Pollock, the film, not as interesting as Pollock , the man
By Peter Heidenreich
By Peter Heidenreich
e e 1/2
Ed Harris, director
Barbara Turner & Susan Emshwiller, screenwriters
Runtime: 122 minutes; Rated: R
Now on video
Jackson Pollock lived the paradigmatic lifestyle of an artist. A volatile neurotic and hopeless alcoholic, he scrounged to make a living in New Yorks bohemian Greenwich Village, while his revolutionary art sat waiting to be discovered. Then, once he had won national and international acclaim, he allowed both his fame and personal issues to overshadow his work and ultimately his very existence. He was a man labeled a genius by an art community as quick to lavish praise on an artist as to denounce him. In Ed Harris Pollock, however, one comes away from the film without really understanding the man any more than before.
Pollock opens with the artists humble beginnings in obscurity. He is living with his brother and sister-in-law, struggling with art, life and alcohol. Early in the film he meets Lee Krasner, a fellow artist, and they soon forge a close relationship. The rest of Pollock depicts his meteoric rise to artistic immortality, and the inevitable consequences that fame has on his sensitive, temperamental personality.
The films namesake is played by Ed Harris himself, with Marcia Gay Harden playing his girlfriend and later wife, Lee Krasner. Though they give strong performances, as does the rest of the cast, at no point does the acting feel like anything more than just that, acting. The cast runs through the motions with a well rehearsed precision, but because of their overly technical approach, the characters all seem distanced and unreal. Basically, they were trying too hard. Though much of the film is highly charged and emotional, the performances do not well up from the appropriate places within the actors to convey that emotion. They were playing the characters, but they were not in them.
Since the film has to cover a long expanse of time, (roughly 15 years in two hours) many of the scenes feel very in media res, that is, the viewer is immediately thrown into a moment in Pollocks life without much exposition. Because of this, the film is paced episodically, which creates a sense of fast-forwarding through the mans life and stopping at only key moments. Furthermore, this has the effect of giving the film a narratively jerky feel. It lacks smooth, natural transitions from scene to scene, and this, in turn, leaves the portrait of Jackson Pollock without cohesion.
Marcia Gay Harden won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Pollock, which I believe is deserved. Though her performance has the aforementioned mechanical feel, hers was much less noticeable than Harris. She gives her character both confidence and tenderness in the face of Pollocks erratic behavior, and her effect on the man is well articulated in the film.
Pollock has its faults and certainly bit off a bit more than it could chew, but the film is still engaging because of the material. Jackson Pollock led such an extraordinary life that even a cinematically underwhelming interpretation of that life is not without its merits.