New York Beat Movie (Downtown 81) (2001)
Originally shot in 1980-81, this film, directed by Edo Bertoglio, is a rare real-life snapshot of ultra-hip subculture of post-punk era Manhattan. Starring renowned artist Jean Michel Basquiat (who died in 1988 at age 27) and featuring such early Village hipsters as Melle Mel, John Lurie, and Lydia Lunch, the film is a bizarre elliptical urban fairytale. The film opens with Jean (Basquiat) in the hospital with an undisclosed ailment. After checking out, he happens upon an enigmatic woman, Beatrice (Anna Schroeder), who drives around in a convertible. He arrives at his apartment only to discover that his landlord is evicting him. Later, while trying to sell his art work, he meets up with musician Arto Lindsay and his band DNA. Jean eventually does manage to sell some of his art work to a rich middle-aged woman who is interested in more than just his art, but she pays with a check. As the film progresses, he wanders the streets of New York, looking for Beatrice. He happens upon a bag lady (Debbie Harry) who turns into a princess when he kisses her. As a reward, she gives him a stack of cash. Abandoned in the mid-'80s due to financial problems, producer Maripol Fauque rediscovered the film and cleaned it up in 1999. It was screened at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. … More
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Critic Reviews for New York Beat Movie (Downtown 81)
A fascinating if fragmented, dreamlike look at the downtown art-music-fashion scene of a yeasty, creative era.
A crudely poetic inventory of the people and places about to rock pop culture.
Performances by DNA and the Plastics alone are worth the price of admission.
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.
It captures the youthful excitement of a burgeoning creative movement.
Although Basquiat is effortlessly charismatic, he isn't given much to do; the film leans heavily on narration, much of which crosses the line separating poetic from pretentious.
Invaluable because it catches the sights, sounds and moods of a city that are of a bygone era.
It's not a great film, but rather disjointed as nothing really makes sense. But considering this is the only glimpse one would ever see of Basquiat before he was discovered by Andy Warhol, this film is somewhat of a masterpiece.
Director Edo Bertoglio and writer-producer Glenn O'Brien gave [Basquiat] little to do but walk around and look pretty.
a sweet, harmless vision that never quite overcomes the lack of story...
A paean to funky neighborhoods before gentrification and gritty, neon-flecked streets before SUVs.
A film of considerable pleasure, not least the archival footage and evocation of a city and individuals fair brimming with life.
As a piece of cinematic art, this meandering, shambolic film isn't much to speak of, but as a time capsule, it's priceless.
Presents the underground culture and brings its pretentiousness along with it.
Audience Reviews for New York Beat Movie (Downtown 81)
"Downtown 81" wants to be transcendent and wants to the cognoscenti on art and culture. I'm not sure if it achieves just that (it probably doesn't,) but it does manage to capture the small pockets of culture in Manhattan that revolves around music, visual arts, fashion, etc. If anything the film is a fascinating time capsule that looks like a documentary and has the ultra-left ideas and attitudes of the people in the place imbedded in the screenplay.
As the film progresses it gets more and more avant-garde, and like the hip drugged youth in the film whose ambitions only go as far as their ecstacy/ketamine/THC-suppressed drive for change, the film also feels as if it nearly loses sight of its original ambition and scope, especially in the 2nd and 3rd act. The film embraces its disjointedness and converts itself into, what might as well be, a compilation of electrifying, kinetic music videos, as inane and aimless they may be.
But, at the same time it is an impeccable showcase of the area's culture and the people whom it belongs to. Other than the premise, which is still somewhat interesting, most notably with the charming ending, some choices in editing and camera angles are questionable. At best the film, which is really just an embodiment of one idea after the other, is moderately interesting. Perhaps amusing or a pleasant distraction. Just don't expect it to be nearly as enriching as it pretends to be.
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