There are two stories being told in the documentary Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The first: How 1970s New York, that city of urban decay, run-down apartment buildings, rampant crime and overwhelming scuzziness, spawned a hopeful, vibrant art scene, while graffiti virtuoso Lee Quinones and savvy hustler Fab 5 Freddy (both interviewed here) were spearheading their own burgeoning movement, one that soon brought Quinones' subway-car graffiti into the limelight, along with the rapping, DJing, b-boy-dancing and what soon would be celebrated as the main components of hip-hop.
The other story, the one that's supposed to be this doc's main focus, is not really as interesting. This one tells of Jean-Michel Basquiat's ascent from spray-painting street vagrant to one of the icons of renegade New York art. The way Sara Driver's doc tells it, Basquiat was a wandering vagabond, always looking for a place to crash for the night, hopefully next to a warm, female body. Boom makes Basquiat out to be an on-the-fringe, Zelig-like character, attempting to get his foot into a scene where the inner-city people were beginning to mingle with the downtown folk. Driver's film presents a Basquiat who was always trying to find ways to express himself. By the time he got to being a major, Warhol-approved Big Artist, he still wanted to pick the brains of bohos like filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, looking for inspiration even when the art world turned him into an on-the-rise wunderkind. In the end, Boom makes the case that the scene Basquiat came from was more fascinating than Basquiat himself.