Friday, August 6, 2010

Disconnect the Dots

by Drew Martin

Last week I went to the opening night gala of the Mostly Mozart Festival at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. It was a wonderful evening with great performances by the mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe and pianist Emanuel Ax. The curious thing was that at climatic orchestral moments I felt a disconnect. The music and the movements seemed unrelated. Despite understanding what was physically happening, it appeared to me that the violinists were furiously trying to saw their instruments in half with their bows.

I had a similar sensation a couple days later at the Film Forum when I settled into my seat with a small gathering of silver-haired ladies for a mid-day showing of Tamra Davis' documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. Simply put, the film is a gem. Davis filmed Basquiat painting at the peak of his career and captured a close-up and candid interview with him. Basquiat animates the screen by joyfully dancing in his studio, childishly writing on the canvases and of course, prolifically painting.

The disconnect came in a couple of the studio scenes. He appears to be tired and bored; going through the motions. Although the gesture is that of painting, it was hard for me to understand that he was working on this or that particular canvas. Instead, it seemed like he was at the task of painting an old chair or a rusty fire hydrant. That being said, the ultimate connection is seeing Basquiat's beautiful eyes and radiant smile up close.

Davis' film is the closest one can get to Basquiat now and it makes Julian Schnabel's Basquiat seem obsolete because everything in the latter is a poor substitute, including the copies of the paintings he had his assistants paint (because he did not get permission to use the originals). Schnabel cast for and directed visual references/convincing look-alikes, but everything lacks the soul we see in Davis' film and the bee-bop jazz rhythm that Basquiat expressed liking, which she embraces so well.