I thought I would continue this week with films about art. I have selected the film Pollock, a bio-pic about Jackson Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner. The movie was directed by Ed Harris, and he stars as Pollock; Marcia Gay Harden stars as Krasner, and the film boasts a great roster of supporting actors in smaller roles. Harden won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this film, and Harris was nominated for Best Actor. The story of Pollock’s life is compelling and ultimately quite sad.
Pollock, Ed Harris (2000)
As most people know, Jackson Pollock made a name for himself by laying large canvases on the floor and then dripping, splashing, and sprinkling paint upon the surface which he had pre-painted with one or more semi-neutral colors. Experimentation was what led to this practice, but the film deftly portrays the moment when he was first inspired to try his hand at such a technique. The film also shows clearly the important role that Krasner played in Pollock’s life–sometimes it seems as if he can’t do anything without her. She started out managing his career, but eventually their relationship grew into something much more personal. However, the film makes us understand that the feelings on her part were much stronger than his. In many ways, Pollock was one of those men who have never really grown up. He pouted when he didn’t get his way, and he spent much of his adult life either drunk or making excuses for his bad behavior. But he was unquestionably a genius as well, plowing new fields in the land of abstract expressionism.
According to this film, which was based on a biography about the artist that Harris had read, Pollock was careless of people’s feelings, especially his wife’s. Possessed of a strong self-destructive streak, he flirted with other women in front of Krasner and didn’t try to hide his affairs. She was unwilling to divorce him, however. Not only that, he flirted with his mistress’s friends, and it was one of her friends who was riding with him when he drunkenly crashed his car, killing them both.
Pollock was one of Harris’s pet projects for many years, and it certainly shows in the careful attention to time, place, and atmosphere. I had seen the movie several times when a friend gave me a copy of the Life magazine that featured the artist on the cover. As I looked through the photos and read the accompanying narrative, I was amazed at how close the movie was to the reality of that time in the artist’s life. It’s really uncanny. A documentarist of the time, Hans Namuth, made a film about Pollock and showed him in the process of painting. The filmmaker even worked out a way for Pollock to stand and paint over a clear glass surface so that the viewer could see the expression on the artist’s face as well as the splashes and dabs of paint applied to the glass. Harris studied this film carefully so that he could be as true to Pollock’s technique as possible.
Another factor that impacts the film is the wonderful jazz soundtrack by Jeff Beal. At times urgent, at other times laid-back, the music is always as cool as a beatnik, or as Pollock himself, and reflects that great post-war period of artistic invention that characterized the late 40s and early 50s.
View the trailer to get a better idea. According to IMDb, you can rent the movie for $2.99 on Amazon Prime. It’s $3.99 on YouTube. It’s not a light film, but it is definitely worth the time, especially if you like top-notch acting and a true story of dynamic personalities in turbulent times.