Pollock DVD review

Film / Video Reviews
Pollock DVD review
Jul 24, 2001, 05:09

POLLOCK directed by Ed Harris; Sony Pictures Classics 2000

Movies about artists, writers and musicians tend to err on the side of flamboyance. Depicting the creative process on film is a tricky proposition at best, so Hollywood at least tends to focus on the anguished, unstable artist. Charlie Parker or Vincent Van Gogh make better candidates for a biopic than Wallace Stevens. The result is usually some scenery chewing performance that attempts to get inside the head of the tortured artist.

By and large Ed Harris's performance is much more oblique in his film about abstract expressionist/action painter Jackson Pollock. Although there are plenty of drunken scenes here, and Pollack was a booze sponge with great capacity, Harris more or less plays him without attempting any extensive explanations of what made the great man tick. The most meaningful scenes for me take place when Pollack first discovers the dripping technique he becomes famous for. Harris obviously spent a good deal of time working on his painting and when Pollock begins that work Harris literally throws him into it. At that point Pollock picks up in intensity. If the movie in general can't explain the process of artistic creation itself, it does a great job of portraying the physicality and frenzy of Pollock the painter. Marcia Gay Harden won an Oscar for her portrayal of Pollock's wife Lee Krasner and it was well deserved. Her performance doesn't lurch into histrionics nor is Krasner a mealy-mouthed enabler.

Knowing that Jackson Pollock died in a car crash under the influence makes the end of the movie a foregone conclusion. Ed Harris does a great job in his first directorial effort; this no frills film about a painter works well for the most part. It's too bad about the music. Jeff Beal's polite, Phillip Glass-like bubbling really doesn't hold up during scenes depicting jazz hound Pollock. The turmoil of be-bop and nascent free jazz scenes (Ornette Coleman heavily associated with Pollock's painting and the painter was a conspicuous presence at Coleman's Five Spot debut in New York) would've provided a more appropriate musical accompaniment to the film.

-Bruce Adams

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