26 December 2003 | ThurstonHunger
Art versus Life...and Life Magazine
I think it is very hard in general to make a "based on a true story" sort of film, that alone can clamp a pretty heavy anchor to your ankles. Moreso when that true story is one that means a lot to you as Ed Harris has said about Jackson Pollock's biography.
Based upon those precepts, I feel Harris succeeded, however I cannot say this film is an unqualified success. It is sprawling, but unlike Pollock...for cinema circulation, Harris could not stretch his canvas so wide. He gets over two hours here...but I suspect he could have filled six easily.
Based upon early buzz when this came out, including the snippet shown at the Oscars for Marcia Gay Harden, I had trepidation that this would be reduced to a shout and spittle film; that the rage and angst of Pollock and Krasner would be the story. Certainly this is one aspect presented, but not the sole one.
Interestingly to me, it seemed that the more halcyon Pollock's life was, the better his exploration of his art. I went in expecting that alcohol-oiled turmoil would be presented as the key to complicated creation. An artist must suffer and so on.
This shows that while I was familiar with Pollock, I was not that familiar. I could recognize his later chaotic, laced and dripped paintings...but I did not know anything about his personal life.
But in the course of two hours, I did enjoy...
1) Seeing a progression in Pollock's paintings. I had not seen many of his earlier works that had more blocks to them, that were more easily seen as assemblages of images. The way these were filmed, in the act of creation was well done here. Same is true for the latter works.
2) The importance of Pollock's family. I loved seeing his Mother come to the openings. I did not know that two other brothers also painted; Sande alone seems to understand Jackson's talent and torment. Their relationship could have made a film of its own.
3) Jeffrey Tambor's portrayal of Clem, a critic/king-maker of sorts. Us posters here, run the risk of being posers as well. And I think the best of us realize how subjective our comments are, a function of when we watch films, and who we are with, or how we are feeling as much as the films themselves.
4) Following on that notion, to me one thread of "Pollock" is how the circle of critics destroys artists with either persecution or praise. It is not a revelation, that much art is highly personal, both for the purveyor, but painfully so for the artists. Not a revelation, but still worth repeating...
When we see Pollock "drunk" on his ascent, reading from an Italian magazine during a family reunion, that really got to me. Maybe that was more dangerous than alcohol. Even if that critical acceptance is not essential, eating is. Another thread alluded to in this film, how to "work" and to live as an artist.
That scene also drove home the obsessive nature of being an artist, how it is hard at the same time to be a brother, or uncle, husband or perhaps impossible to be a father. Thus that obsession helps to contrast Sande and Jackson, and certainly sets up the power of Marcia Gay Harden's performance. Krasner too is an artist, who has had some success. She retains her name, and her dreams, but fully embraces Pollock, and Pollock's artwork. Her support of him, while aware of her limits, was presented without martyring her. She was not a saint wandering into Pollock's hell.
5) Talking to an artist about his/her obsession is problematic. They are already communicating in their chosen medium, and presumably they are communicating that way as it is easier than using words. I thought the interview with Life magazine in this film, and Pollock's notion of viewing his art as one views a field of flowers helped me. Maybe that was obvious to others, I think that way in music/sound...but in art too often I am hunting for images, for mirrors to our world.
The radio interview that Pollock conducted, halting and awkward could have underscored the travails of talking about art, or it seemed like he was trying to read from a manifesto of sorts (perhaps in real life one exists). Finally, the documentary film is painted as an undoing of Pollock. Fascinating as we ourselves are watching a film about Pollock. It's as if Ed Harris the actor in character could be talking to Ed Harris the film auteur.
The documentary film was to Pollock, what a zoo can be to a wild animal. The habitat corrupts the inhabitant. How Pollock puts on his shoes, when he's done painting, all control is lost...the private process made public, is made impure.
No, that's not the point to this film. If you are looking for a film with one tidy point, go elsewhere. But for an abridged but admirable biopic on Jackson Pollock, with many tangled and tantalizing threads...this is one to rent. And now a book for me to read. Rarely do I watch the deleted scenes and wish they had been in the film, as I did in this case.
There was a great shot early in the film where Pollock is pacing before the mural commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim. From the plot, we know he's worried about looms before him, and we get eerie shots of his shadow projected on the empty canvas to reinforce that. Harris too may have felt this was an ominous undertaking, I hope he pleased himself as he did me.