The opening scene of Julian Schnabel’s 1996 Basquiat begins with a voice-over narration adapted from Rene Ricard’s essay “The Radiant Child”. Before this, intercut with the opening credits, the film opens with a young Basquit experiencing his first art gallery and being inspired by it, silently over a track of the Pogues’ classic “Fairytale in New York,” followed by the narration “Everyone wants to get on the Van Gogh boat.” Both sequences provide the viewer a basic understanding of the Basquiat character before proceeding on with the narrative and also add an aesthetic quality to the film. What Ricard here is essentially saying is that many artists want their work recognized as Van Gogh’s, and that the art world has to be careful not to miss another Van Gogh before it’s too late. Ricard writes, “the idea of the unrecognized genius slaving away is a deliciously foolish one we must credit Van Gogh for really sending this myth into orbit.” Here, Ricard is suggesting that Van Gogh was not as crazy as the myth perpetuates, but he was actually an intellect who did not slave away but enjoyed his work. Nevertheless, Ricard gives Van Gogh credit for inventing this myth.
The passage “[Van Gogh] was so ashamed of his that the rest of art history will be retribution for his neglect,” he is insinuating that Van Gogh will always be a powerful figure in the art world in order to make up for lost time – “lost time” referring to both the general unawareness of Van Gogh’s own generation that he was amongst them, and also that Van Gogh never received the credit and recognition of his works during his own lifetime. The narration adds “no one wants to be a part of a generation that ignores another Van Gogh,” referring that the world of art history would now be much more careful not to let another Van Gogh sneak under their radar; more, Schnabel chooses to open the film with this as he is implying that Basquiat is another Van Gogh that the world has forgotten. In the final segment of the narrative, Basquiat looks up at the imaginary waves, and at this moment viewers are watching a current Van Gogh.
One line in the voice-over narration is “part of the job of the artist is to get the work where people will see it,” and at this moment, Shnabel includes a shot of graffiti being sprayed on an outdoor pillar. This is Shnabel’s way of merging the narration with a visual element; after all, graffiti is very much in the public eye. This is ironic, however, because while graffiti is one of the most publically visible, usually the artists are anonymous, for legal reasons if none other. Ricard writes “Graffiti refutes the idea of the anonymous art where we know everything about the work except who made it” (Ricard 2). Here, while Ricard is noting the anonymity of graffiti, he is also suggesting is is one of the most personal and unique, since the artists who create them have no limits.
Eventually, the narration reveals itself as a metaphor for the public. The narration states “I am a public eye witness, a critic; when you first see a new picture, you don’t want to miss the boat. You have to be careful.” Here, Schnabel and Ricard are again paying reference to the art critics during Van Gogh’s era who “missed the boat” by not realizing what the genius they have amongst them.