Paintings, like films, are an intensely subjective matter. What one person finds complex, technically brilliant and reflective of deeper meaning, others may find shallow, inept and void of any discernable message of worth.
For example, the Australian Government believed that the Jackson Pollock work Blue Poles was an important piece to acquire and handed over 1.1 million dollars for the privilege.
From my perspective, while studying Fine Arts at RMIT I recall thinking that the painting was a waste of money, and like many other people, that “My five year old brother could have painted that crap.” Actually, technically speaking, my younger brother was a quite capable budding artist at the time, so he probably could have.
But the years have mellowed me, and now I just think that Pollock was only your typical f*cking loon drunk artist, and his art was just his art, good or bad. It’s not his fault that the art world is full of sycophantic wankers devoid of independent thought and afraid to say what they really think about most art, which is simply “I don’t get it”.
Instead, someone shouts from the rooftops and all the other sheep follow the warcry like lemmings off a cliff.
Know-it-All-Critic: “This piece is cutting edge, reminiscent of Mondrian and Tiepolo, while infusing it with the ultra-didactic linear non-dimensional subdivisionary technique of a Kandinsky on smack while introspectively questioning the very fabric of reality itself.”
Know-Nothing-Public: “Eh? I see two orange sheep and a triangular cauliflower.”
Film - painting. Painting – film. It’s all the same when it comes to the audience, really.
And so we come to the first directorial effort from likable actor, Ed Harris. I think Ed Harris probably understood the problem above. If he didn’t before, then he probably did after he ‘became’ Jackson Pollock for this film. Generally this is a fine effort, but it’s bound to meet criticisms depending on the quarters from which you side.
Not into art and want more meaty exposition in your storytelling? Pollock will frustrate you with severely contracted episodes from his personal life and love with Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden). If you don’t care about his love-life, and just want to gain some kind of understanding of his art and technique, then Pollock will frustrate with the brevity given to the actual painting, opting to create a kind of visual dance with the dripping paint that looks interesting enough, yet is still less than meaningful. Then again, some theory dictates that this is probably more true to what his art was about, being that the true meaning in his painting is that they are recordings of the creation rather than the creation itself. In which case the scenes of his painting methods are perfect.
I guess what it highlights is that if you want a totally thorough expose of his life, loves and works with an in-depth discussion and analysis of the man and his work you should probably read a book instead, because movies (and art) aren’t like that.
Where the film succeeds is in drawing a sketchy outline of the climb of the Pollock star, with enough detail to make you hate his actions, then feel pity for him, then hate him again, and feel sorry for Krasner while possibly gaining a passing interest in his Magnadoodle-style paintings. He does a few bad things (gets drunk a lot and pisses in Peggy Guggenheim's fireplace), he does some nice things (befriending birds and saving a dog), and he paints.
Here Krasner comes in to try and create some kind of frame of reference for the viewer, by attempting to label or explain the source of his art, whether directly to Pollock or when trying to sell Pollock to Peggy Guggenheim.
While Lee is attempting to pigeon hole, Pollock is either off to the side nervously awaiting Peggy’s approval or in another scenes obliviously painting on while Lee babbles. Sometimes this dialogue can be seen as a little too clunky in telling the audience what his work is or isn’t, or alternatively it can be seen as exposing the pretentiousness of the field.
Beneath all this I found the portrayals on screen to admirably succeed in drawing me in to believing they were the characters, not the actors. I didn’t see Harris up there, I saw Pollock (or at least what Harris would have us believe was Pollock, something his physical similarity helped to a large degree), and I saw Krasner as Harden wanted us to see her. Not all of the roles are so successful, with Jeffrey Tambor and Val Kilmer fighting to shed their real skins and become art critic Clement Greenberg and artist De Kooning respectively. Tambor succeeds more in this than does Kilmer, but only by dint of his extended screen time.
But as in many biopics, the end result is dependent on your own ability to be satisfied with the truncated life presented on screen in two hours, and whether in the end you feel you have a better understanding of who they were and what they were about.