At the end of the 1940's, abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) is featured in Life magazine. Flashback to 1941, he's living with his brother in a tiny apartment in New York City, drinking too much, and exhibiting an occasional painting in group shows. That's when he meets artist Lee Krasner, who puts her career on hold to be his companion, lover, champion, wife, and, in essence, caretaker. To get him away from booze, insecurity, and the stress of city life, they move to the Hamptons where nature and sobriety help Pollock achieve a breakthrough in style: a critic praises, then Life magazine calls. But so do old demons: the end is nasty, brutish, and short. Written by
Although the film doesn't exactly startle us with its thesis that the life of an artist is rarely a happy one `Pollock' manages to skirt most of the clichés inherent in the `tortured-artist' biographical genre to provide us with a complex study not only of the man himself but also of the woman who stood beside him through most of his troubled life.
Jackson Pollock was, of course, the prototypical `struggling genius' neurotic, insecure, arrogant, self-absorbed and forever locked in an epic struggle with his own private demons (in Pollock's case, alcoholism). Out of this morass of personal weaknesses, the painter perfected his art which became a reflection and synthesis of the raw elements comprising the emotionally chaotic world in which he lived. The film introduces us to the man in 1941 when he is still a virtual unknown living in Greenwich Village, bellowing in an alcoholic rage against the success of Picasso, in whose shadow Pollock seems to be forever hidden away from public view. One day, into his life walks Lee Krasner, a similar, though less gifted, modern artist who detects Pollock's special genius and becomes the future art world celebrity's greatest champion and lover.
Much of the fascination of the film lies in the examination of the complexities of the almost love-hate relationship that develops between the two. On the one hand, we sense that Jackson and Lee provide just the right emotional complement for one another a shared symbiosis which lays the foundation for an environment in which Pollock's creativity and artistic experimentation can expand and flourish. Lee, for instance, wages a fierce battle to secure Pollock's acceptance among the crème de la crème of New York's art world elite, the result of which is eventual name recognition for Pollock the world over. Yet, Lee pays an ultimate price for her tenacious possessiveness: so all consumed does she become in the life and work of the man who will change the face of modern art that she begins to alienate him and eventually push him away. Unwilling to share him even with a child of their own, she ends up depriving Pollock of the chance of experiencing the joys of fatherhood. The final result is that he is truly left with nothing but his identity as a painter. Thus, as his reputation begins to become eclipsed by newer, younger artists, and as he retreats back into an alcoholic haze after a couple of years of productive sobriety, Pollock's life begins its inevitable spiral downwards into hopelessness and tragedy.
Ed Harris not only stars in the film but directed it as well. He does a superb job on both counts. As Pollock, he supplies the brooding sensitivity as well as the physical intensity that are reflected in the artist's paintings themselves. One never doubts the genuine love Pollock has for Lee, yet always there is the constant threat of physical violence lying latent beneath his placid surface. Marcia Gay Harden matches Harris' performance every step of the way. Beneath her determined, hard-edged exterior lies a woman capable of sincere attachment and a total devotion to both a person and the cause he represents.
Unlike so many films dealing with the lives of artists in which we see brief glimpses of paint-dabbing followed almost immediately by views of the finished products `Pollock' provides generous opportunities to see Pollock (i.e. Harris) in action. We sit spellbound as we watch him take a plain white canvas and, step by step, convert it into a work of beauty and art.
If for no other reason, the film is worth seeing just to whet one's appetite and renew one's appreciation for Pollock's work.
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