Pollock

Ed Harris's directing debut is a smart but disappointingly conventional portrait of an artist who had little use for convention. At a time when other artists were taking baby-steps into abstraction, Jackson Pollock put down the brush and picked up the paint, dripping and splashing it across the canvas in expressive tangles and arcs. The film,...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Ed Harris's directing debut is a smart but disappointingly conventional

portrait of an artist who had little use for convention. At a time when other

artists were taking baby-steps into abstraction, Jackson Pollock put down the

brush and picked up the paint, dripping and splashing it across the canvas in

expressive tangles and arcs. The film, adapted from Steven Naifeh and Gregory

White Smith's Pulitzer-Prize winning biography, flashes back to 1941 when

Pollock (Harris), then a starving New York City artist struggling against form and

alcoholism, first meets Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden), the fellow painter

who eventually became his advocate, mouthpiece and wife. Krasner arranges a

meeting between a drunken Pollock and eccentric patron-of-the-arts Peggy

Guggenheim (Amy Madigan), who agrees to a show at her new gallery. The show is

a success, but a real breakthrough eludes Pollock. That comes in 1947, when

Pollock, now living with Krasner on the remote eastern end of Long Island,

begins developing his drip technique and an all-important relationship with

art critic Clement Greenberg (Jeffrey Tambor). Greenberg anoints Pollock as America's greatest living painter, and a profile in Life magazine catapults

him to stardom. The action then jumps ahead ten years to find Pollock a

blocked and bloated has-been, drinking himself to death, carrying on an affair

with a much-younger woman (Jennifer Connelly) and making his wife's life a

living hell. Harris and Harden both hint at greatness, but their performances

are frustrated by awkward, self-conscious dialogue. And while Harris attempts

to put Pollock's achievements in an art-historical context, his film opts for

reproduction over insight. (Real-life footage of Pollock at work is reenacted

with startling verisimilitude.) Unlike, say, John Maybury's portrait of

Francis Bacon, LOVE IS THE DEVIL, Harris's film never really enters either the

art or the artist. Pollock's paintings fill the screen with their breathtaking

scale, but the man remains hidden behind a haze of alcohol and paint, much as

he lived.

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  • Released: 2000
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Ed Harris's directing debut is a smart but disappointingly conventional portrait of an artist who had little use for convention. At a time when other artists were taking baby-steps into abstraction, Jackson Pollock put down the brush and picked… (more)

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