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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

BOOM FOR REAL: Sara Driver On A Moment Whose Moment Has Come

Sara Driver’s delicious, detailed but restlessly suggestive Boom For Real: The Early Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat reaches back three decades to the first days of Basquiat on the streets of New York City and its art scene. It’s a punchy lozenge, capturing formative days of an artist and the witnesses left to its stew of personalities and art-making. “If we don’t tell the history, then others will, who weren’t there and don’t know the truth,” Driver’s friend Alexis Adler said of the time. Adler, who had given the young Jean-Michel, who was 18 in 1978, a key to her place, tripped on a long-buried trove of art and artifacts, including over 150 photos she had taken, which was the impetus for Driver to dive into a series of lost scenes she herself had seen, not limited to musicians, painters, sculptors, filmmakers and dancers,

BOOM FOR REAL 4

So why this moment to capture this very specific slice of moments in Basquiat’s life? This modest but detailed assemblage, this collage?

My friend Alexis Adler, who lived with him from 1979 to 1980, instigated it. Hurricane Sandy hit New York in late November 2012. And I went to her house. She had retrieved all this artwork that she had put away long ago. She retrieved it because of the flooding in her area. All of it fine, and it was over sixty drawings, writings, his notebooks. She remembered that she had a box of clothes that he had painted on, and then these wonderful photographs that she had taken of him when they lived together. When I saw everything she had, I thought, my god, this is such a great window into showing his development, his early development as an artist. And, the city of New York. Just felt like the two went hand-in-hand.

It’s like when a building is torn down, and you might see evidence, traces, of a prior tenement or of a ghost sign of hundred-year-old advertising. Suddenly, there’s this portrait you didn’t know was there.

Right. Exactly. Exactly. It was amazing she had the foresight to keep all this material. He was so transient at that time. People were just throwing away what he was scribbling on. Adler, and Glenn O’Brien, he also kept some of his early work. Very little of it exists.

Since it was because of Hurricane Sandy, in a sense, this film is also an act of God.

[laughs] Yeah. There you go! But the film was also made very much in the spirit of how we’ve made films at that time. I had a lot of trouble getting financing, and this one I just bought a camera and started shooting.

I saw a few names in the producer credits who are known for being in the right place at the right time—Paulo Branco, Christos Konstantakopoulos.

Yeah, they did. They absolutely did. And they’re phenomenal. Christos really got the film just started, Paulo came in and helped. And also Jean Labadie and our French distributor. That was all very helpful! And there are no American names on that group…

When Jim was showing Only Lovers Left Alive in Greece, he said something to the effect that Christos is the kind of guy who might only give you $50,000 but it’s just the right $50,000.

Exactly. He came in early on and he was the reason I was able to s hoot, to get my interviews. But I had to do everything very focused, I had so little money. I had to be very selective as to who I interviewed. Things like that.

7So your ratio of material to archive was small.

Pretty small. We shot the interviews, we had three cameras, my camera, a wonderful guy, Adam Benn, who is a professional cinematographer and then Jim’s brother, Tom Jarmusch was on funky mediums like Super 8.

I’m always amazed by the good stuff Jim gets out of defunct technology, including on his Instagram account.

I know! He’s remarkable, with an amazing eye.

8The film gives the sensation than Jean-Michel was ever-present on “the scene,” and not just one scene, but all these scenes of that moment. Did he seem that way in the moment, a kind of trickster in the margins, on the corner. Was he just a figure who just happened to be everywhere?

I think all of us were everywhere! Everybody was going to see bands, going to see peoples’ shows. We were all in the same area… I think Luc [Sante in the film] describes him as “impish,” and, yeah, sort of everywhere.

You offer a sense of him, not as fully formed in any way, but this very rich apparition. The movie feels like a collective memory, and from what you just said, and the dredging up of the archive, it’s like this fragment was a ghost film that hadn’t been made, or distilled. But it was floating above everyone who shared this moment with him, and that would include you.

Right. I feel, in a way—I was thinking the other day—I knew him the way I depict him in the film. Which is, seeing him on the street. Seeing him interacting… And yes, I always wanted to make the film where he was a ghost in the film, he was like a touchstone. A lot of people, I know, are so curious where he came from, but I thought an interesting way to approach an artist, to show the environment that nurtured him in these very formative years.

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“I always thought that once I had lived in Chicago for a while, it would be interesting to do a portrait of the city – but to do it at a significant time. Figuring out when would be the ideal time to do that was the trick. So when this election came around, coupled with the Laquan McDonald trial, it seemed like the ideal time to do the story. Having lived in Chicagoland for thirty-five-plus years and done a number of films here, I’ve always been struck by the vibrancy of the city and its toughness. Its tenderness too. I’ve always been interested in the people at the center of all the stories. This is a different film in that regard, because we’re not following a couple of individuals over the course of the project in the way that a lot of the films I’ve done have, but I still feel like people’s voices and aspirations and hopes are at the center of this series.

It wasn’t easy. We started back in July 2018, it was actually on the Fourth of July – that was our first shoot. It’s like most documentaries in that the further you go along the more involved and obsessed you get, and you just start shooting more and more and more. We threw ourselves into this crazy year in Chicago. We got up every day and tried to figure out if we should be out shooting or not, and what it is we should shoot. We were trying to balance following this massive political story of the mayor’s race and these significant moments like the Laquan McDonald trial with taking the pulse of people in the city that we encounter along the way and getting a sense of their lives and what it means to live here. By election day, Zak Piper, our producer, had something like six cameras out in the field. You could double-check that, it might have been seven. We had this organized team effort to hit all the candidates as they were voting, if they hadn’t already voted. We hit tons of polling places, were at the Board of Elections and then were at the parties for the candidates that we had been able to follow closely. Then of course, we were trying to make sure we were at the parties of the candidates who made it to the runoff. So, yeah, it was kind of a monster.”
~ Steve James On City So Real

“I really want to see The Irishman. I’ve heard it’s big brother Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. But I really can’t find the time. The promotion schedule is so tight, there’s no opportunity to see a three and a half-hour movie. But I really want to see it. In 2017, right before Okja’s New York premiere, I had the chance to go to Scorsese’s office, which is in the DGA building. There’s a lovely screening room there, too, with film prints that he’s collected. I talked to him for about an hour. There’s no movie he hasn’t seen, even Korean films. We talked about what he’s seen and his past work. It was a glorious day. I’ve loved his work since I was in college. Who doesn’t? Anyone involved with movies must feel the same way.”
~ Bong Joon-ho