In 1980, Andy Warhol associate Glenn O’Brien wrote a feature film about New York’s burgeoning new wave music scene he reported on in his monthly Interview Magazine columns. Working with his frequent collaborator, photographer Edo Bertoglio, they put together a film that showcases the great bands of the era with lush live performances, captured by the Rolling Stones’ famous 24-track mobile recording studio. The film was made with Producer Maripol, and Executive Producer, ZE Records founder, Michael Zilkha.
O’Brien cast the 19-year old then unknown Jean Michel Basquiat to star in what he called a “fairy tale”, with a loose plot about an artist released from the hospital, hustling a painting to pay his rent. The scenes follow Basquiat’s character throughout a day of adventure, that includes a series of live shows by bands Kid Creole and the Coconuts, DNA, James White and the Blacks, among others. Cast includes Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Lee Quiñones, and cameos by some New York legends, from performer Cookie Mueller to the Mudd Club’s Steve Mass—and Manhattan in all its mangy glory.
Downtown 81 offers a window on a lost world of life on the margins and creative ferment. It made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000, and was theatrically released in 2001. Nearly forty years after its production and twenty since its first release, Downtown 81 has been digitally restored, with newly struck 35mm prints, and the film will receive a national re-release by Metrograph Pictures. A film print was recently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York for its permanent collection.
Downtown 81 opens Friday, December 6 in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal for a weeklong run. The film opened in NY on October 25 at Metrograph, and will continue to expand nationwide into 2020.