Director: Jack Hazan
Screenplay: Jack Hazan and David Mingay
Associate Producer: Mike Whittaker
Starring: David Hockney, Peter Schlesinger, Celia Birtwell, Henry Geldzahler, Mo McDermott.
Duration: 105 mins
A Bigger Splash is one of David Hockney’s most well known paintings and also the name of this film from 1974. It’s filmed and directed by Jack Hazan and features Hockney, his friends and colleagues as they went about their lives between 1971 and 1973.
Although it is about the artist it isn’t what you would call a documentary at all. It was shot and edited using a structured reality format and so is more like a feature film. Although this gives the film a different and slightly intriguing feel, it does make it hard to follow. Not being that big a fan of Hockney I didn’t know any of the other protagonists so a lot of the time you don’t really know who is who let alone what is going on.
A Bigger Splash is supposedly set in the period after Hockney split from his partner Peter Schlesinger. This, however, isn’t at all clear from the film. Schlesinger features in it quite a lot, rarely in the same shot as Hockney, but there is little onscreen evidence for their romance or that it has ended. There are moments that show some angst on Hockney’s part, but we only took that as being the result of his split from having read about the film before watching it.
The film also has elements of surrealism and rather a lot of male nudity, including a sex scene between two men who, unsurprisingly, we had no idea who they were. This scene has no atmosphere, all you hear are the sounds of them kissing and of clothes being removed. It makes you feel like some kind of peeping tom and as if you shouldn’t really be watching.
But back to the surrealist bits, these are just odd and on a couple of occasions involve more male nudity for reasons only Jack Hazan probably knows.
The film is beautifully shot with the most amazing colours when you consider that it is 40 years old. What it is nice to see is early 70s London in such colour, which gives you so much more of an idea of the world that Hockney lived in. It’s not just set in London though, he travels to New York and other bits are set in California.
One side effect of the way it looks is that you have to keep reminding yourself that it was actually filmed in the 70s and the people onscreen aren’t actors pretending.
Although at times bizarre, surreal and hard to follow, what is good is when you see the various inspirations for his works and also when he is painting. Personally I would have liked to see more of him painting.
Along with A Bigger Splash there are two other short films. One, Love’s Presentation, is from 1966, is in black and white, and shows Hockney creating an etching from dipping the plate in acid right up to when he presses the first print. This is very interesting as it is narrated by Hockney and explains all the things he is doing from why he has the acid bath outside on a balcony, to him closely examining the first print to see if the etching worked. For anyone interested in the way an artist puts his work together, this is worth watching.
The second short, Portrait of David Hockney 1972, is much more like A Bigger Splash with its abstract shot selection, but also shows Hockney at home and working. This too is more directly informative than the main feature.
Along with the discs you also get a booklet with an article on the film, a review of A Bigger Splash from 1975, a biography of Jack Hazan and short pieces that give a bit more detail on the shorts. These are both quite interesting, although a little pretentious; but then this is modern art we are talking about.
When you consider how old the films are, the transfers to HD are very good and the image quality is excellent. For the true movie geeks out there the booklet even details exactly how the films were transferred if that sort of thing excites you.
I have to say that A Bigger Splash is for Hockney fans only. Some parts are genuinely interesting, but I did feel I would have got so much more out of it if I had known who was who and even recognised more of the paintings.
Review by Henry Tucker