HOCKNEY (Randall Wright, 2015)
Metrograph, 7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts., 212-660-0312
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Francesca Beale Theater, Walter Reade Theater,
West 65th St. between Amsterdam Ave. & Broadway
Opens Friday, April 22
“Why are you popular?” artist David Hockney is asked in an old interview in the 2014 documentary Hockney. “I’m not that sure,” the painter and photographer answers with a laugh. “I’m interested in ways of looking, because people will respond. Everybody does look; it’s just a question of how hard.” Award-winning director Randall Wright, who in 2002 made David Hockney: Secret Knowledge, examining the artist’s theories about the use of cameras and photographic-like visualization techniques in art going back centuries, this time takes a loving, more wide-ranging look at Hockney’s professional and personal worlds. Combining new interviews with old footage and home movies and photographs from Hockney’s private archives — which have never been made public before — Wright reveals Hockney to be an absolutely charming and engaging man with a genuine passion for life but not without his demons. “The paintings all related, whether superficially or intensely, on his life, and his trying to deal with his homosexuality, and trying to deal with his fantasies, and trying to deal with the issues of a sexual identity,” fellow British artist and longtime Hockney friend Mark Berger explains. “And he used wit to play with these identities. He was really like a little high school girl about it.” Wright and cinematographer Patrick Duval insert beautiful shots of many of Hockney’s paintings, slowly moving over the canvases as Hockney and, often, the subjects being depicted discuss them. Among the glorious works shown, from portraits and realistic paintings to more experimental, surreal, and abstract pieces, are “A Bigger Splash,” “Portrait of My Father,” “Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy,” “We Two Boys Together Clinging Together,” “Picture of a Hollywood Swimming Pool,” “Beverly Hills Housewife,” “Celia with a Foot on a Chair,” and such Polaroid composites as “Still Life Blue Guitar 4th April 1982.”
The film reveals Hockney to be a Warholian-like figure with a much more open and fun-loving personality — complete with odd glasses, bottle-blonde hair with bangs, and a love of photography — enjoying the party life as he goes from his hometown, “dingy Bradford” in England, to New York and Los Angeles; he currently lives in England and California and still paints seven days a week at the age of seventy-eight. It’s quite a thrill to see Hockney at work in his studios, putting brush to canvas. “I paint what I like and when I like” is one of numerous Hockney quotes that Wright uses on title cards, setting them on different monochrome backgrounds and interspersing them throughout the film. Wright (Lucian Freud: A Painted Life) also explores in-depth Hockney’s relationships with such friends and/or lovers as Peter Schlesinger and Henry Geldzahler. One drawback is that the director identifies his interview subjects, Hockney’s friends, colleagues, and relatives, only by name, so it is not always clear what their relationship to the artist is; most viewers are not likely to know who Bachardy, Arthur Lambert, Tchaik Chassay, Melissa North, Wayne Sleep, John Kasmin, or even Ed Ruscha and Jack Larson are or how Margaret Hockney is related to David. (Larson is the recently deceased actor who played Jimmy Olsen on the Superman television series and became a collector of Hockney’s work, while Margaret is David’s sister.) But that’s only a minor quibble in a wonderful documentary that celebrates not only the artist but his work and process, which comes alive on the screen, digital technology allowing the paintings and photographs to pop with their brilliant colors. If you didn’t appreciate Hockney’s talent before, this documentary will change your mind about it. And if you already were a fan of him and his work, this film will make you love him even more.