REVIEW – Hockney (2014)

FilmJuice have my review of Randall Wright’s documentary Hockney.

I approached the film without knowing a huge amount about the work of David Hockney and I left in pretty much the exact same condition. Like a lot of documentaries produced these days, Hockney tries to convince us that its subject matter is worthy of our attention without engaging either with the subject matter itself or with the cultural context that allowed the creation of said subject matter. The result is a film content to display the work of David Hockney without really bothering to say anything about it. In lieu of commentary, the film provides a string of anecdotes that are intended to be amusing but actually come across as intensely patronising:

Wright tries to establish Hockney as someone who was considered eccentric even by the lofty standards of the 1960s London art scene. Allergic to anything that might resemble a broader context, the film draws on anecdotes that all seem to revolve around the fact that Hockney is a gay northerner who happens to dye his hair. Far from establishing Hockney as a rebellious artist, this suggests that the 1960s London art scene was full of patronising snobs who are still patting themselves on the back for giving house room to people from Bradford. Oh darlings… it was all so mad in the 1960s! We all had long hair and pretended to be friends with ghastly northern yobbos who dyed their hair!

On reflection, the film reminds me quite a bit of Sophie Fiennes’ film about Anselm Kiefer Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow as both films are content to let the art speak for itself. The problem is that whereas Kiefer’s art is a huge installation that has transformed an old silk factory into a mad alien landscape, Hockney’s art is a series of twee and colourful paintings of his friends. On a very basic level, Hockney’s art is not as well served by the cinematic medium as Kiefer’s and, on a more critical level, Fiennes’ wordless approach to Kiefer’s art emphasises its opaque and inscrutable nature whereas Wright’s attempt to juxtapose Hockney’s paintings with anecdotes about the artist only serves to make his work seem insubstantial and whimsical.