Downtown 81

Downtown 81

About the Film

Starring the legendary American painter, graffiti artist, poet and musician Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Downtown 81 is both a post-modernist fairytale and a vivid depiction of the downtown New York art and music scene in the early 1980s. The film chronicles a day in the life of a 19 year-old starving artist (Basquiat) who must raise money to reclaim the apartment from which he has been evicted. Hoping to sell a painting to earn the rent, he wanders the downtown streets, painting in hand, encountering painters, models, junkies, graffiti artists, rappers and rockers whose lives and performances provide a slice of life from one of the most exciting periods in American culture.

 A virtual "lost" film, shot in 1981 but not completed and released until two decades later, Downtown 81 not only captures one of the twentieth century's most interesting and lively artists in Basquiat, but also features music from many of leading musical artists of the era including Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Tuxedomoon, The Plastics, James White and the Blacks, The Lounge Lizards, and DNA. 

Starring: Jean-Michel Basquiat
Director: Edo Bertoglio

Reactions

"Gives us a glimpse of the city as it was, suggesting that there was something revolutionary, even inspiring, about those days of not-so yore." - John Petrakis, Chicago Tribune

"It's like being present for the opening of a time capsule." - Dave White, IFilm

"....the only glimpse one would ever see of Basquiat before he was discovered by Andy Warhol, this film is somewhat of a masterpiece." - Wilson Morales, Blackfilm.com

Awards & Festivals

  • Bratislava International Film Festival Nominee - Grand Prix

Cast & Crew

Cast

Jean Michel Basquiat: Jean-Michel Basquiat
Fairy Godmother: Deborah Harry
James White: James Chance
Vincent Gallo: Vincent Gallo
Graffiti Artist: Fab 5 Freddy

Crew

Director: Edo Bertoglio
Writer: Glenn O'Brien
Executive Producer: Michael Zilkha
Producer: Maripol, Patrick Montgomery, Glenn O'Brien
Cinematography: John McNulty
Art Director: Maripol
Original Music: Vincent Gallo

Technical Info

Production Year: 1981
Countries of Production: US
Languages: English
Running Time: 1h 15m
Screen Ratio: 1.66: 1
Sound: Dolby
Color: Yes
Rating: R

Theaters

Silver Spring
Maryland
9/13/13

Downtown 81 - Press Page

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Downtown 81 - 4

Awards & Festivals

  • Bratislava International Film Festival Nominee - Grand Prix

Reactions

"Gives us a glimpse of the city as it was, suggesting that there was something revolutionary, even inspiring, about those days of not-so yore." - John Petrakis, Chicago Tribune

"It's like being present for the opening of a time capsule." - Dave White, IFilm

"....the only glimpse one would ever see of Basquiat before he was discovered by Andy Warhol, this film is somewhat of a masterpiece." - Wilson Morales, Blackfilm.com

Detailed Film Info

Downtown 81 was shot in 1980-81. Originally titled " 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.

 

The film is not a documentary, but presents a slightly exaggerated, romantic and magical version of the reality of the time. The entire cast is composed of the movers and shakers on the downtown scene. In 1981, business problems interrupted the completion of post-production, and parts of the film were lost in Europe. Finally after much searching, the missing materials were located in 1998. Post production was begun in 1999 and finished in 2000, supervised by Maripol and Glenn O’Brien and edited by director/editor Pamela French. Executive producer of the film is Michael Zilkha, whose Ze Records released recordings by severals of the bands in the film.

 

THE SOUNDTRACK includes music by: Gray, Jean Michel Basquiat with Andy Hernandez, John Lurie, DNA, Tuxedo Moon, the Plastics, Marvin Pontiac, Kenny Burrell, the Specials, Chris Stein, Melle Mel with Blondie, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, James White and the Blacks, Vincent Gallo, Lydia Lunch, Steve French and Suicide.

 

DNA was recorded live at Vanguard Studios. TuxedoMoon was recorded live at Blank Tapes Studios. The live club performances were recorded on location using the RCA 24 track mobile unit

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