by Collin Souter
A moment occurs in Pollock when the titular character, Jackson Pollock, stands in front of a blank canvas that covers his whole wall. Pollock paces in front of it back and forth, his shadow reflecting on the canvas, following him as he contemplates what colors he will splash. The further away he walks from the canvas, the bigger his shadow, his dark side, gets. This moment illustrates one of the fundamental components of being an artist: Sometimes, in order to create, you have to be brave enough to confront your shadows.Ed Harris’ movie, Pollock, focuses on the life of Jackson Pollock, one of the most influential American painters of the 20th century. He also plays Pollock and I suspect, given the strength of the performance, Harris had to confront some demons of his own. He comes across happiest when his male friends surround him, confused when around females, and depressed and scatterbrained when the thought of not being recognized in his lifetime seems a likely possibility.
"Harris gives 'Pollock' his passion"
But Pollock does achieve recognition and acclaim in his time, an idea usually absent from most bio-pics about famous, tormented artists. In fact, most of Pollock, save for the last act, feels refreshingly different from most other bio-pics. I find it hard to accuse a bio-pic of being pedestrian and cliché, since usually the story has to stick to the facts anyway. One almost has to walk into a bio-pic with the idea that it can be damn-near impossible to sum up a life in 2-2 ½ hours.
The film starts off with Pollock not as a child, but a man, struggling to make ends meet in a dumpy flophouse of an apartment. He spends most of his time drunk or hungover. One day, a woman, Lee Krasner, comes to his door eager to get a look at his artwork. She slowly makes her way into his apartment, wanders through, and convinces him to step outside with her for a cup of coffee, but not without first calling him a genius. He also gets a look at her artwork, and comments, “You’re pretty good for a female artist.”
Soon, more interested artists and dealers show up at Pollock’s door, the most influential being gallery owner Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan). Taken by his surrealist experiments, she mounts an exhibit of Pollock’s work, where he learns the influence and importance of the “art critic.” One bad word-of-mouth and the rest of the spectators and potential buyers leave the room. Some praise his work later in magazines, but no buyers equals no respect or income for Jackson Pollock.
Pollock and Lee eventually marry, but in secret, away from friends and family (and away from us). They set up residence away from New York and in a rural farmhouse in Rhode Island. Here, we would expect Pollock to go a little stir crazy being out alone, far from the maddening crowd. But he ends up liking it. One funny moment occurs when Pollock goes to the General Store for the first time. He can’t make the transition from deep city philosophy to small-town small-talk. Still, he finds the tranquility to his liking, and his art doesn’t suffer either. He has more room, more open space, to create.
One of the best scenes in the film occurs when Pollock suggests that he and Lee should have a child. To Pollock’s way of thinking, that would be the next logical step. Usually, in a film such as this, the woman would be suggesting it, and the artist would throw a fit saying he doesn’t want to be tied down. Here, the roles have been reversed. Lee brings him back to reality saying, “We’re artists. We don’t get by, we struggle. I can’t handle it.” The scene illustrates a flaw inhabited by many, the idea that just because you have adapted to a new setting, it doesn’t mean you have out-grown your old habits, Pollock’s being the bottle.
Then Life magazine shows up at his door, takes some pictures, interviews him and his fame takes off. Success eventually goes to his head, so much so that he spends more time trying to decipher Italian reviews of his works than spending time with his friends and family who surround him. His joyous grins turn to bitterness when the hype surrounding his works slowly diminishes. Soon, he relapses back into alcoholism and here the story takes familiar turns. He stops shaving, starts going with women younger than him, and forgets about his artwork.
Clearly, Ed Harris has a deep passion for Pollock’s art. Harris takes the risk of imitating Pollock’s painting style by taking his colors and splashing them all over the area. Pollock never used a brush, and Harris looks as though he practiced for months trying to convey Pollock’s joy of creating through his movements and spontaneity. Marcia Gay Harden earns her Oscar nomination as Pollock’s long-suffering, yet devoted wife, who has an artistic passion of her own. I only wish the movie could have explored that a little more.In one scene, a reporter for Life magazine asks Pollock, “How do you know when a painting’s finished?” His reply: “How do you know when you’re finished making love?” An interesting response from a guy whom we see unable to successfully make love to a woman. Pollock depicts its subject in little touches such as that, instead of just the fits and tantrums attributed to being an artist. In the end, Pollock, like many other artists before him, walked away from his work, making the dark shadow on his blank canvas loom larger than the canvas itself.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=2018&reviewer=233
originally posted: 02/19/01 16:22:20