Not a full-on Link Wray bio like the title might suggest to some, Oren Jacoby’s documentary Shadowman looks at the life of a singularly unpleasant man: Richard Hambleton, whose signature works were Hiroshima-esque painted shadows of humans found on walls in some of the gnarliest parts of New York. He was as venerated in the early-1980s Manhattan street-art scene as the more famous Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, and Banksy later cited him as an inspiration.
But Hambleton was also a heroin addict, and every time he was given an opportunity to get back on his feet — and being a straight white man, he was given countless second chances — he blew it, due to a combination of his smack habit and his general alpha-male stubbornness about what it means to be an artist. He also fully indulged in that tendency common to both addicts and alphas to blame everyone but themselves for their lot in life. As a result, Shadowman’s attempts to deify him as being a brave hero who colored outside the lines or whatever in the denouement rings false. Hambleton died last month, long after the movie was finished and making the festival rounds; one doesn’t want to speak ill of the recent dead, but sometimes you gotta call a junkie a junkie.
Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.