In 1981, Rolling Stone famously ran a cover story about Jim Morrison with the headline “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, and He’s Dead.” It would also be an appropriate tagline for Sara Driver’s documentary Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat, which covers the artist at his hottest and sexiest, though it ends seven years before his Morrison-y death by heroin overdose at the Morrison-y age of 27. The Morrison cover is merely coincidental and not mentioned in the film, which follows Basquiat’s rise from scrappy street kid in 1978 who developed a proto-Banksy air of mystery with his SAMO-signed graffiti, to a celebrated artist in 1981 bound for more profitable things.
Driver uses Basquiat as a springboard for a wider history of the Lower East Side art scene — something also covered in last year’s Shadowman, a documentary about the singularly unpleasant Richard Hambleton, who is briefly spotted in an archival photo — and there’s a solid six-minute stretch in Boom for Real in which Basquiat isn’t mentioned at all. And while the punk scene is mentioned, more time is spent on the burgeoning hip-hop scene, as well as the influence of industrial bands such as Einstürzende Neubauten on Basquiat. In doing so, Boom for Real sheds new light on an already well-mythologized era.
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.