May 14, 2017

Julian Schnabel, A Private Portrait” opened in NYC last week. It's a documentary film directed by Pappi Corsicato. Pappi interviewed me for the film a couple years ago.  I hoped to describe my experiences or an understanding in a succinct way. That didn’t happen. My feelings about Julian and about myself were raw and my words were clumsy. I didn't feel that I'd described, except in that clumsiness, how embroiled I felt. I asked for a second session. Pappi came back, and I did pretty much the same thing. I wanted to say something that encapsulated and resolved our relationship. But I couldn't find words for the love and disappointment.  

I arrive at the theatre and have a conversation with a woman sitting behind me who’d just recovered from an aneurysm. She’d been in a lengthy coma in which she dreamt extensively. She came out of a heavily sedated state remembering all her dreams which she said were very strange. 

In the film's opening sequence Julian is speaking to his baby son. The feeling of it is unmistakable and unintended: Julian seems intensely detached from the child. He's speaking to something other than the little boy. It’s dark and painful. And then the film changes. That feeling is never addressed. The film becomes a display of Julian's virtuousic creative powers and his ability to make big things happen, which is all familiar and very close. I’d witnessed it as a studio assistant and in a series of successive, but essentially similar roles. I first appear in the film in black and white photos from the 80s, kneeling on a floor in a Soho gallery stretching a painting, on a beach in Amagansett holding a ladder. I push a wooden cross into the air in Seville. I’m there, unseen in St. Moritz, filming an exhibition of bronze sculptures on a snow-covered field from a helicopter.

Pappi had asked to use “She Is Dancing,” a song from my first album, which was part of the soundtrack of Julian’s film “Basquiat.” Julian pushed and helped me in any way he could to get that album done. Later I’m onscreen speaking about a moment in that film’s story. Watching that, and listening to the song I feel content. I used to feel lost and found in Julian’s example. Now I see that I wasn’t, except in my head. I’m there onscreen, clearly, my own person. Now that my life is not centered outside myself I'm able to be a spectator of this part of it. The film ends. I walk out onto the sidewalk into a crowd and feel the warmth of a family larger than I know or, remember. 

“Julian Schnabel, A Private Portrait” is showing at the Quad Cinema in NYC. 


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