A BIGGER SPLASH: FEATURING DAVID HOCKNEY (1974) DUAL FORMAT EDITION, BFI, CERT. 15 (CATALOGUE NUMBER: BFIB1137)
At times of intense Hockney the normally sedate Tate Britain will be opening until midnight to cope with the crush for their acclaimed retrospective. Having elbowed our way through the crowds, we were inspired to spend a lazy Sunday morning with A BIGGER SPLASH, Jack Hazan’s 1974 film featuring the Yorkshire artist and many of his most famous subjects (and yes, that includes Percy).
A BIGGER SPLASH is a fictionalised account of Hockney’s comings and goings in the early 1970s, assembling some of his stellar subjects before their portraits for gently juxtaposed drama. For all its mild manners – it’s an unsensational look behind the scenes of his celebrity – Hockney was shocked by how revealing he felt the film to be, disavowing the finished work until his friends stood up for its artistry.
Improvised rather than real, Hazan’s framing of everything in unobtrusive mid shots keeps us removed from the action but also prevents the drama of Hockney’s recent break-up with his “perfect” boyfriend from ever bubbling over. This is a very British film about a very British artist, and that includes the erotic reshoots that were used to sex-up the calmly yet ground-breakingly observed homosexuality: these aren’t just nice queer folk, Hazan tells us, they are really doing it. Elsewhere, the film’s delights include lyrical dream sequences, near-documentary journeys through a long lost London and recreations of Hockney at work – most notably on PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST (POOL WITH TWO FIGURES).
Don’t come expecting to get closer to the man – he disappears for sections of the film – but immerse yourself in the time, the place and the people that helped propel his artistry.
IN MOVING PICTURES
- As if in a dream, a naked Peter stands wet and alone, trying but failing to make contact with the couple seen in Hockney’s painting BEVERLY HILLS HOUSEWIFE.
It’s a relatively slim disc, but what’s here gives good account of the film, its making and reception. The one voice missing is that of Hockney himself, although that isn’t surprising giving his misgivings about the work.
- LOVE’S PRESENTATION is 25 minutes of Hockney making a series of etchings inspired by the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy. Watching Hockney prepare, draw and dip is like an episode of HOW CLEAN IS YOUR HOME shot in black and white with added nitric acid. Hockney’s drawing skills are the real thrill for anyone in love with his artworks as are the throwaways as he dries his acid wet hands on the living room curtains and makes cheeky asides about the source of his rather fetching camo pants. There’s something timeless about the printing process that makes this film completely absorbing.
- PORTRAIT OF DAVID HOCKNEY – a 1972 short film by David Pearce, could best be described as “13 minutes of a camera in a room with David Hockney, sometimes pointing at him, oftentimes not”.
- INTERVIEW WITH JACK HAZAN – only on the DVD, this talking head contains juicy detail about the making of the film. Hazan makes it clear how much a work of fiction this is, with real life characters being given conversational prompts at the start of each scene and Hazan doing his best to not interrupt the non-actors. The focus on Hockney’s breakup with Peter Schlesinger came about by accident but frames the standout feature of the film’s explicit/honest treatment of homosexuality. Most tellingly, Hazan speaks of the need to insert – after a couple of attempts – a lovemaking scene. Relatively mild by modern standards, the scene was introduced because audiences just weren’t getting the homosexuality of the characters. With the satisfaction of hindsight, polite walkouts ensued.
- BOOKLET – contains a useful analysis of the film by John Wyver, a contemporary review by the esteemed critic Philip French, a biography of Hazan, screening notes for LOVE’S PRESENTATION and PORTRAIT OF DAVID HOCKNEY from BFI’s own archive, and notes about the digital transfers from 35mm for the main feature and 16mm for the others.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- For more Hockney on film, try documentaries HOCKNEY and A BIGGER PICTURE.
- Jack Hazan was inspired by the films of Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey, particularly Morrissey’s use of a simple master shot to avoid interfering with improvised amateur performance. Why not watch FLESH and TRASH for a deeper dive?
- For seven degrees of sensationalism, venture further into Morrissey’s deranged universe with his curious double bill of horror movies FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD FOR DRACULA.
- Visit HOCKNEY at Tate Britain until 29 MAY 2017 for an unparalleled overview of the great man’s work. The exhibition includes two significant video pieces, FOUR SEASONS in the main exhibition and THE JUGGLERS which can be seen before you even have to buy a ticket. The final room of the exhibition includes various time-lapse studies showing how Hockney paints on his iPhone and iPad.
- Hockney’s prolific i-era is the only disappointment in the Tate Britain show, feeling rather crammed in at the end. Head to Salts Mill in Saltaire for a stunning collection of 49 large format iPad prints, ARRIVAL OF SPRING, and other works.