A Bigger Splash (1973)

A strange hybrid of fly-on-the-wall documentary with fictional psychosexual melodrama, A Bigger Splash focuses on famed artist David Hockney during the fallout of his breakup with Peter Scheslinger and the creation of his iconic “swimming pool” paintings.

On the one hand it is very intimate and insular and on the other very operatic. At times it’s your standard doc – handheld, loose-focus close ups of pondering faces – and at others it feels like one of those Polanski-does-Hitchcock sexual thrillers. The music is BIG and bombastic, all strings and booming bass notes. The depiction of the gay social-scene feels very progressive too. This is a film full to the brim of naked asses and dangling dicks (Hockney’s included), as well as simulated male-on-male sexual antics. It’s not trying to be controversial or explicit either, but rather an attempt at portraying Hockney’s world and worldview as accurately as possible. It unashamedly looks at the world through a gay – without being sensational – lens and is all the better for it.

I’m not a Hockney expert by any means, far from it in fact, but the very idea of this movie is what drew me to it. It isn’t an educational work – you’ll know as much about David Hockney by the end as you did going in – but as a semi-experimental portrait of an artist during a key creative period it is wholly fascinating and unique. The blurring of the real and the manufactured is very well done (is this the first precursor to reality TV as we know it today?) and at a certain point you realise the whole thing is an illusion, not necessarily meant to be taken at face value but as a complimentary work to go alongside Hockney’s own. Also as a document of a specific lifestyle – the professional and social art world in 70s England – it is historically worthwhile.

Watched on BFI blu-ray

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