For someone whose knowledge of the electric, and tragically brief, career of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is sorely lacking, Tamra Davis’ The Radiant Child serves as a poignant encapsulation of Basquiat’s life, work, and the 1980′s New York City that was his playground and, ultimately, his poison. In other words, The Radiant Child possesses plenty of educational value, and that’s valid for those who have a cursory (or even more) understanding of Basquiat’s story going into the film as well. But what really sets this superb documentary apart is its filmic vibrance: it practically pulsates with a captivating energy that’s lacking in the genre all too frequently. Myriad slideshows of Basquiat’s astonishingly captivating paintings grace the screen frequently, keeping his one-of-a-kind talent in the spotlight. Interviews with other artists (including Julian Schnabel, who directed Basquiat back in 1996), ex-girlfriends/lovers, and promoters are plentiful, but never overwhelm the proper focal point of  Basquiat as a man and artist. Music of some kind hums for nearly all of The Radiant Child, providing an appropriate soundtrack for Basquiat’s extraordinary gifts. His quirky relationship with Andy Warhol is fascinating to see onscreen. And yet, for all of the amazing art, shady streets, doubters, lovers, and passions in The Radiant Child, it’s strongest moments of all appear in the form of an exceedingly rare interview that Davis—a personal friend of Basquiat’s—filmed years ago that reveal a shy, scared genius who, like so many of the world’s greatest minds, has a painfully difficult time expressing himself and communicating outside the comfort zone that his art provides. During the interview, which is expertly edited and slowly unveiled throughout the movie as a touching sidebar Basquiat’s external persona, we see Basquiat respond to questions with a nervous, though boyishly beautiful, smile. He has trouble holding eye contact, and his sentences trail off, as if verbal expression is legitimately painful (though his paintings are full of words; they play a major role in his visual pizazz). It’s heartbreaking to watch, as the interspersing of Basquiat’s child-like vulnerabilities with his other-worldly talents make his ultimate demise all the more excruciating, and leave the viewer wondering what could have been. I knew little about Basquiat’s life before watching The Radiant Child, but I sure won’t forget what I know now anytime soon.

78/100