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Before Night Falls (Schnabel, Julian)

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proudly into town in his Sunday best for the Oscar ceremony, after giving countless interviews in which he presented himself as the leader and the saviour of independent cinema. Schnabel’s first film was about Jean-Michel Basquiat. He did succeed in a rather interesting (although, when you look at the whole picture, not at all laudable) fashion in deemphasizing every bit of political content specific to Basquiat’s work (especially his concept of himself as an African-American artist), in favour of a portrayal of the artist’s path to fame, which included depicting Basquiat being called to his vocation, being initiated, etc. In his most recent film, «Before Night Falls,» Schnabel tells the life story of Cuban poet Reynaldo Arenas: biopics are, after all, his genre. Originally a supporter of Castro, Arenas’ openly homosexual lifestyle ultimately forced him to become a dissident. After years in Cuban jails, he finally immigrated to New York, where he died of complications from AIDS. Under Schnabel’s direction, Arenas, too, becomes a nature boy, who literally emerges from the soil, and, because he has been chosen, follows the certain path to genius and thus is forced into conflict with a totalitarian


regime. Schnabel’s film, however, has rightly been criticized for implying that this conflict sprang from the opposing forces of genius/bureaucracy and nature/order and not, as is clearly the case in Arenas’ real life, most definitely from his homosexuality and the specific homophobia of the Castro regime. In addition, the similarity to Basquiat’s story as it was told by Schnabel—the story of being one of the chosen—is very apparent. All it takes is a psychologist of minimal competence, such as myself, for example, to recognize the connection to Schnabel’s own story—that is, to his not exactly secret image of himself as another one of the chosen few. We, however, must discuss how this self-image is connected to three of the themes at issue here: Firstly, any consideration of Schnabel’s past as a painter must take account of his very controversial, much-debated reconstruction of the figure of the metaphysical author whose creations originate entirely within himself. Secondly, he has sustained his project of generating an image of himself as a creative source, using cinema as a medium, in spite of the fact that, compared to painting and other kinds of atelier art, cinema is conventionally connected with the loss of

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