POLLOCK, which marks the directorial debut of Academy Award nominee
Ed Harris (who also stars as the venerable American painter Jackson Pollock) was
the centerpiece of the 38th New York Film Festival. Just as the artist created a
stir, so too did this impressionistic and intermittently powerful biographical drama.
Although Harris as director and the screenwriters Barbara Turner and Susan
Emshwiller have tried to avoid lapsing into cliche in their portrait of the artist,
they unfortunately did not succeed completely. It may be an inherent pitfall to
any motion picture about an artist: POLLOCK falls victim to just about every film
convention about a creative person. Perhaps it's impossible to recreate the spark
of genius on film. Ironically, that very point is made in POLLOCK when a
documentary filmmaker shoots footage of the artist at work, but just as
inspiration hits, there are technical difficulties and the "scene" has to be
recreated. By then, the moment has passed and Pollock cannot recapture
that flash of invention.
In much the same way, Harris' version of the life of Jackson Pollock
attempts to forge a new form of film biography but succumbs to the necessity
of sketching the outlines of the artist's career. The film begins in the summer
of 1956 with Pollock's initial introduction to Ruth Kligman (Jennifer Connelly,
virtually wasted in the role) who is to become his mistress. Pollock then flashes
back to the early 1940s and the artist's days of struggle as a resident of the
East Village. Into his life barges Lee Krasner (a forceful Marcia Gay Harden)
who becomes his lover and then his wife and ardent champion. Their
relationship is detailed in all its almost masochistic glory, with battles over
Pollock's drinking to why they shouldn't have children. In these scenes, Harris
the actor comes alive displaying the barely buried rage of the man. (Reportedly
Pollock was one of the inspirations for the character of Stanley Kowalski in
Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire and Harris attacks many of
his scenes as if a warm-up for that role. His own performance begins as rather
low-key, almost minimalist but grows as Jackson Pollock comes into his own
as an artist.) Yet Harris the director undercuts the power of Harden's beautifully
realized portrait through injudicious editing. During her "big" moments, he cuts
away to reaction shots of Pollock, deflating her efforts.
Still, Harris proves to be an actor's director and elicits sharply drawn
supporting performances from Amy Madigan (Mrs. Ed Harris), as art maven
Peggy Guggenheim, and Jeffrey Tambor, as critic Clement Greenburg. It's also
always a welcome sight to see the great Sada Thompson on screen, here in
an extended cameo as the artist's mother.
Abetted by the superlative work of director of photography Lisa Rinzler,
Harris displays a facility with camera movement and placement. There are
moments when the film begins to soar but it collapses under the weight of
its ambitions. The film clearly was a labor of love for its director-star; the care
and detail are obvious in every frame. As admirable as all that is, though, the
bottom line is that POLLOCK is no masterpiece.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.