A BIGGER SPLASH (Jack Hazan, 1974)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Opens Friday, June 21
Just in time to coincide with Pride celebrations throughout New York City in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Metrograph is premiering a 4K restoration of Jack Hazan’s pivotal 1974 A Bigger Splash, a fiction-nonfiction hybrid that was a breakthrough work for its depiction of gay culture as well as its inside look at the fashionable and chic Los Angeles art scene of the early 1970s. This past November, David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold at auction for $90.3 million, the most ever paid for a work by a living artist. A Bigger Splash, named after another of Hockney’s paintings — both are part of a series of canvases set around pools in ritzy Los Angeles — takes place over three years, as the British artist, based in California at the time, hangs out with friends, checks out a fashion show, prepares for a gallery exhibition, and works on Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) in the wake of a painful breakup with his boyfriend, model, and muse, Peter Schlesinger, who is a key figure in the painting.
It’s often hard to know which scenes are pure documentary and which are staged for the camera as Hazan and his then-parter, David Mingay, who served as director of photography, tag along with Hockney, who rides around in his small, dirty BMW, meeting up with textile designer Celia Birtwell, fashion designer Ossie Clark, curator Henry Geldzahler, gallerist John Kasmin, artist Patrick Procktor, and others, who are identified only at the beginning, in black-and-white sketches during the opening credits. The film features copious amounts of male nudity, including a long sex scene between two men, a group of beautiful boys diving into a pool in a fantasy sequence, and Hockney disrobing and taking a shower. Hockney’s assistant, Mo McDermott, contributes occasional voice-overs; he also poses as the man standing on the deck in Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), only to be replaced by Schlesinger later. There are several surreal moments involving Hockney’s work: He cuts up one painting; Geldzahler gazes long and hard at himself in the double portrait of him and Christopher Scott; and Hockney tries to light the cigarette Procktor is holding in a painting as Procktor watches, cigarette in hand, mimicking his pose on canvas. At one point Hockney is photographing Schlesinger in Kensington Gardens, reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, which questions the very nature of capturing reality on film.
Hockney was so upset when he first saw A Bigger Splash, which Hazan made for about twenty thousand dollars, that he offered to buy it back from Hazan in order to destroy it; Hazan refused, and Hockney went into a deep depression. His friends ultimately convinced him that it was a worthwhile movie and he eventually accepted it. It’s a one-of-a-kind film, a wild journey that goes far beyond the creative process as an artist makes his masterpiece. Hockney, who will turn eighty-two next month, has been on quite a roll of late. He was the subject of a 2016 documentary by Randall Wright, was widely hailed for his 2018 Met retrospective, saw one of his paintings set an auction record, and is scheduled to have a major drawing show at the National Portrait Gallery next year. In addition, Catherine Cusset’s novel, Life of David Hockney, was just published in English, a fictionalized tale that conceptionally recalls A Bigger Splash, which opens June 21 at Metrograph, with various Q&As and introductions by Hazan, Richard Haines and Alexander Olch, Nick McCarthy, Ryan McNamara, Matt Wolf, and Cusset from June 21 to 30. And if you can’t get enough of Hockney, Anita Rogers is showing “Films by James Scott, Etchings by David Hockney” through July 27, consisting of Hockney’s 1966 series “Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C. P. Cavafy” and Scott’s 1966 documentary short about the series, Love’s Presentation.