Walk through NYC with Jean Michel Basquiat in Downtown 81 screening at Lightbox - WXPN
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Starring 19-year-old future superstar painter Jean Michel Basquiat, Downtown 81is a gritty, yet intimate documentary-style snapshot of New York City’s famed downtown art and music scene of the late 70s and early 80s. In the time the film was made, New York was made up of an impossibly rich and diverse tapestry of culture. Ranging from hip-hop to punk, new wave to no wave, disco and post-disco, graffiti to ballroom to performance and conceptual art, New York’s creative community’s laid down a wealth of artistic innovations that continue to ripple through contemporary art and music today.

At the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, Swiss photographer and documentarian Edo Bertoglio’s film Downtown 81 was premiered to warm and excited reviews. Originally shot — and thought to be lost — in the early 80s, by the time the film was actually screened, Downtown81’s status had reached near-mythic proportions. Although the film was mostly recovered in the years leading up to the 2000 Cannes screening, unfortunately, the recording containing Basquiat’s original dialogue was lost. To compensate, Basquiat’s voiceover narration was re-dubbed by famed poet Saul Williams.

On November 22nd, Lightbox Film Center will host a screening of Downtown 81. In a recent interview with VICE, Edo Bertoglio talked about casting Basquiat in the film and how it captured New York’s beating artistic heart through Basquiat’s eyes and performances from James Chance, Kid Creole & The Coconuts and legendary no wave ensemble DNA.

“We weren’t thinking about Basquiat becoming a big star, he was just a kid,” Bertoglio said. “We knew him from the Mudd Club. I was living at Broadway and Bleeker and would walk out on the street and see his graffiti on the walls, [and] also in the Lower East Side; then, I’d see him at the clubs. We wanted the film to show a slice of the downtown scene. What tied it together was the music, that’s why there’s so much music in the film. we wanted to show what was happening in the downtown scene, all these artists who lived in little apartments, we’d see each other every night. Everyone was there doing underground movies, a lot of work came out of those years.”  

Watch a trailer to Downtown 81 below and get information on the Lightbox screening here.

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