Director: Jack Hazan
Words – Rhiannon Topham
I can imagine the wave of disinterestedness when A Bigger Splash originally came out. A semi-fictionalised docu-drama about the story behind David Hockney’s famous painting of the same name, it is essentially an hour plus of ‘beautiful’ people doing ‘interesting’ things as they go about their charmed lives in London’s creative scene.
The film is centred around the premise that, when Hockney’s young lover Peter Schlesinger ends things with him, the Bradford-born artist is too emotionally distressed to work. This is an easily mistaken detail, lost amongst the abundance of tanned and toned male friends cavorting in the nude with pale bare arses on full display for all to, assumingly, enjoy.
While it is refreshing to see an uninhibited representation of gay love and sexuality, especially considering the film’s initial production and release in the 1970s, it does feel very voyeuristic watching such gratuitious anatomical exhibitionism in place of narrative or insight.
Hockney is, of course, impossibly charming and it is fascinating to see his process for creating his varied yet distinctive works – especially his mimetic swimming pool collection, influenced by his fascination with California and the artistic backbone of this documentary. There are some standout quotes and musings, such as his finding nostalgia a bit ‘decadent’ yet admitting to always returning to the same places for inspiration or his short stories from childhood.
A thunderous orchestral score adds intrigue and scenes of Hockney’s friends, including fashion designers Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark, reveal some of the more – dare I say – mundane elements to the eccentric’s life and inner circle. Those who aren’t put off by the salaciousness or ‘structured reality’ feel of the film will enjoy Hockney’s company, particularly his wittism (and comforting Yorkshire timbre amid a notoriously pompous art market).