Powell’s images of street art became a sensation. His (arguably most famous) photo of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, shooting the s**t in SoHo, catapulted him to the major leagues. Art gallery openings led to Ricky meeting the Beastie Boys at an early concert (“They were magnificent,” he remembers), and consequently touring with them while encountering a slew of admiring celebrities. “I had some “champeeple,” some cocaine and Quaaludes,” Ricky says, then later adds, “I guess I was living the dream.”
As with all rock-star lifestyles, the dream eventually came to a dreary end. Circa mid-1990’s, another cultural paradigm shift began to occur, wedging the no-longer-culturally-significant Ricky out. He and the Beastie Boys parted ways; in fact, folks accused him of “sponging off the Beasties.” Ricky slid down the rabbit-hole of drugs and suicidal depression. Even when celebrity friends reached out, he alienated them (“He told me to kiss his a**,” LL Cool J says). Ricky ended up smoking so much he was “hoping I’d go out in a daze.” The Individualist then traces his phoenix-like rise out of the ashes, Ricky re-developing his ability to view life as wondrous again.
“…a powerful character study and a sweet trip down nostalgia lane, a snapshot of an important moment in pop culture history…”
Swade keeps the narrative moving – both tempo and emotion-wise. This is a crowd-pleaser in the truest sense of the word. From the animated interludes of Ricky’s tumultuous upbringing to the artist going through his own photographs, projected onto a screen, intermittently pausing to recount an incredible tale, Swade maintains his audience’s utmost investment. The documentary is crammed with celebrity talking heads, heaping praise upon Powell, as well as indelible archival footage from the Beastie Boys concerts, and photos of stars like Dave Chapelle, Madonna, Vin Diesel, Laurence Fishburne, LL Cool J, and Debi Mazar, the latter of whom claims to have been one of Ricky’s muses.
Yet it’s Ricky’s relationship with his mother that grounds the doc in some real depth. Swade captures a remarkable moment towards the finale. Ricky spots his estranged, elderly mother Ruth shopping at a corner store. His first instinct is to run away; then, he tries to talk to her…When a reconciliation of sorts does occur, it’s bound to tug at the steeliest of heartstrings.
Ricky Powell: The Individualist functions as both a powerful character study and a sweet trip down nostalgia lane, a snapshot of an important moment in pop culture history. “You can’t will yourself to be a good street photographer,” is a quote that stayed with me after the film was over. Just like most artists, Ricky was born with a gift and was lucky enough to utilize it. The same sentiment applies to filmmaker Josh Swade.
"…a crowd-pleaser in the truest sense of the word..."