Published by Douglas Messerli, the World Cinema Review features full-length reviews on film from the beginning of the industry to the present day, but the primary focus is on films of intelligence and cinematic quality, with an eye to exposing its readers to the best works in international film history.
Too bad Randall Wright’s documentary on artist David Hockney isn’t as
intelligent as his subject. Although this film relays a great deal of
autobiographical material, about his hometown in Bradford, England, his early
days in art school, his move to New York and soon after to his beloved Los
Angeles, his gay relationships, including his long term relationship with a
young art student, Peter Schlesinger—which ended unhappily in the 1970s—and his
long-term friendship with curator Henry Geldzaler—whose death was perhaps even
a greater shock for the artist—the documentary leaves huge gaps along the way,
often suggesting more than it actually shares about the artist’s life and
We do get some wonderful
archival moments, as when Betty Freeman describes dusting her then-husband’s
collection of big-game animal heads, and insisting, accordingly, that he call
his painting of her, Beverly Hills
Housewife, and Raymond Foye’s painful discussion of how so many of
Hockney’s friends died of AIDS. Geldzahler dances and mugs before the camera on
Fire Island. And there are numerous wonderful moments with the artist painting
and installing some of his major works, including A Bigger Splash and Bigger
Trees Near Water. However, far more of the art is simply shown without any
At points the movie seems to
meander back and forth in time, refusing to even explain why, after years in
Los Angeles, Hockney returned for a time to his native England. Although the
film mentions, time and again, Hockney’s influence by Picasso, we hear only
general comments from the author himself, who in his lectures on Picasso was
Although the film does
briefly talk about Hockney’s attempt to rid art of the vanishing point,
suggesting that might change the whole we perceive reality, it does fully
explain the methods he used to achieve this. His fascination with the rippling
water of swimming pools is briefly discussed but the balance in his work
between the abstractions of water and other objects and the representations of
human beings in basically ignored.
We get a full discussion of
how, after seeing a Clairol add on American television, Hockey immediately
became a blond. But we have hardly any explanation of why he was so drawn to
representational art, and what he personally meant to him to continue to
challenge old ways of seeing.
If some of this is hinted at,
more is simply ignored as the camera, as if belonging to a photographer for Home and Garden longinglysavors the décor of the several houses
in which he lived, at Malibu, for example, spending several moments just
huddling over a full-lit fireplace while above the sea roils in. The beautiful
landscapes of Yorkshire appear without a word.
The film spends minutes
peering out the narrow view of his childhood window without bothering to
mention that that very “lack” of view might have a hand in why Hockey
ultimately worked on such vast linear landscapes such as his Grand Canyon and Mulholland Drive works.
The documentary does attempt
to describe why and how Hockney was drawn to photography in his own works, but
you’d hardly know that he was an expert of much of art history, except for his
mother leafing through a childhood art book.
Nonetheless, for Howard and
me, this film was pleasant, if for no other reason than being able to spot so
many friends and acquaintances, some now gone: Freeman, Christopher Isherwood,
and Geldzahler, among the dead, while the living include Foye, curator
Stephanie Baron, Don Bacardy, and, of course, Hockney himself.