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IN SHORT: Strictly arthouse. [Rated R for language and brief sexuality. 117 minutes]
There haven't been a helluva lot of names labeled "artistic genius" in the Century just passed. Jackson Pollock was one of 'em. We know that because back in the tenth grade we were lugged to the Museum of Modern Art to look at Pollock and Picasso (and probably some non-geniuses with a "P" surname as well). It was a well meaning attempt on the part of our teachers to expose us ignorant teens to culture but it came with no guidance. Without that, tenth graders more than likely have no idea what they're looking at, whether it be "Guernica" or any of what appeared to be spilled paint murals by Pollock or why these works and artists are "important." We know better now, mainly because our grandmother was a painter and she did the teaching.
Actor Ed Harris' directorial debut, Pollock, doesn't provide much in the way of that kind of information, either. If you don't walk in to the theater with any kind of background in art or knowledge of the life of the man, this portrait of a neurotic and alcoholic painter who accidentally spilled paint one day, found inspiration, and went on to a successful career (deliberately spilling paint) won't give you a clue. It doesn't matter how good the performances, by Harris and Marcia Gay Harden as Pollock's wife, the painter Lee Krasner are, and they are, for the film doesn't not convey what was extraordinary about the man. Pollock adequately gives you a sense of this couple's life together, from the good to the awful, the friends who stuck through thick and thin even as Pollock's blood family did not. It does not give you a sense of Pollock's "genius".
It can't. "Genius" is too ephemeral a concept and, if you don't have a deeper knowledge of the background of yet another tortured artistic soul, Pollock is a very quiet portrait of an alcoholic, neurotic adulterer, who found inspiration due to some dumb luck. That moment of luck comes during a brief period of abstinence, enforced by a move from the relative bustle of WWII wartime New York City to the then isolated Long Island town of East Hampton. A dribble here. A symbolic light bulb flashing above the man's head there and "boom!" Genius.
Does Pollock, the film, make us ignorant gits care about this guy? No. Does it give us a clue as to why this tormented soul is worth caring about? That's up to you and, again, the more you know in advance, the more you'll get. Part of the thinking behind this site is that you shouldn't have to know; you shouldn't have to have read the book or seen an earlier movie or, in this case, spent a significant amount of time in an art history class. By that standard, Pollock fails.
The film includes recognizable actors in supporting roles -- everyone kicked in to help get this tale told. What we get from the movie may not be correct as to who these people were in real life, but as best as we can figure: Jeffrey Tambor as Clement Greenberg, some kind of critic who brought Pollock to the attention of Life magazine -- Things were no different in 1949 than now. Mass Media exposure brings notoriety, if not fame.
Howard Putzel (Bud Cort) is an "advance scout" (or perhaps just another critic with his finger in the pie) for gallery curator, and top dog in the New York artworld, Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan). Val Kilmer makes brief appearances as Willem de Kooning, an artist from Pollock's drinking circle who was the first to find success. Jennifer Connelly appears as the never properly introduced (to us) lover, there to the bitter end. Only after the bitter end, in the cards that tell us "whatever happened to..." do we get a name.
Does Pollock delve deeply into the workings of a man who, essentially, lived and worked in isolation? How can it, short of creating fictitious characters to explain it all to us?
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Pollock, he would have paid...
Rent to watch performances. See it strictly if you prefer the arthouse. Without some kind of connection to the art, and within the film only one very brief sequence allowed us even that, Pollock is merely some good performances in an unengaging bio.
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