Downtown 81

"OK"

Downtown 81 Review


Read this and see if you can tell me what it means:

Yes, that's right! There's an empty space in the middle where the word "SPACE" should be. Don't break your arm patting yourself on the back, because it's pretentious and means absolutely nothing. The same can be said for some of the artists, filmmakers, performers, and musicians from NYC's downtown scene in the early '80s, where anyone with this kind of lingo could be a great artist if Andy Warhol or [Insert Pretentious Mover, Shaker, Coffee Drinker's Name Here] said so. Do you really think we'd be talking about Jean Michel Basquiat if Warhol hadn't shined a spotlight on him? More to the point, do you really think we'd be talking about Basquiat if Julian Schnabel's (admittedly pretty enjoyable [Not! -Ed.]) movie hadn't made him into a romantic myth?

Along comes Edo Bertoglio's Downtown 81, originally called New York Beat Movie. This supremely awful and compulsively watchable 72-minute featurette is making its world theatrical premiere after missing parts of the film (lost in Europe, my dears) were rediscovered in 1998. Watch the 19-year old Basquiat, playing himself, wander the Lower East Side for 24 hours in search of -- what? Some miracle to pay the rent with $500 he doesn't have. With a painting tucked under his arm, this young artiste pounds the Lower East Side pavement encountering various trendsetters from the early '80s, ducks into various clubs, paints some graffiti throughout urbania, and says faux-witty things in voice-over like, "Sometimes you feel like life is killing you."

Much of the time, Downtown 81 is supremely boring and steeped in a low budget variation of mystical '80s excess. Basquiat himself is handsome but vapid, a sounding board for philosophical drivel that gives tortured, penniless artists a bad name. If it weren't for the beautiful representation of a disenfranchised neighborhood, back in a time when downtown meant burnt out factory buildings around every corner and a sea of grungy street life meandering around every corner, it'd be simply insufferable. Yet there's something to be said for movies as time capsules, representing the textures, colors, filth and flimsiness of New York during a time where artists were pushing boundaries and breaking new ground with punk rock, experimental film, disturbing art -- a decaying, angry mirror to the Reagan years. (Amos Poe, who has a small role in Downtown 81, was among the filmmakers at this time making far sharper filmic representations of the climate, though I don't see any commercial doors opening up for The Foreigner, his collaboration with Eric Mitchell. Instead, we get Edo Bertogio's love letter to Basquiat.)

In addition to the vivid portrait of city streets and shitty taxi cabs, crowded art clubs and braying landlords, there is a vibrant and eclectic blend of diverse music found in Downtown 81. Onscreen (in club scenes and rehearsal rooms seen through the glazed eyes of Basquiat) is the tacky excess of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, complete with dancing girls on the sidelines doing the herky-jerky "bad dancing" we remember from the early, early days of MTV. Then there's the power trio, DNA, who walk back and forth playing their guitars and drums with nary a care in the world. (Screw you if you don't like it, they imply.) The Plastics, a gonzo Japanese band, epitomize the best and worst of new wave in their "shiny shopping bag of mania" performance. How else would you describe them? Huh? Huh? Thought so!

Not seen live but livening up the soundtrack are Melle Mel (yes!), John Lurie of Lounge Lizards fame, Lydia Lunch, Suicide, and Vincent Gallo. If Edo Bertoglio had decided instead to stuff this truly radical mix of performers in the same room and turn the cameras on, he might have had something truly special. Downtown 81 is a better mix tape than a movie -- expect the soundtrack to clutter the shelves of Virgin Megastore right next to the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and the Clash -- all lined up in a neat little row! I'm never gonna stop throwing up. These bands were radicals at one time, but I would hate to meet the crowd that's gonna buy this shit at Virgin. Doesn't that defeat the whole intention? Has everything become co-opted? I digress, but someone's gotta say it!

The posters for Basquiat -- I mean, Downtown 81, are gonna tell you it's "New York the way it was...when it was...." Fair enough, but all I have to say is: where the hell is perpetual blowhard Rockets Redglare? And if you don't know who that is, this ain't the movie for you.

Aka New York Beat Movie.

Spot the artist.



Downtown 81

Facts and Figures

Run time: 72 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 14th March 2001

Distributed by: Zeitgeist

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 6

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Edo Bertoglio

Producer: Maripol

Starring: as Himself

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Cars 3 Movie Review

Cars 3 Movie Review

It's been six years since the last Cars movie (there were two Planes movies in...

The Beguiled Movie Review

The Beguiled Movie Review

In her inimitable loose style, Sofia Coppola remakes the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie from a...

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

The surprisingly thoughtful prequel trilogy comes to a powerful conclusion with this robust, dramatic thriller,...

It Comes At Night Movie Review

It Comes At Night Movie Review

This sharply original horror film not only approaches its premise from an unexpected angle, but...

Okja Movie Review

Okja Movie Review

As Tilda Swinton reteams with her Snowpiercer director, Korea's Bong Joon Ho, it's perhaps unsurprising...

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

This may be the third reboot of this franchise in 15 years, risking audience exhaustion,...

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Actually the fourth film in the series (don't forget the prequel Minions), this animated super-villain...

Advertisement
Baby Driver Movie Review

Baby Driver Movie Review

Wildly energetic and so cool it hurts, this action movie has been put together in...

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

There's a clear sense that this Tupac Shakur biopic is hoping to build on the...

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

With this fifth Transformers movie, it seems clear that Michael Bay is still trying to...

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.