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Bigger Splash, A (1974)

Courtesy of Buzzy Enterprises Ltd.

Main image of Bigger Splash, A (1974)
35mm, colour, 105 mins
Directed byJack Hazan
Production CompanyBuzzy Enterprises Ltd.
ProducerJack Hazan
Written byJack Hazan
 David Mingay
PhotographyJack Hazan
MusicPatrick Gowers

Featuring: David Hockney, Peter Schlesinger, Celia Birtwell, Henry Geldzahler, Mo McDermott, Kasmin, Mike Sida, Ossie Clark

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A quasi-documentary treatment of David Hockney's life between 1970 and 1973.

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Though it features real people under their own names, and its events broadly parallel ones that happened in real life Jack Hazan's feature debut owes at least as much to fiction as documentary in its attempt at conveying the inner life of a man who was already one of Britain's most fĂȘted artists. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a film that seems to bare so much (all too literally in one scene), David Hockney himself was highly ambivalent about the end result, even to the point of making an offer for the negative.

The film makes no attempt at identifying its characters beyond opening credits backed by Hockney drawings. Some were already household names, including Hockney, fashion designer Ossie Clark and textile designer Celia Birtwell (the subjects of one of Hockney's best-known paintings, 'Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy', briefly featured here), while others such as Hockney's ex-lover Peter Schlesinger and assistant-cum-confidant Mo McDermott would have been unknown outside their immediate circles.

There is plenty of fascinating material for Hockney's existing admirers, not least long sequences of him creating and reworking the 1971 canvas 'Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)', one figure being Schlesinger. Models for other paintings, including artist Patrick Procktor and New York curator Henry Geldzahler, are framed and posed in such a way as to echo their immortalisation on canvas.

However, Hazan also intended those with no prior knowledge of Hockney or his work to approach the film as a simple story about the end of a relationship - though the fact that it's a gay relationship made the film considerably more unusual for the early 1970s than would be the case today, not least because it's treated completely matter-of-factly, with none of the melodramatic anguish of fiction films like Victim (d. Basil Dearden, 1961) or Sunday Bloody Sunday (d. John Schlesinger, 1971). Homoerotic interludes are effectively integrated into the central narrative: one sequence featuring four young men and a swimming pool is directly inspired by the 1967 painting that gives the film its title.

Convinced that he had invented a viable new documentary form, Hazan repeated the technique with Rude Boy (1980), after which his career stalled - though one can clearly see many echoes of his films in the recent plethora of celebrity-based reality television programmes, where the gap between manufactured persona and reality is equally hard to judge.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. The lonely artist (3:13)
2. Californian pools (4:01)
3. Perfecting a painting (4:44)
Production stills
Rude Boy (1980)
Hazan, Jack (1939-)