Jean-Michel Basquiat in DOWNTOWN 81 Resurfaces in Remastered and Digitally Restored Debut



Revisit NYC’s Downtown Scene Circa 1981 with Indie Cult Classic Starring Renowned Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and featuring Debbie Harry, Fab Five Freddy, Arto Lindsay, Kid Creole and the Coconuts and More!

Featuring Music By Blondie, DNA, The Plastics and Others

“Jam-packed with riveting performances by some of the hottest underground Gotham bands of the early ’80s, “Downtown 81? is an extraordinary real-life snapshot of hip, arty, clubland Manhattan in the post-punk era.” -Variety
“Basquiat is a joy to watch. He floats through the movie with cool grace and unflagging energy.”
– ArtForum
A film by Edo Bertoglio
A film by Edo Bertoglio

For some, it would be hard to imagine New York City before Starbucks’ inhabited every street corner, but in 1981 the streets of downtown Manhattan were occupied by abandoned buildings, drug dealers, prostitutes, strip clubs and porn shops. Hidden among the ruins of these pre-Giuliani streets was an underground scene bubbling with new music, new talent, new art, and new expression all merging into one powerful force of energy.

Into the middle of this cultural explosion comes the documentary-style film Downtown 81 (aka New York Beat Movie), an imaginative, fantastical drama shot circa 1981, featuring at-the-time obscure artists poised for fame such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Debbie Harry, Fab Five Freddy, and Lee Quinones to name a few. Not only does Downtown 81 present an electric synergy between modern art, hip-hop and new wave music, it also provides a looking glass into an historic frame of New York City’s cultural storyboard.

Downtown 81 immediately introduces audiences to a young artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 19-years old and prior to his discovery by Andy Warhol, a struggling hipster artist wandering the streets of Alphabet City on the hunt for funds to avoid eviction. With painting in tow, he travels through downtown nightclubs, happening parties, and underground joints while encountering painters, models, junkies, graffiti artists, rappers and rockers along the way — not to mention a fairy tale princess disguised as a bag lady (Blondie’s Debbie Harry), among many other familiar cameos.

Originally titled New York Beat Movie, the narrative feature Downtown 81 was written and co-produced by well-known writer Glenn O’Brien, who was once a member of Andy Warhol’s Factory, editor of Interview magazine, an influential music critic columnist, and the host of “TV Party” a local NYC public program. With O’Brien’s influence, Downtown 81 is styled to present an almost romanticized version of the energized fusion of art and music which permeated the streets at that time.

Downtown 81 features an eclectic soundtrack with music by Blondie, DNA, Tuxedomoon, The Plastics, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, James White and the Blacks, Gray, Liquid Liquid, Walter Steding, John Lurie, Marvin Pontiac, Lydia Lunch, Suicide and Melle Mel.

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.

Nearly 20 years in the making and originally filmed by Swiss photographer Edo Bertoglio on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1981, the film was not actually completed until 2000, two years after Basquiat’s untimely death. Now, 14 years later, Downtown 81 has been remastered and restored for its special digital debut on June 24, 2014.