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film

Basquiat

WELL, IT’S REALLY not that bad.

That was my gut reaction to a screening of artist Julian Schnabel’s directorial debut. Previous ’80s-artist-becomes-filmmaker vehicles (David Salle’s Search and Destroy, Robert Longo’s Johnny Mnemonic) had been poor precedents at best, and long delays in scheduling the screening had led me and others to speculate that the film’s distributor, Miramax, had gotten cold feet; but I left Basquiat (a flat-footed retitling of Schnabel’s original Build a Fort, Set It on Fire) with a peculiar sense of pleasure and/or relief. The ordinary expectations of schadenfreude had been defeated: Really, it’s not so bad. Or even: I liked it.

The audience at this particular screening seemed to consist mainly of art-world types—I know this because several of us continued on to the same dinner party after the movie—and they all needed to get something off their chest: the

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