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aka NEW YORK BEAT MOVIE
USA: Zeitgeist Films
Cast: Jean Michel Basquiat, August Darnell, Debbie Harry, John Lurie, David McDermott, Glenn O'Brien, Walter Steding
Director: Edo Bertoglio
USA Release Date: 13 July 2001 (Limited Release)
DOWNTOWN 81 is a feature film starring the legendary American artist Jean Michel Basquiat (1960-1988.) Basquiat was a 19 year-old painter, graffiti artist, poet and musician when he played the lead in this film, which vividly depicts the explosive downtown New York art and music scene of 1980-81. Basquiat was an important figure on that scene. He had yet to have his first exhibition. But his paintings and words were part of the city landscape. Today, his paintings hang in museums and important collections around the world and he is internationally recognized as one of the most important artists of the late twentieth century.
The film is a day in the life of a young artist who needs to raise money to reclaim the apartment from which he has been evicted. He wanders the downtown streets carrying a painting he hopes to sell, encountering friends, whose lives (and performances) we peek into. He finally manages to sell his painting to a wealthy female admirer, but he's paid by check. Low on cash, he spends the evening wandering from club to club, looking for a beautiful girl he had met earlier, so he'll have a place to spend the night.
Basquiat is a natural actor - witty, radiant, the epitome of coolness and artistic exuberance. The cast includes Deborah Harry, and leading bands of the era including Kid Creole and the Coconuts, James White and the Blacks, DNA, Tuxedo Moon, the Plastics, and Walter Steding and the Dragon People. Also heard on the soundtrack are rap legend Melle Mel, John Lurie, Lydia Lunch, Suicide, Vincent Gallo, Kenny Burrell and Basquiat's own band, Gray.
DOWNTOWN 81 is not a documentary and is a recut version of the original movie shot in 1980-81,entitled NEW YORK BEAT. It was written and co-produced by the well known writer Glenn O'Brien, produced by Maripol, the art director and stylist, and directed by photographer Edo Bertoglio, all of whom were deeply involved in the art, music and fashion scenes of the time. The Director of photography was John McNulty, one of New York's top lighting men, shooting his first feature.