Film Review: Hockney

I’m not sure what drew me to watch Hockney, probably just a simplistic love of art more than anything else. Especially as I remember sitting in the cinema, seeing the trailer for the first time and thinking “not for me, thanks”. And yet, there it was, available on-demand and so, for some reason I gave it a go.

I had no real idea what to expect, or any preconceived ideas as to the man himself. I don’t honestly know much about him, and while I know of his art, his style, a lot of my knowledge of David Hockney is of later works, his nine cameras on a car film, or his iPad drawings. In fact, the last time, I think I saw, spoke or heard about Hockney it was after his brief appearance in Tim’s Vermeer.

David Hockney - 1960

This documentary is thorough, it is packed with stories and images, and drawings that chronograph Hockneys life. And while that’s great, from the point of view that you get to look at the man with an uncompromised level of detail, it results in a documentary that seems to go on forever. It’s not overly long – 108 minutes – but felt never ending, always one last line, one last example. And by the end of it, I was just wanting it to finish. I’d had enough. And that’s a sour way to say goodbye.

Whilst it takes a fairly linear approach to his life, starting with his childhood in Yorkshire, working forward through his life as he paints and produces, once it gets into his adult years and his travelling, and a bohemian lifestyle becomes the accepted, I found that everything started to smudge together and while you are constantly moving forward through his life, you are never sure if a day, a week or a month has passed. It doesn’t feel as though it’s jumping backwards and forwards, but there is nothing to date it and it therefore, becomes slightly confusing. The story of his life while entertaining, just became a little hard to follow. The pieces of the jigsaw failing to fit together in my mind.

And that sense isn’t helped by the fact that the tone of the piece swings wildly back and forth. As with most documentaries, it’s a “talking heads” reminisce, but the interviews have a strange macabre feel to them. They are reflective, sombre. People painted by Hockney into eternity discussing each piece and their acquaintance to him, with a sense of obituary. There was more than one occasion where honestly, I started to wonder if I’m missed the passing of his death.

David Hockney

This documentaries strongest suit, and where it really comes alive is when David Hockney is fully involved, but sadly that doesn’t happen enough. Whether through him narrating and explaining or simply informing, when he speaks you forget all else and listen. There is an amazing passage where he compares painting and photograph and the portrayal and passing of time; his reasons so clearly formed that it makes perfect sense, and gives you such an insight into how and why he sees the world, that you see his work through newly born eyes. And it was those few moments of pure focus on the titular artist that I found brilliant, engrossing and rewarding. I just wish there were a lot, lot more of them.

Because, Hockney, while having had an obscure, removed, bizarre lifestyle as his provenance grew, underneath it all, is a likeable man with an amazing view on the world and an ability to orate his thoughts and opinions into a way that not only command respect but also makes perfect sense. I could listen for hours to him speak about his art, about his reasons for a piece, how the images in his head connect to those on canvas. When the documentary gives Hockney a voice, everything comes to life.

In fact, the most poignant part of the documentary is when Hockney himself say’s that “you should view the world expanding away from you, not drawn onto oneself”. And it’s when the documentary stops looking at a singular man, but rather lets you look through his eyes at his expanse world that it makes sense, draws you in and feels at it’s best.

David Hockney Looking Bored

This documentary feels very similar to Life Itself, the Roger Ebert documentary, in that it tries to bring too much to the table, and tell stories that don’t really need to be told. Causing it to lose sight of it’s overall strengths, ending up weaker as a result. I’m still not overly a fan of his work. And I still find it amazing how his style can vary so much from seemingly childlike scribble to crafted finesse. But sadly, this documentary, didn’t really get into the man himself for long enough to really inform a new or change opinion. It just presented a timeline, overly dressed with nice, but ultimately unnecessary tales, that left me feeling neither bored or entertained. The phrase that springs to mind is “I s’pose you had to be there…”

5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

Comments are closed.