Pollock (Special Edition)

Pollock is an abstract artist,
the newest in vogue art form in the city

Hollywood has held a long-standing fascination with great artists. With films in the past such as The Agony and the Ecstasy, Lust for Life and Surviving Picasso these films have become a showcase for great acting and direction. Pollock is the latest addition to this sub genre.

The story takes place in the early forties in the artsy section of New York City, Greenwich Village. Painter Jackson Pollock (Ed Harris) lives with his brother, sister in law and their child. Its not an easy living arrangement. Jackson is an alcoholic. He is also bi-polar. Pollock is an abstract artist, the newest in vogue art form in the city. One day another abstract artist, Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden) pays Pollock a visit to view his art. She invites him to see her work, which he does, three weeks later. They wind up living together and although Krasner continues her own painting she rapidly becomes Pollock’s ad hoc agent. She arranges several art critics to view his work and which eventually leads to a sponsorship by Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan).

The film does not focus on the art itself as much as the way the artist’s process is interwoven with his life. As a bi-polar/alcoholic Pollock was prone to large mood swings. It seemed that the only time he was able to control his personal life was when he was deep into his painting. At the center of this biopic is a love story. Krasner truly loved Pollock. She sublimated many aspects of her own career to build up his. She put up with the rapid mood swings and the abuse Pollock gave out. In fact, Pollock not only wallowed in his own misery he made all those that cared for him miserable as well. Even though I do not really enjoy the later works of Pollock I did find the story of his life well presented and interesting. Pollock moved away from the typical abstract work to become famous for his dripping paint on the canvas. Just as his life became devoid of contact with reality his work reflected his separation from the world and its conventions. A man consumed by his own inner demons was free only when he was expressing himself with paint on canvas.

With any biography the actor has the added constraint of becoming the person they are portraying. This is especially important if the person lived within the life and times of the audience. Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden put on their roles like a comfortable set of old clothes. As you watch this film pay close attention to Harris’ face. When his character is about to enter one of his many manic phases his eyes almost gloss over. His facial muscles tense just before he goes from withdrawn to a burst of uncontrolled energy. There is one scene in a coffee shop between Jackson and Lee that shows how well these talents work together. Lee is on a non-stop monologue while Jackson can barely look up from his coffee, afraid to make eye contact. There is such a natural feel to this scene that you almost feel that you are intruding upon a very personal moment. During the scenes that Harris has to paint he actually looks as if he not only knows what he is doing but that he is consumed by the passion of the act. No words are necessary to show the only time Pollock felt free was when he was creating his art. Harden is just plain perfect in her role. She won the Oscar for best supporting actress. She could have easily been in the best actress category. She also won the New York Film Critics best supporting actress honors. It is honors she deserves. Her presentation of Krasner carries the story beyond one depicting an artist on the brink of insanity to a true love story. Kranser pushed her own art to second after caring for her man. She stood by him through a lot of abuse to further his career. With a lesser actress this role would have been unbelievable. Why such an intelligent woman would put a man like Pollock first in her live. With Harden you understand on a purely instinctual level. The emotions come across with crystal clarity.

This is the freshman effort for Harris as a director. He is on his way to becoming a director of some merit in the industry. His style in Pollock was straightforward and simple. No fancy camera work, no tricks with the lighting, Harris just lets the story unfold before the audience. He has a natural talent for framing and lighting a scene. The composition of the scene reflects an artist’s approach to a painting. Focus is on the main characters but the background is more than just filler, it adds to the overall feel or emotion of the moment. Like many great actors that turn to directing Harris understands his actors and lets them display their talents, guiding more than controlling his set.

The disc is excellent. The 1.85:1 anamorphic video and Dolby 5.1 audio is flawless. The rear speakers are usually used for ambiance but at times provides a true three-dimensional feel. There is a scene early on in the film where you hear someone at the door behind you. The camera swings around to show the person entering the scene. Between the direction of Harris, the performances and the audio the audience is drawn into the film. The extras are also above the norm for special edition DVDs. There is a audio commentary with Harris, a making of featurette, deleted scenes and an interview of Ed Harris with Charlie Rose. Whether you like the paintings of Pollock or not you will appreciate the great talent represented in this film.

Review by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com

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