Hockney Doc Makes Another Splash
Metrograph Pictures re-releases a seminal cinematic portrait of David Hockney.
A version of this story appears in V120, on stands soon!
In David Hockney’s “Splash” series—different freeze-frames of an unseen diver’s aftermath—the degrees of impact increase over time. Comprised of “A Little Splash,” “The Splash,” and “A Bigger Splash,” the series, completed in 1967, would come to define Hockney’s early career and prefigure his full-blown celebrity—thanks in part to Jack Hazan’s contemporaneous film A Bigger Splash, filmed over three years and released in ’74. With Metrograph Pictures set to re-release the quasi-documentary this summer, the reverberations of young Hockney are resurfacing yet again.
Though made up almost entirely of staged sequences between Hockney and his real-life inner circle, A Bigger Splash remains true to Hockney’s now-iconic form. Behind his shock-blonde hair and round spectacles, he is consumed by physical beauty, licking the wounds of his on-and-off relationship with Peter Schlessinger. Schlessinger, a lover and muse of Hockney’s and later a successful photographer, looms large as the film’s absent focal point “[Even after we’d started filming] we didn’t know what the story was going to be, until one day Peter came by for a portrait,” Hazan tells V. “Peter didn’t exactly tell me to piss off, but the tension was extraordinary—between David and Peter, and Peter and me. From then on, that was film’s hypothesis: David Hockney’s lover has left him and he’s in a terrible state.”
Footage of Hockney in London is spliced with spectral, homoerotic interludes, ostensibly recreating Hockney’s prior grand tour of California, where he’d met Schlessinger and eventually lived permanently. Given the painter’s real-life weakness for daydreaming, Hazan’s footage took on a pseudo-verité quality—much to Hockney’s initial regret. “He came out of the theater completely white,” says Hazan of Hockney’s reaction to the film. “No one saw him for a couple weeks.”
But as Hockney’s legend grew, so did his embracing of the film, which will screen nationwide this summer thanks to a state-of-the-art renovation by Hazan. “Hockney was famous, but after the movie, he became even more [so],” says Lazar. “Watching it privately, I think he [eventually saw it] as the story of his life… But it wasn’t, really.”
See stills below from A Bigger Splash, in theaters in New York tomorrow.