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PollockReview - Pollock
DVD
by Ed Harris (Director)
Columbia/Tristar, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jan 25th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 4)

There's a scene near the start of Pollock in which Pollock's family is sitting around the dining room table. He lives with his brother and sister-in-law, and his mother is visiting. His recently acquired girlfriend Lee Krasner, played by Marcia Gay Harden, is there too; she may have been the first woman he had sex with. Pollock is middle-aged at this stage in his life, but Ed Harris explains in the director's commentary on the DVD that Pollock never lived alone in his life. When his brother explains to the family that he and his wife will be moving out to Connecticut, Pollock throws a fit, pounding the table and soon howling and weeping as he clutches onto his brother. It's clear that he was a man with deep emotional problems; in one interview on a DVD extra, Harris speculates that Pollock had manic depression.

Set in the 1940s and 1950s, Pollock tells the story of one of America's most important artists of the twentieth century. While he was most famous for dripping and splattering paint directly on the canvas with brushes and from cans of paint in large abstract works, the film shows his development from influences of earlier artists such as Picasso and Miro. Those skeptical about the value of modern art often cite Pollock's painting as a prime example work that requires no artistic talent, and one of the great virtues of this film is how it demonstrates the process of agonized creation requiring huge amounts of thought, feeling and inspiration. Pollock's whole life was devoted to painting, and he would have been unfit to do anything else.

Alcohol was Pollock's downfall. When he drank, he often did it until he passed out on the street. While he may have used drink to numb his personal pain and desperation, it just made his life worse. Lee Krasner moved him away from New York City out to the Hamptons on Long Island, and kept him clean for long enough for him to have one of the most creative periods of his life. She tried to keep others away from their house there because socialization generally involved drink, and living in isolation helped his productivity. But she also wanted to promote his work and so they needed to bring dealers, buyers and critics to their home. The tension between his needs to preserve his own peace of mind and his need to make money ultimately tore apart his life. Once he became famous, he was thrilled to receive high praise, but he was unable to deal with the attention and the resulting pressures, and his world crumpled.

Harris's film does an excellent job of showing the art scene of the time, and the intensity of the relationship between Pollock and Krasner. It shows how she often sacrificed her own artistic career in order to serve his needs and nurture him. He plays the part of Jackson himself in a strong performance, and the rest of the cast is also excellent. The set designs, costuming and music bring the era to life, making it feel authentic. In the commentary, Harris explains how putting the film together took him ten years, and it must have been a labor of love. He comments on where the different scenes were shot, some of the decisions behind the editing, and the discussions he had with the other actors and the production team. It is an illuminating commentary, and enriches the experience of the film.

One might wonder whether Pollock's emotional troubles were part of the creative process that enabled him to paint great art, and indeed whether his abstract work may have expressed his own inner turmoil. The film does not answer those questions, although it does show how alcohol was one of the causes of the end of his career even before his drunken car crash. While Harris shows the artist in a sympathetic light, it is nevertheless obvious that he was utterly self-absorbed and when drinking, he was self-destructive and irresponsible. In the final car accident, his lover Ruth Kligman survived, but he killed not only himself, but also his lover's friend, Edith Metzger. Pollock in many ways appears as an unhappy and unpleasant man, yet despite this, his art remains impressive. Knowing more about his life does transform one's understanding of his painting, even if one does not accept a simplistic psychological account of his art as the portrayal of inner turmoil and chaotic feelings.

The DVD includes a short documentary about the making of the film, featuring interviews with Harris, Harden and others and some photographs and some clips from a film showing Pollock himself, which reveal the remarkable physical resemblance between Harris and Pollock. On the DVD is also an episode of the Charlie Rose Show with an extended discussion with Harris; Rose does his usual combination of praise and provocation. Harris does not reveal much more than he does in his Director's Commentary, but he does talk in more detail about the preparation involved in his creating the film.

 

2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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