If you’re looking for a complex portrait of a tortured artist, “Hockney” is not the film for you.
This is a sunny, admiring documentary about the British (and Los Angeles) treasure David Hockney, who remains productive at 78, is candid and entertaining in interview segments and seems utterly content and grateful for the life he’s had and the artistry he’s been gifted with.
Director Randall Wright weaves archival footage with lingering looks at some of Hockney’s best-known works; interviews with longtime associates, and just the right measure of visual panache to create a rich if occasionally slight bio of one of the most well-known artists of the last half-century.
Born in 1937, Hockney speaks of his upbringing in Bradford, England, where he was one of five children in a working-class home. He’s old enough to remember World War II, and the tough times that followed. “There was food rationing until I was 16,” recalls Hockney.
Though Hockney’s family wasn’t particularly devoted to the arts, his father’s words of advice stayed with him for life.
“One of the things my father told me was to never worry what the neighbors think,” says Hockney. “That’s aristocratic, not working class. I took that lesson…”
We see vibrant photos and film footage from the London of the 1960s and the Los Angeles of the 1970s and 1980s. After seeing a commercial for Clairol hair dye, Hockney dyed his locks blond, creating his signature look. He never attempted to hide his homosexuality, which informed many of his most accomplished and celebrated works.
In one of the film’s rare moments of deeper reflection, Hockney speaks movingly of his relationship with Peter Schlesinger (the model for many of Hockney’s early Los Angeles/pool paintings), and talks of the devastating AIDS plague in the 1980s.
We also hear from individuals who have been immortalized as the subjects of some of Hockney’s most famous works. What a thing, to have an abstract version of your young self captured in a work of art that has been seen and enjoyed by millions — and will be seen for untold years to come.
Film Movement presents a documentary directed by Randall Wright. Running time: 108 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.