Downtown 81 (2001) - Rotten Tomatoes

Downtown 81 (2001)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

The film is a day in the life of a young artist, Jean Michel Basquiat, who needs to raise money to reclaim the apartment from which he has been evicted. He wanders the downtown streets carrying a painting he hopes to sell, encountering friends, whose lives (and performances) we peek into. He finally manages to sell his painting to a wealthy female admirer, but he's paid by check. Low on cash, he spends the evening wandering from club to club, looking for a beautiful girl he had met earlier, so he'll have a place to spend the night. Downtown 81 not only captures one of the most interesting and lively artists of the twentieth century as he is poised for fame, but it is a slice of life from one of the most exciting periods in American culture, with the emergence of new wave music, new painting, hip hop and graffiti.
Art House & International , Comedy , Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:

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Anna Schroeder
as Beatrice
Eszter Balint
as Herself
Victor Bockris
as Conversationalist at Mudd Club
Clem Burke
as The Felons Band Member
Lee Quinones
as Graffiti Artist
Giorgio Giomelsky
as The Landlord
Marshall Chess
as The Thief
Danny Rosen
as Danny
Compton Maddux
as The Chauffeur
Daniela Morera
as Mrs. Cavalcanti
Lisa Rosen
as The Maid
Steve Mass
as The Drunk
Cookie Mueller
as Second Go-Go Dancer
Tom Baker
as Go-Go Bar Habitue
Ronnie Cutrone
as Go-Go Bar Habitue
John Browner
as Go-Go Bar Habitue
Larry "Ratso" Sloman
as Go-Go Bar Habitue
Michael Holman
as Michael
Betsy Sussler
as Mudd Club Conversationalist
Patrick Geoffrois
as Mudd Club Conversationalist
Amos Poe
as Mudd Club Conversationalist
Tav Falco
as Mudd Club Conversationalist
Diego Cortez
as Mudd Club Fist-Fighter
Bradley Field
as Studio Manager
Marty Thau
as Record Mogul
Show More Cast

Critic Reviews for Downtown 81

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (8)

A fascinating if fragmented, dreamlike look at the downtown art-music-fashion scene of a yeasty, creative era.

March 7, 2002
Dallas Morning News
Top Critic

A crudely poetic inventory of the people and places about to rock pop culture.

February 1, 2002
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

Performances by DNA and the Plastics alone are worth the price of admission.

Full Review… | November 2, 2001
Houston Chronicle
Top Critic

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.

September 20, 2001
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

It captures the youthful excitement of a burgeoning creative movement.

July 20, 2001
Mr. Showbiz
Top Critic

It's as a documentary that Downtown 81 is most successful.

July 13, 2001
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for 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.

Edward Stymest
Edward Stymest

Super Reviewer

The voiceover in the beginning of this says something about fairy tales coming true, and the biggest fairy tale is paying $422 to live on the Lower East Side. Of course, when this was made it was still bombed out, beautiful, and covered with poetic graffiti instead of ugly cold glass high rises and corporate sponsored pseudo "street" art by Nintendo. There's not a real narrative but what there is seems certainly relatable.. I mean, Basquiat at this time is an up and coming artist. He goes to the hospital, falls behind on rent, tags his thoughts in public spaces. There are nightclubs, strip joints(with some surly TG strippers! And Cookie Mueller. And the Contortions playing, like back when strippers didn't have to listen to Beyonce all day long.), having a band, unsolved crime. The guy with the weed is not as cool as he thinks, but he's the guy with the weed. The person who actually has the money to buy art is more interested in if it matches her dining room than what it actually expresses.Throughout the course of this there are performances by a bunch of bands like DNA, James White & the Blacks(James Chance),The Plastics, etc. that I'm seriously depressed about having been too young to have caught. The one thing I could have done without is a sub-plot about Jean's flirtation with a very mainstream conventional fashion model cuz, you know, I'm not a 14 year old boy where I think it would be mad cool to date a supermodel. Also because it's weak when self-styled "bohemian" boys get intimidated by girls with comparable creativity, talent, or at least knowledge of obscure music, art, comics and what have you, so they claim to be one way but select uninteresting normal female partners. Also because I've had it confirmed that at that point in his career Basquiat was not gettin' down with norms (if he ever did, I dunno.) Fortunately, this sub-plot remains very minor in the film and ultimately goes nowhere. Apparently this was someone's student film, but it looks pretty polished.

Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz
Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

A weird movie to take in. it's kind of fiction, kind of documentary, kind of a concert movie, all and none at the same time, with some cool Basquiat graffiti and drawings scattered around (no big paintings though, sorry, save for the one he carries around and tries to sell). It also makes me really want to check out *some* of the music (it's either really amazing or really ear-bleeding). Oh, and Debby Harry has a weird WTF cameo.

Jack Gattanella
Jack Gattanella

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