Friday, April 22, 2016

Randall Wright's HOCKNEY proves a model doc about a fine artist very much worth exploring

Even folk who are not particularly prone to enjoying fine art probably know some of the work of David Hockney, the British artist who came to America in the 1960s and found it satisfied him in all kinds of ways. His output down the decades since has included paintings of simplicity, sophistication and remarkable use of color; mind-expanding photography in which the placement and framing is as important as the photographs themselves; and some colorful, lively set design. The artist and his work have continued to evolve, and seeing/understanding this evolution is one of the several accomplishments of the fine new documentary by Randall Wright called simply HOCKNEY.

Mr. Wright, shown at left, clearly loves his subject and wants us to share that love. It's not difficult. Via history -- of family and country (birthplace and adopted venue) -- friends, lovers and sources of inspiration, Mr. Wright gives us as close to the whole story as we're likely to see for some time to come. This is a much different, more standard-issue documentary than the very odd (for its time) narrative/doc combo, A Bigger Splash made back in the 1970s, during the time Hockney was reeling from the breakup with his lover (perhaps the only important one in his life), Peter Schlesinger. Wright's film is much more professional than Jack Hazan's but the two no doubt complement each other in very interesting ways. (TrustMovies has not seen A Bigger Splash in maybe 20 years, so his memory of it may need some rebooting.)

We see Schlesinger (above, right) in the new film, too, looking as hot and beautiful as ever, and even a little full-frontal of Mr. Hockney himself -- who seems more than happy to have us filled in -- via various friends -- about his private and professional life.

Hockney takes us from Bradford, England, the artist's birthplace, to his arrival in New York City and then out to Southern California, where he found his home-away-from-home. The artist is best known for his paintings of So.Cal -- and the doc let us see how the place inspired him and what he has given back to it. You come away from this film with a real appreciation for the way in which Hockney sees, among other things, water and the play of light on this, and how, earlier in his career, he used photographs (black-and-white, never color) as the starting point for much of his work.

Hockney's friendship with the late art historian, critic and curator, Henry Geldzahler is explored here, too, and the reminiscences of others of his set are often funny and telling. The artist's own memories prove a lot of fun, too, as he speaks about everything from his parents to Picasso and his run-in with British Customs regarding a cache of male nude magazines.

As an openly gay man throughout much of his adult life, Hockey differed from, say, Andy Warhol (his art, for my money, is a lot better than Warhol's), and this openness becomes part of the charm and genuineness of the documentary. Hockney's homosexuality certainly influenced his art and life, but it seems to have done so in a relatively open and healthy way -- unusual at the time (and even, dare we say, today).

Exactly when major success came to Hockney (and how) is something the movie somehow misses -- unless, of course, he was a huge success from painting number one. Otherwise, the film covers most of the bases and does so with intelligence, energy and as much style as a doc of this sort can muster. Style, in any case, is what Mr. Hockney has in spades, and this translates nicely from his art onto the screen.

From Film Movement and running a lengthy-but-never-uninteresting 112 minutes, Hockney opens today, Friday, April 22, in New York (at The Film Society of Lincoln Center and the new Metrograph) and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal and Playhouse 7.  To see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed, click here and then scroll down.

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