A director/star’s indulgence: Pollock (Ed Harris, 2000)

pollock

I made a concentrated effort to find something to appreciate about Pollock, largely because it was a highly personal project for Ed Harris, who directed it in addition to portraying the infamous Jackson Pollock. He had wanted to make the film since the late 80s, and contributed some of his own money towards it. However, I’m left with the conclusion that Pollock is a vanity project with only a few aspects that elevate it above being just another dull biopic.

The film details Pollock’s life from around the time he met his future wife, fellow artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden), through his struggles with fame and alcoholism, to his accidental death in 1956. As is the problem in biopics with this broad a focus, it feels disjointed, made up of moments that stand in for longer-term changes in Pollock’s life, and that hardly flow into each other at all. Harris gives us, with his performance, as much of an insight into Pollock and his inner torment as anyone seemingly could. Harden is even better as Krasner, portraying a woman who sacrificed much of her own life and career to support the man and artist she believed in, and got little in return. Another actress may have made Krasner flat or harpyish, but Harden shows how tragic, and important, she really was. These performances are not enough, however, to compensate for the film’s lack of energy.

Pollock does come alive in the scenes depicting the artist at work. Harris developed his own painting abilities to make these moments better, and they do quietly convey an exciting creative process. There’s an intense irony in the fact that Pollock’s technique can be accurately imitated due to film sources such as those made by Hans Namuth, and yet this film suggests that working with Naumth drove the artist back to drinking.

With little sense of focus or progression, Pollock doesn’t form an engaging narrative and it raises many ideas that it doesn’t sufficiently explore. The film skirts around putting Pollock in a larger context, not delving deeply enough into his cultural significance or the theories that informed (or even didn’t inform) his work. Mostly, the film shows Harris performing as Pollock, and in this I suspect, it has far more meaning to the actor/director than it will to just about anyone else who watches it.

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