Rated R - Running Time: 2:02 - Released 12/15/00

America's love affair with its own history continues. Fact-based historical pictures, especially involving the 20th century, have abounded of late, whether they be about famous doomed ocean liners or infamous attacks on unsuspecting naval bases, or men who almost didn't make it back from the moon. I suppose the turn of the millennium naturally prompts this sort of thing. But another branch of this category is the biopic, and this is the case with actor Ed Harris's directorial debut, Pollock. Recounting the tortured life of famous mid-20th-c. artist Jackson Pollock, whose style knocked the art world on its ear for a short period, the film pays tribute to the genius of a man with the courage and the talent to pursue his own vision rather than follow the trends of the time. But it also shows the extent to which alcoholism and depression ate away at the artist's psychological well-being and brought his life to an early and tragic end. Written by Barbara Turner and Susan Emshwiller, based on the book Jackson Pollock: An American Saga by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, the film seethes with intensity, riding the rocky waves of Pollock's life, and incorporating some surprisingly energetic, Copeland-esque music by Jeff Beal which beautifully complements the fevered style with which the artist worked.

The film basically recounts the 15-year period between the early '40s and the mid '50s when Pollock (played by director Harris) rose from obscurity to equal if not surpass his main rival, Pablo Picasso, as one of the primary artistic forces in the world. It begins when he meets his wife, Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden, who won an Oscar for her performance here), another artist whose influence helped get Pollock noticed by the right people. After having seen his work, she establishes contact with the highly influential Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan), who in turn introduces him to the world. His sudden rise to fame, culminating with an article in Life magazine, allows him and Lee to move from New York City to a more pastoral and inspirational setting upstate, but his ever-present struggles with alcoholism and infidelity put a constant strain on their marriage and their relationships with art-world friends like Ms. Guggenheim and New York critic Clement Greenberg (Jeffrey Tambor).

Harris, who not only stars in and directs but co-produces the film, has certainly thrown himself into this role; it is clear the subject matter means something to him. But this can also be a drawback — at times, the film seems overindulgent; it bogs down somewhat in the long center section, perhaps a result of bad editing choices. On the other hand, Harris has chosen actors who can effectively overcome shortcomings he may have in the post-production phase. Harden's performance as Lee is intense and unrelenting; it's not a character that one particularly likes so much as pities. Krasner, an artist herself, not only had to live in the shadow of her famous husband (whose success could arguably be attributed, at least in part, to her influence), but also was forced to endure his often humiliating behavior.

In the final analysis, I suppose Pollock is not unlike a Pollock painting: at times tedious and unnecessarily intricate, yet full of fascinating complexity, dark, depressing, yet oddly energetic. Tortured, yet seeking some kind of emotional outlet to help make sense of it all. Harris treats his pet project with loving care, showing the depth of his passion for the subject, but he also pulls no punches in essaying one of the many complex artistic personalities of the last century. ****

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

Current | Archives | Oscars | About | E-Mail