David Hockney
A Bigger Splash (1974)
October 4, 1974
At Film Festival: 'A Bigger Splash'
New York Times

"A Bigger Splash," which was shown at the New York Film Festival last night, is a fiction film about David Hockney, one of the more successful and durable of the English pop artists to come out of the nineteen-sixties, in which Mr. Hockney and his friends play themselves in situations that may or may not have happened in life.

A note in the festival program draws a parallel between what Jack Hazan, the director-cameraman-producer of this film, is doing in "A Bigger Splash" and what Mr. Hockney's paintings do when the artist takes details from life, strips them to their essential lines and colors, then projects them into larger-than-life reality onto huge canvases.

Perhaps because most movie screens, including the one at Alice Tully Hall (where the film will be repeated tonight), are already larger than life, the effect of this fragmented, often self-conscious film is to make the subject seem sort of small and drab, a fact that is immediately denied whenever we are given a chance to look at the paintings themselves.

There is a kind of story line to the film, which, we're told, was three years in the making. It's about Mr. Hockney's inability to finish a painting when his lover for the last five years, another artist named Peter Schlesinger, walks out on him. His friends worry about him. They worry about a forthcoming show, and they worry about the décor of his house. "It looks like a waiting room now," says Celia Birtwell, a beautiful young woman who looks a lot like Andy Warhol's Viva. Another friend says, "When love goes wrong, it's more than two people suffer."

In these moments, there's a suggestion of the satire that is almost always evident in Mr. Hockney's paintings, but the film's Hockney-like gags are mostly blunt, as when Henry Geldzahler of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is "discovered" striking the pose in which Mr. Hockney once painted him.

The manner of making the film—in London, Geneva, California and New York, whenever the artist's schedule permitted—has as much to do with the non-content of the film as with its style. There are only the slightest traces of the outrageous self-promotion and put-on that once were so much a part of the pop scene. "A Bigger Splash" is unforgivably solemn, something that Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey would never have allowed.