescaled by the compassionate corporatism of Bloomberg and his successors - but I’m digressing…)