'A Bigger Splash' is a "biography" of a period in the life of artist David Hockney. It is unique in seamlessly mixing documentary and fictionally filmed elements together in a way that makes it impossible to separate the two. Director Jack Hazan followed Hockney around from 1971 to 1973 as the artist struggled to overcome his breakup with his model and lover, Peter Schlesinger, and regain his creative spirit. Hazan takes these real-life filmed elements and combines them with fictional filmed scenes (starring the real-life friends and contemporaries surrounding Hockney) to weave together a tale that is neither fully fictional nor fully reality.
While all this sounds appealing as an inventive exercise in filmmaking, the final result is a film where the scenes simply do not come together to tell any kind of a rational or comprehensible story. One major problem is that the people featured in the film are not identified nor explained. Viewers will struggle through the entire film to figure out what each person's role is in Hockney's life. Who is a friend, a lover, a fellow artist, or maybe just the artist's tailor or other service provider? By the end of the film, it is still highly unclear who these people are as their moments of interaction with Hockney in the film do not tie together to help the viewer understand who they are. Too many of the scenes simply don't lead anywhere nor have anything to do with any central plot. We see Hockney and others in the film go through various activities like attend a drag queen competition, get a haircut, and stare at a pool. These "moments in life" seem to just take up time in the film, rather than having any particular reason to be in the film. There is no narrator nor storytelling design that one can discern. There are some sequences that are obviously staged for artistic effect, such as a controversial-at-the-time extended scene of nude gay male sex and another dreamy, beautiful sequence with several young men playing naked in a pool that focuses a bit too longingly on their hard nude bodies and soft bubble butts. The problem is, these sequences don't even form any part of a "story" and seem like they are totally unrelated elements thrown in purely to satisfy the erotic fantasies of the filmmaker. One can't help but feel that this film was intended solely for true Hockney fans who might adore this intimate look at the life of Hockney and those around him, and the film resembles more a 105 minute long edit of three years worth of home videos with some weird dream or fantasy sequences thrown in, than anything else.
This film was released in 1975, and keeping in mind the age of the material, the mostly documentary elements, plus the independent nature of the production, the video quality is surprisingly good. Colors are acceptably lush and vivid, particularly important in shots that show the artist's paintings in their full wall-sized splendor. There is some minor artifacting (specks and thin vertical lines) that pop up infrequently, but certainly no worse than what would have been seen on a typical theatrical screening of that era. The DVD retains the original widescreen aspect ratio of the film.
The one audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The audio quality is typical "documentary" quality. Voices are clear and easy to understand, but some background sounds can be a bit muffled or tinny. This is most noticeable in scenes set in nightclubs where the music sounds like an old AM stereo with little fidelity or bass. Considering the source material and the era of the production though, the audio quality is overall acceptable and as expected.
The film has no set-up features (no options for audio/video or subtitles) but does contain a scene selection menu. There are however, some bonus materials included that sounded promising: an interview with director Jack Hazan, a Film Notes section, and a photo gallery. Unfortunately, all proved extremely disappointing when actually viewed. The "interview" consists of a few text-only questions and answers with the director similar to a magazine interview. The questions aren't even particularly interesting nor enlightening, adding little to our appreciation of the film. Similarly, the Film Notes section consists of several paragraphs of text explaining a little bit about the background of how the film came to be. Still, the information presented is minimal and some additional clarification to help viewers unfamiliar with Hockney or his contemporaries to understand the people featured in the film would have been far more helpful. The Photo Gallery is also sparse, containing just a few pictures of Hockney and friends from the early 70s. The only other "extras" are trailers for some other releases from the distributing studio, as well as a text-only "About Us" page that tells you a little about First Run Features.
This film is very much an intimate "home video" of Hockney's life that only art fans that followed Hockney's career would appreciate. It has a feel of being made for those "in the know" that do not need an explanation of who the various people who come in and out of scenes in the film are. One can imagine that an art fan from that period might delight at being able to identify a "buzz" artist that might be in a sequence. For those who do not follow the art world, this film is extremely difficult to understand, and seems to lack any interwoven theme or plot to tie what appear to be unrelated sequences together. This is particularly true as so much time has passed since the film's original release in 1975. Today's viewer will have an even greater challenge figuring out what is going on, as the people in this film have faded into history and the inevitable obscurity of time. Since the film does little to explain Hockney's motivations or behaviors, viewers are just left puzzled at what this film is even about. The only tiny bit of clarification comes from the DVD's back cover overview text that at least explains that the film follows Hockney's attempts to recover from his breakup with his lover- otherwise, even that central fact is not easy to figure out from the sequences in the film alone. Unless you are already a Hockney fan with some understanding of his life and career, you will not enjoy this film. Even for budding Hockney fans who might be seeking a traditional bio-pic or documentary that gives insight into Hockney's creative influences or that tracks his career successes, this film does neither. Thus for most viewers, this is a title to skip.