Pollock Film Disappoints

Looking to films depicting modern artists for inspiration can leave the viewer cold. 'Pollock' is no exception. Despite it's well-delivered acting, the film begs the question of why and how.

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by Chris Ching

April.24th.2001

Movies about artists tend to be bad and "Pollock," the story of modern art giant Jackson Pollock, unfortunately continues this trend.

Not that Ed Harris doing double duty as director and title character doesn’t try, but Pollock’s life as depicted here isn't interesting enough to even warrant cinematic treatment. The movie feels like a landscape painting hanging on the wall of a room at a Holiday Inn -- well crafted but not the most profound thing in the world. However, if anyone is looking for an instructional film about alcoholic men and their co-dependent wives, Pollock vividly delivers.

The portrait of the artist begins in 1941 with the Uber-alcoholic Pollock struggling for acceptance in the New York art world incredibly jealous of the achievements of others -- "Fuck Picasso!" He shouts. In these first scenes, Pollock is more of a drunken ghost than a real person unable to deal emotionally with anything. Only when painting does he show focus or discipline.

His work attracts fellow painter Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden) who inexplicably drops her own promising art career to support Pollock as wife, cheerleader, and doormat. She shepherds him through his successes: gallery sponsorship by New York socialite Peggy Guggenheim (played wonderfully by Harris’ real wife Amy Madigan), temporary sobriety, and ultimately, worldwide wide fame when Pollock develops his completely new style of action painting.

Jackson Pollock was the first artist to dispense with applying paint with brush and instead kinetically poured and spattered his color. He saw his canvas a war zone where the paint was a direct extension of his soul, and the scenes depicting this are electric. The movie’s final act deals with Pollock’s inability to cope with the acclaim he so earlier craved and his descent into alcoholism which ultimately leads to his death.

Harris convincingly shows us a self-tortured man. His Pollock is a violent, self-destructive, man-child. Yet by insuring he never sugarcoats his subject, Pollock comes off completely unsympathetic. And we’re never told what drove him to drink or given any clue to his demons. His behavior is to be taken at face value.

Nor are we made aware of what compels his wife, Lee Krasner, to endure the emotional oppression of her volatile husband. Rubbing his infidelities in her face and referring to her as a "Jewish cunt."

Marcia Gay Harden’s Oscar-winning performance is equal to Harris’ despite having to recite some of the clunkiest dialogue in recent memory. After Pollock invents his new style of action painting, she bursts into his studio cheering, "You’ve done it Pollock. You’ve cracked it wide open." Trust me, once you hear it, you’ll be repeating the line for weeks to come in Harden’s New Yawk-ian accent.

The movie essentially is man abuses woman, woman takes it, man abuses woman, woman takes it … well, you get the drift. With Marcia Gay Harden’s recent Oscar win, Pollock will undoubtedly attract a wider audience, but despite two strong performances by the leads, many will wonder what all the fuss was about.


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