From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Movie Retrospective: Troubled Artists - Pollock

It's an old saying that "everyone is a critic", but I think that statement is more applicable when it comes to art than anywhere else. Art, whether you are talking about paintings or sculpture, abstracts or impressionism, is a very personal medium. A person likes certain artists or certain styles because the work calls to them in ways that others do not. When I was younger, I had a serious thing for the works of M.C. Escher and H.R. Giger (note: Giger's work is not entirely work safe, nor for the faint of heart). The things that one person likes, another may despise (Giger being a good example).

How an artist copes with the rejection of an audience can be an interesting story in itself. That's one of the aspects of Jackson Pollock's life that Ed Harris brings to us in his directorial debut Pollock.

Harris also stars in the film as Jackson Pollock. Born in 1912, Pollock first started making a name for himself in New York in the early 1930's. A follower of surrealism, he became one of the foremost abstract artists in the city. In 1941, he met Lee Krasner (played by Marcia Gay Harden), a fairly successful painter in her own right. In addition to becoming a fan of Pollock's work, she became his lover, and later his wife.

The dynamic that exists between Pollock and Krasner drives much of this film. Krasner is very much a headstrong, opinionated woman. She sees in Pollock the talent that others do not, and drives him hard to try and maintain focus, that he might be able to harness his talent completely. This proves to be more challenging than one would think, due to the fact that she also has to help him fight chronic alcoholism.

Early in their relationship, Pollock has some very notable successes professionally. Krasner gets the attention of legendary art patron Peggy Guggenheim (an almost unrecognizable Amy Madigan) long enough to convince her to give Pollock his own solo show in her gallery. Guggenheim also commissions him to do a mural for the foyer to her new country home. It is potentially the largest and most lucrative task Pollock has ever had to tackle. In the scene where he first sets up the canvas for the mural, we see Pollock standing before the blank canvas, with a light on the floor behind him, shining upwards to illuminate the surface. As Pollock turns away, completely uncertain where to start with such a work, he see his shadow cast upon the canvas. In this way, he appears to be turning away, afraid of what his own potential may hold. It's a beautifully framed shot, and for me, it was very illustrative of Harris understanding the soul of the character he was playing. It's one of many smart shots in the film that show Harris has a real potential as a director, should he choose to pursue it more.

Another one of these shots comes when Pollock has a "eureka" moment that would come to define the latter half of his career. While working on a canvas in his studio, he is painting the canvas on the floor. As he moves the brush from the jar of paint he holds to the canvas, a line of paint drips on the floor. Pollock stops to look at the dribbled paint, and something in his head visibly shifts. Thus Pollock began to utilize the drip and pour technique that would turn him into a pioneer many years later. Some of his works utilizing this method can be seen here and here.

This new style of painting was so unconventional at the time, that critically it was lambasted as often as it was praised. One magazine gave Pollock the derisive nickname of "Jack the Dripper." It was the continued perception of a lack of respect that drove Pollock back to drinking, and estranged him from Krasner. He eventually took a lover (Ruth Kligman, played by Jennifer Connally), and it was drink that ultimately did him in, as he had an accident while driving drunk that killed himself, and a friend of Ms Kligman.

In Harris' film, he does an exceptional job of showing us how complicated and conflicted Pollock was as a character. Harris first received a book about Pollock from his father, after his father noticed the physical resemblance that Harris had to Pollock. This fascination with Pollock has stayed with Harris a long time, and I think it's very evident that he studied everything he could about the man to try and really get into his head.

Marcia Gay Harden does an equal job in her performance as Krasner. Her Krasner is many of the things that Pollock is not. She is very disciplined. She is also very driven. There are times where she seems almost to be filling the role of mother to Jackson more so than a wife to him. There's a very difficult scene at about the midway point of the movie where Pollock starts pressuring her to have a child with him. The conflict between the two of them over this point illustrates the very different perspectives they have in their shared life. Jackson needs further validation, either of his talent or his humanity, perhaps both. But Krasner is already starting to reach her limits caring for Pollock and his personal demands. She clearly thinks it would be harmful to a child to bring one into that kind of environment. It's very hard to disagree with her. This particular scene was the one shown during the Oscars as her clip for her Best Actress nomination. She took home the award.

If you're a fan of Harris, you need to see this movie if you haven't already. It ranks easily among his best work, and I have even more respect for him watching this film, as it highlights the potential he has as a director. Added to his already considerable skills as an actor, and it makes for quite a package. Harden's performance only adds icing to the cake that Harris puts forth. Really exceptional film.

Tomorrow: Barton Fink