june, 2021

25jun8:00 pm10:00 pmThe Backlot Cinema at Epsilon Spires Presents "Downtown 81"Jean-Michel Basquiat Stars in a Portrait of Underground NYC Art Scene8:00 pm - 10:00 pm Event Organized By: Epsilon Spires

Event Details

At sundown on Friday, June 25th, the arts organization Epsilon Spires will turn the parking lot of the historic First Baptist Church in downtown Brattleboro into an open-air movie theater for the fourth installment of the Backlot Cinema Series.

Audience members are encouraged to bring blankets, pillows, and chairs to make themselves comfortable for the screening of Downtown 81, a day-in-the-life film following a young artist in New York City, played by a teenaged Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The footage for Downtown 81 was shot in the early 1980s, but the film was not completed until 2000, when it premiered to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival. In the nearly twenty years that had elapsed since filming, Basquiat had evolved from a homeless nineteen-year-old graffiti artist to an international art star, becoming the youngest artist ever admitted to the Whitney Biennial before his untimely death from a drug overdose at the age of twenty-seven.

Downtown 81 follows Basquiat, who is luminous in the role of a painter named Jean, as he roams the Lower East Side of Manhattan trying to make rent. Jean serves as a kind of post-punk flâneur, taking the viewer on a journey through the streets of a downtown New York that would be unrecognizable today—where young, broke artists and musicians flourished amidst the rubble of bombed-out brownstones, making work more for themselves and each other than for commercial viability.

“The film really captures the vibrant energy of that moment in time,” says Jamie Mohr, Programming Director of the Backlot Cinema Series. She adds that “it manages to present the rawness and grit of that environment while capturing the spirit of creativity that propelled so many of the figures in the film to make lasting, influential work.”

The most recognizable star cameo in Downtown 81 is Debbie Harry, singer of the band Blondie, but fans of No Wave music will spot plenty of seminal figures in the cast: members of Tuxedomoon, DNA, and The Plastics all play themselves during musical performances and scripted scenes. Sharp-eyed devotees of the 1980s downtown New York scene will also enjoy brief appearances by model Ann Carlyle, star of the cult-classic Liquid Sky, and artist David McDermott, half of the duo McDermott and McGough, who lived as nineteenth-century gentlemen in a perpetual performance art project.

Tickets for the event, which include entry into a raffle for gift certificates to local businesses, are $10 each. Refreshments and restrooms will be available throughout the evening. In the event of rain, the screening will take place with appropriate Covid-19 precautions in the Sanctuary of the church.

To purchase tickets, and for information about upcoming screenings in the Backlot Cinema Series, please visit www.epsilonspires.org/backlotcinema.


(Friday) 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm


Epsilon SpiresJamie Mohr 190 Main Street

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