The early 1980s was a time for comets in the New York art world: Painters blazed through the galleries, trailing cash and hype. Then they burned out. No one did either with more sparkle or speed than Jean-Michel Basquiat, who OD’ed at the age of 27. Directed by fellow wunderkind Julian Schnabel (played by Gary Oldman), this biopic has a painter’s perspective, being less about product — Basquiat’s monumental canvases and graffiti poetry provide merely a backdrop — than the ecstasies of process. It’s also a challenging take-home quiz on who’s who among a parade of downtown scenesters impersonated by Dennis Hopper (art dealer Bruno Bischofberger), Courtney Love (a hanger-on), and Bowie (Andy Warhol). But most of all, it’s a quirky elegy to a quirky genius — poignantly embodied by Wright — and a requiem for an age of shooting stars. B+

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