Pollock


          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.



                                  Rating:        B-
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.