The Universe of Keith Haring (Arthouse Films) (2008)

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Released 14-Apr-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Interviews-Crew-Director Christine Clausen (9.38)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 90:00
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Christina Clausen

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jean Michel Basquiat
Fab 5 Freddy
Keith Haring
Bill T. Jones
Yoko Ono
Kenny Scharf
Junior Vasquez
Andy Warhol
Case Slip Case
RPI ? Music None Given

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

  Keith Haring (1958 - 1990) was that rare beast amongst visual artists - his life affirming drawings and murals connected directly with the public and became part of pop culture. In fact, Haring drew deeply from his own experiences living in New York in the 1980's, where hip hop and graffiti were making a mark, to create an art of direct meaning and profound simplicity. Of all the interviewees in this 2007 documentary it is perhaps Yoko Ono who sums it up best. In comparing Andy Warhol and Keith Haring she says that the former made art that was meaningless, deliberately so, but that Haring made art that looked meaningless but wasn't.

In the interview comprising the extras to this DVD, Director Christina Clausen states that she wanted her film to explore three things:

She delivers on her promises with an enthralling documentary that brings the artist back to vibrant life, Haring having died of AIDS in 1990. Those seeking an analysis of the semiotics and hidden meanings of Haring's work should perhaps look to art texts, for this is an open exploration suitable for the art lover and the cultural enthusiast alike. Haring was brought up in a small town, Kutztown, in Pennsylvania to a large and loving family. He was always interested in art and made his mother cry with the decision to study graphic design in big town Pittsburgh in the 70's. He made her cry again when he decided to move to New York City to study at the school of Visual Arts.

Once in the Big Apple, Haring was unleashed both as a man and an artist. The openly gay Haring was to lead a sexually free lifestyle that, for he and many others in the 80's, came to a crashing end with the AIDS epidemic. As an artist he was similarly unburdened. Drawing influence from the graffiti artists of the city Haring developed his simple figure forms that are instantly recognisable world wide, even if the name Keith Haring is not.

It is a lasting tribute to the man that although he became one of the most financially successful artists of recent time, he refused to give up on the idea that art should be free and open to everyone. Whenever touring around the world on commission (he came to Australia to draw murals at art galleries in Sydney and Melbourne), he would always take the time to create street art, brightening up some of the poorest areas. Even though he opened his own shop selling t-shirts and representations of his art, he could still not resist providing sketches in place of autographs to children and adoring fans. Even today many hospitals and schools have Keith Haring murals as inspirations to the sick and troubled.

Although Haring was a friend of many celebrities in the 80's including Madonna, Grace Jones and Brooke Shields, director Christina Clausen has personalised this documentary by interviewing his friends, family and colleagues. Though this is a tribute to the man and his work, the film rarely tries to present Haring as heaven sent, the lasting impression of the man is of a fun seeking extremely hard working artist who couldn't exist without a pen or paint brush in his hand. Amazingly, he never prepared his works he just drew or painted away on even the largest surfaces. The documentary takes a darker turn, of course, with Haring's AIDS diagnosis in 1988. Even so, Haring was dedicated to leaving a lasting impression such that he painted his last public mural in Pisa, Italy, less than a month before his death. His legacy is not just in the art but also his work with Act Up drawing attention to the horror of AIDS. Prior to his death he established the Keith Haring Foundation providing funding and artistic assistance to AIDS organisations and children's programmes. Although Haring left much to remember him by, it is worth pondering what the man might have achieved had he lived longer than a tumultuous, amazing 31 years.

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Transfer Quality


    The Universe of Keith Haring was presented cinematically at 1.185:1 aspect ratio. That aspect ratio, or near enough is preserved for this DVD release. It is 16 x 9 enhanced.

In fact, the film is comprised of a variety of sources. There is recent high definition video footage is suitably crisp and clear and free of noticeable defects. The flesh tones are accurate.

Then there is the historical footage which varies according to the era and the quality of the source. Included amongst this footage is his early video art projects. These were filmed on a zero budget and with cheap equipment and the visual quality matches those origins. In fact, Haring's friend describes in one scene how he was an early adopter of the Sony Handy Cam. In the early 80's it was far from handy comprising a bulky camera and a heavy backpack. Still, the poor quality of this footage is irrelevant in the scheme of things. It is an indispensable part of the Haring puzzle.

There are no compression issues despite the film and extra being on one DVD 5.

There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


  The Universe of Keith Haring is presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack running at 224Kb/s.

This is perfectly adequate for the documentary which consists largely of interview footage. Despite the absence of sub-titles the dialogue is clear and easy to understand. The dialogue is in audio sync.

There are no technical problems with the soundtrack.

The original soundtrack is by Angelo Talocci. It is also somewhat fitting that 80's and 90's DJ Legend, Junior Vasquez is called in to create the theme song The Artist Speaks.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Interview Director Christine Clausen (9.38)

The only extra on this DVD is a 10 minute interview with Christina Clausen. She describes her attraction to Keith Haring's art - his "unique and simple language". The interview also goes into detail as to how she went about the process of interviewing and filming Haring's friends and family. There is some background footage explaining the film's loopiest moment - when Yoko Ono explains that Haring advised her from beyond the grave to place some of his ashes outside a monument.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

  Information about the Region 1 and 2 versions of this film are difficult to find, particularly as regards the extras. Stick with the Region 4 for now.


  The Universe of Keith Haring is a solid, fascinating documentary that illuminates the life behind the iconic stick figures that are not only reflective of 1980's New York but also the modern era.

The documentary is well presented on DVD considering the poor quality of some of the sources and is supplemented by a brief although interesting.

  As a final point, Keith is dead now and can't criticise Madman Entertainment for spelling his name wrong on the DVD label!

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Friday, September 25, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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