directed by Ed Harris
(Sony Pictures, 2000)

Few artists have made as big an impression on the art and non-art worlds as Jackson Pollock. His name is familiar even to those of us who haven't the slightest idea what we like.

But for most of us, his life was as distant as the 1955 car crash that ended it all. Or it was until now. Now we have Pollock, Ed Harris' film about the rise and demise of the man who made art what it was in the 1950s and beyond.

Harris, who stars as well as directs, traces Pollock's career from his early days as a drunken painter cursing Picasso as he crawls up the stairs of his Greenwich Village apartment to his ultimate "arrival" -- a show in Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery and his picture in Life magazine.

It was a tough decade for Pollock, a man of few words and much passion, and Harris spares us none of the pain. We see Pollock literally on the skids: having a nervous breakdown over dinner because his brother and sister-in-law have announced that they've decided to move out of his apartment or crashed on a Village sidewalk following one of his many benders.

But there is also the triumph. Harris goes to great pains to show Pollock casting a long shadow over his large canvases, and there's that wonderful moment in which Pollock discovers the drip that made him the darling of the art world.

There's also the period, lovingly and intricately recreated, with Long Island circa 1945 looking like a series of dusky impressionist paintings, a sharp contrast to the pitched diagonals of the Village Pollock left behind.

Marcia Gay Harden won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Greenwich Village artist Lee Krasner, who discovered Pollock, drove him to commit his best work, managed his career until it took off and stuck with him even after he abandoned her. One look at her sharpening the carving knife while Pollock goes off the wagon in the middle of a Thanksgiving feast and you can see why she took home the statue.

Equally engrossing -- and much funnier -- is Amy Madigan in a seriocomic turn as Peggy Guggenheim, calling the shots and spewing venom with all the class money can't buy.

But in the end, all eyes are on Pollock, the unpredictable force, the man whose assaults on his canvases turned art into a contact sport. As Pollock, Harris, who also was nominated for an Oscar, looks like a young Robert Duvall -- assuming there could be such a thing -- but works more like De Niro, infusing great amounts of passion into Pollock's cryptic comments and brooding with an intensity that sheds as much heat as light on Pollock's life.

If you're looking for happy endings or snappy patter, don't go here. Pollock was a tormented soul with a decided talent for passing that torment along, and he rarely said anything longer than "I am nature," or "I'm just painting, Lee."

But if you like films that aren't afraid to pick the scabs off of human nature and look deep into the wounds below -- that turn words into images and images into profound statements on the human soul -- Pollock is your man, and Pollock is your movie.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]
Rambles: 26 January 2002

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