Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child fills in all the blank spaces concerning this epoch defining artist in a bio-documentary from filmmaker Tamra Davis. Davis had the good sense to make such offbeat studio films as Half Baked and Billy Madison to give her the street cred to launch a full-scale examination of one of the best artists of the late 20th-entury. From the beginning we see footage of Basquiat shot on video in an L.A. hotel room just over 20 years ago. Subtitles inform us that the footage was put in storage upon news of his death shortly thereafter.

When Davis did pull out the footage two decades later it inspired the kind of ironic documentary that places events of importance alongside a chronological chart of the scene. In this case the scene includes the late-70s, early-80s punk/new wave movement in NYC best exemplified by Blondie and Talking Heads but also including the cable access show to end all cable access shows TV Party hosted by Glenn O’Brien, a chief talking head in Radiant Child. Basquiat would make many appearances on TV Party, sometimes supplying nonsensical teleprompter script along the bottom of the screen.

Radiant Child covers much of the same ground as Julian Schnabel’s fictional version of Basquiat’s life only here we have the actual people (including Schnabel) discussing the artist and his place in art history. 2010 has already seen one excellent docu that took place in the world of progressive fine art with Exit Through the Gift Shop. Now The Radiant Child paints a bittersweet remembrance of the artist, much of it in Basquiat’s own words, which will go down as a definitive portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

— Michael Bergeron