In 1983, filmmaker Tamra Davis, then working at a Los Angeles art gallery, struck up an acquaintance with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, subsequently shooting a lengthy interview with him in 1985. She cut her footage of him, capturing a handsome, enthusiastic, articulate young man into a 20-minute film, screened at MOCA's major Basquiat retrospective 20 years later. Davis then realized she had the nucleus of a documentary that would take years to complete, tracking down archival materials and the numerous people who knew him before his drug-related death at 27 in 1988.
"Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child" is a remarkably rich documentary possessing depth, range, insight and compassion. Basquiat was born into an upper middle-class Brooklyn family. Although intermittently felled by psychiatric problems, his mother exposed him to great museum art an early age. By 17, Basquiat found refuge in the teeming lower Manhattan art and club scene of the early '80s, and was nudged from graffiti artist to a full-fledged painter who could "paint with words" by curator and art dealer Diego Cortez.