on 9 July 2004
When Ed Harris put down a, assumedly large package in the 80's that his father had sent him for his birthday, containing possibly the definitive biography of American 'painter' Jackson Pollock, I wonder if Harris would have know that around 15 years later he would have performed and directed his most startling and stunning performances.
Put quite quickly in case you feel the feel the need to buy this right now, Pollock is quite one of the finest biographical films ever to see the light of day. The contrasts of Pollock's often shimmering art work and his dark personality and mental problems make Harris' own work his masterpiece that will take something very special to surpass it, not just through the stunning acting that he portrays, but the presence and the emotion his character throws right out of the screen. Seemingly Ed Harris was made for this role, being a long-term fan since he first received that book from his father about a man he knew nothing about. He even looks like Pollock himself. Not just that, but for the actual painting scenes Harris carefully studied Pollock's almost dancing movement as he spread the paint across the canvas. Basically, this is all-Harris, but as someone else.
The painting moments are stupendous and utterly breath taking. Through Harris you see how Pollock seemed to slip into his own unconscious world as he moved, cross-legged across the piece, splatting and dripping along the way. But it's the emotional moments that are really what makes the film the chilling, thought-provoking masterwork that it is. The most shockingly shimmering moment being when Jackson's brother tells him that he and his pregnant wife are moving away to Connecticut for a job, Pollock turns up the radio and starts hitting his knife and fork on the kitchen table not just mimicking the drumming of the song he heard but pushing out the things he didn't want to hear. Soon after he is found sitting up, taking in a distressed manner to his brother, bursting into tears unable to control the emotions that trouble him most. It's harrowing to say the least.
Right from the beginning you know this is going to be a film of too halves; of course to portray the often-criticised Pollock as the genius he was, but on a level par with that his emotional issues, his depression, his pain and his own self-doubt that went with him all the way to the very top. All of these seep right through the screen. The scenes when Pollock had been heavily drinking were the most intriguing of all, particularly a scene where he asks an art critic staying at his home why a certain painting 'missed'. He's then told that there's too much colour and too much going, therefore pressing Pollock into fetching the huge painting to remould it. However, as the critic says, he 'doesn't care about hurting the feelings of the people who he loves most, but he cannot destroy his art', as he fails to put new paint onto a painting that in his eyes didn't miss, and that was all that mattered.
Pollock's work took some considerable time to actually sell, and only really took of when he accidentally discovered the 'drip and splat' technique he made his own, and which made his the most important artist of the 20th Century, and what strikes you most about 'Pollock', is the sheer strife that the man goes through, just to get to the top, but when he gets there, discovers that there's nothing there for him. His constant gripes at the press for calling him such things as 'poor Picasso', even alienated his family.
Marcia Gay Harden also puts on a stunning performance as his wife, Lee Krasner, an artist herself who quit painting to promote her husbands works. She is a constant rock for Pollock, and as the film shows quite clearly, it never seemed like a completely loving marriage. She would rather give him a pat on the back rather than a loving hug or kiss. Throughout the film you see her slowly unwind as Pollock begins to drink heavily and spiral further into depression, you see her make friends leave who are coming to drink with Pollock again, and her eventual loss when his drinking begins once more. Harden is possibly one of the most under-rated actresses in the world today, scenes such as her arguments with Pollock, years after his initial success when he no longer cared about anything other than himself, his pain and his new girlfriend (well played by Jennifer Connelly, who seems to make a habit of playing the woman in the life of mentally disturbed men, having played Russell Crowe's wife in 'A Beautiful Mind').
But the idea with Pollock is that every scene is intense, even if it's only quietly. The film is at it's most stunning at it's simplest and it's most complicated a lot like Pollock's works themselves. Moody, shadowy, low-key moments such as Pollock and Krasner's first kiss are as equally stunning as scenes such as Jackson tipping over a dinner-table violently. Harden is as an essential part as Pollock's long-suffering spouse as Harris as Pollock himself.
There are few moments that combine Pollock's poor mental state, with his work, possibly because of Harris's wish to let you marvel at his work and hurt for Pollock in his darker moments, but one of the few scenes that does, just about makes the film. The scene where Pollock is asked to paint a large murial (8 feet x 20 feet) for the entrance hall to the art-house of art-critic Peggy Gugenheim (spelling?). Pollock sits and stares at the large canvas for months. He just sits in the room and stares at it for months waiting for the right moment and the right mood. Then suddenly he stands up and begins thrashing away at the canvas as only Pollock did. He was later found by his wife sat on the toilet with his head down, when he'd finished. She rushes in to view the painting that has taken months to conceive and a mere few hours to paint, and is utterly gob smacked. The results are amazing, both visually and theatrically.
Pollock can be moody, it can be artful, and it can be dark and darkly humoured, but I don't believe that it has put-across fully the greatest painter of the 20th Century. But Ed Harris has done an utterly astounding job of making an emotionally powered moving film, that doesn't fail to effect you, the closing score of Tom Waits's 'The World Keeps Turning' a particularly touching moment, especially after the final scene of a drunken and highly depressed Pollock's car flying off the road taking his the life of one of his passengers and his own.
Ed Harris is seemingly one of the most under-rated actors I've ever had the pleasure to watch work. For some reason he always seems to get the second parts, such as his roles in Enemy At The Gates, behind the overrated Jude Law, and his role as the insane megalomaniac in the Sean Connery starred, The Rock. None of his roles ever really give him the chance to truly shine. However Pollock does and under his own direction, him, Harden and the rest of the cast put on performances that are quite simply career defining. Pollock extends itself much further than art fans, which is unfortunately what holds its success back, the fact that many will believe that it's a highly cultural film, and to an extent it is, but in that respect it is a triumph, as it is also a triumph on a similar scale as an emotionally powered, touching spectacle. Quite simply the best film of the 00's so far, is 'Pollock', a labour of love from Harris, which is a moving picture of a man struggling to succeed and be seen in the media, around the world, and most of all, in his own mind.