A review of  Pollock” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language, adult situations

Run Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

 

          Strong performances highlight this vigorous biography, chronicling the meteoric rise, and tragic downfall, of one of last century’s most celebrated abstract modernists.

          I don’t believe that toddlers, teenagers, or the elderly should be forgiven their ill behavior because of hormones (get back to me on this in 30 years).  Same goes for artistic geniuses.  Jackson Pollock was admittedly a very fine artist, but outside of his art his behavior was unacceptably rude and abusive.  His brilliance was punctuated by tortured, angsty fits that rendered him a social misfit of staggering proportions. 

          Ed Harris, nominated for an Oscar for this role, plays Pollock with feisty nuance.  Jackson Pollock was America’s first “Art Star”, a 1940s phenomenon the likes of which this country had never seen.  Known for his bold and radical paintings and his temperamental style, Pollock captured the imagination of both significant collectors and the heretofore art-ignorant public.  In large part due to the support of his long-suffering wife Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden, also an Academy Award nominee), who shelved her own artistic dreams to boost her husband’s career, Pollock went from obscure bohemian painter to media darling.

          Painting is the ficklest of arts.  Critics initially described Pollock’s work, a revolutionary technique of “action painting”, as “baked macaroni”.  As his star rose, so did the esteem of these same detractors, who hailed his work as “the impregnable language of image”.  Whew.   But plagued by the torments of insecurity and emotional instability, Pollock began a desperate love affair with the bottle that was ultimately his undoing.

          Tiresome social dysfunction aside, this is a relatively fascinating portrayal of virtuosity.  Harris, who also directed, brings his own decade-long passion for Pollock’s work to his performance, a fervor that can’t be denied. Harden is rock-solid as Pollock’s strong-willed partner, and Harris’ real-life wife Amy Madigan is hilarious as benefactor and collector Peggy Guggenheim.  Painting montages are breathtaking,  finely illustrating the startling intensity of Pollock’s vision.  Harris’ direction, on the other hand, is slightly clumsy.  The man behind the mystery, the mystery behind the man.  Thank you, Ed Harris.