Jean-Michel Basquiat in DOWNTOWN 81

Starring Renowned Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and Featuring Debbie Harry, Fab Five Freddy, Arto Lindsay, Kid Creole and the Coconuts with Music by Blondie, DNA, The Plastics



downtown-81-5801The desolate streets of Manhattan’s lower east side in the early 1980s were permeated with abandoned buildings, drug lords and vagabonds – but the underground scene was bubbling with an electrifying fusion of art and music. At the beginning of this newfound energy was Swiss photographer Edo Bertoglio, poised to capture the imaginative, fantastical drama, DOWNTOWN 81. The film, a documentary-style narrative, features then-obscure artists on the brink of fame, such as a nineteen-year-old Jean-Michel Basquiat, Debbie Harry, Fab Five Freddy and Lee Quinones.

Originally titled New York Beat Movie, Downtown 81, which took nearly 20 years to complete, is both a post-modernist fairytale and a vivid depiction of the downtown New York art and music scene in the early 1980s. For the first time, this indie cult-classic will be available as a digitally restored collector’s edition on DVD this June. Special bonus features will include: archival footage, interviews, audio commentary, a special 32-page collector’s booklet and more.


Starring the legendary American painter, graffiti artist, poet and musician Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), DOWNTOWN 81 chronicles a day in the life of a 19-year-old starving artist who must raise money to reclaim the apartment from which he has been evicted. Hoping to sell a painting to earn the rent, he wanders the downtown streets, painting in hand, encountering painters, models, junkies, graffiti artists, rappers and rockers whose lives and performances provide a glimpse into one of the most exciting periods in American culture.


Debbie Harry and Jean-Michel Basquiat
Debbie Harry and Jean-Michel Basquiat


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.


Downtown 81 was written and co-produced by 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 television program.


Although the film was shot in 1981, it was not actually completed until 2000, twelve years after Basquiat’s untimely death. Now, 15 years after its NYC debut, Downtown 81 will be available on DVD beginning June 30, 2015 by Music Box Films and Submarine Deluxe.


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