Movie review of “Hockney”: Randall Wright’s entertaining documentary focuses on British painter, stage designer and photographer David Hockney, who settled in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s.
Sunlight on rippling water, tanned bodies lounging by a swimming pool, brilliant sunshine in a deep-blue sky, endless summer.
The canvases of British painter, stage designer and photographer David Hockney, who settled in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, are the visual-art equivalents of the Beach Boys’ records from the same period. They encapsulate the Southern California dream with a gorgeous simplicity that makes you want to drop everything and go west, grab a surfboard and paddle into the Pacific.
As pictured in Randall Wright’s entertaining documentary biography of Hockney, 78, the paintings’ light is so dazzling that the pigment seems to glisten. Hockney recalls his attraction to Los Angeles in the film and sounds like an explorer who has discovered paradise.
‘Hockney,’ a documentary directed by Randall Wright. 113 minutes. Not rated. SIFF Film Center.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
Of Southern California, he says, “It’s got all the energy of the United States, but with the Mediterranean thrown in.” He adds that he didn’t think of it as a cultural desert because Hollywood was there, and he grew up loving movies.
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It was another world from his dingy hometown, Bradford, England, where he was born to devoted parents who told their oddball son not to worry about what the neighbors thought. And he didn’t.
After graduation from the Royal College of Art, he went to America because it was the capital of the art world and quickly found his place as a hybrid of pop artist and traditionalist. A Clairol ad persuaded him to dye his hair blond, which it remained. Many have remarked on his resemblance to his friend Andy Warhol, although that name, strangely, isn’t mentioned in the film. Much of Hockney’s work was related to his homosexuality and dealt with his fantasies of surfers.
Like most of its subject’s art, “Hockney” is a sunny film that spends just enough time acknowledging the sadder aspects of his life to avoid sounding aggressively chipper. Its darkest shadow is the AIDS epidemic, which, Hockney said, claimed the lives of two-thirds of his friends.
When it deepens its intellectual focus, “Hockney” begins to lose coherence, with rushed sequences that cover his stage designs, his landscapes and his experiments with photography.
Many erudite talking heads appear, but there is no satisfying overview of the artist and his complicated relationship to art history beyond the assertion that Pablo Picasso was his idol and that Hockney’s restless transformations reflected that admiration.