During the Spring Semester of 2010 at the Community College of RI, I have been taking a course entitled Introduction to the Visual Arts. This course was designed for the non-art major, and the goal is to teach students of various backgrounds and career ambitions to discuss artworks intelligently; to analyze the artist’s use of things such as form, shape, color, and such, and to push them to go beyond saying things like, “That’s cool!” or “That’s ugly!” As part of our class discussions, the artist Jackson Pollock plays a prominent role, which led me to watch the movie reviewed here.
The venerable Ed Harris plays Pollock, and he so thoroughly enmeshes himself in the character that it has been said it is almost like watching the original artist paint. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Marcia Gay Harden plays Lee Krasner, his wife, and she was also nominated and actually won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. A number of other familiar faces appear during the movie-John Hurt, Amy Madigan (Harris’s wife in real life), Jeffrey Tambor, Val Kilmer, and many others. Ed Harris himself enjoys painting, and became so good at using the techniques that Pollock did that his own works are used in the film.
Ed Harris wanted to do this project for at least a decade, and he makes his debut as a director with this film. Pollock only took about 50 days to make, since the bulk of it focuses on the life of Jackson and Lee after they move from the chaos of New York City to a farm in the country so Jackson can paint in peace. The story of Jackson Pollock is a tragic one-he was very talented, and created some wonderfully innovative works of art, but he struggled with manic-depression and severe alcoholism. In fact, when the movie begins, we first see him being half carried up the stairs to his apartment in the City by his brother because he is so drunk. After the Pollocks move to their new country home, Jackson does stay sober for 3 years, and produces a lot of artwork and seems mostly happy. He develops a lot of new ideas, and starts using bigger and bigger canvases until he needs to work outdoors, or inside a barn that he has turned into a studio for the colder months. Many times we watch him throwing coal in the stove while he works in there. In the Special Features section of the DVD of the movie, Harris says during an interview that he has a barn of his own out in California that he loves to retreat into and just create when he is in between projects, so he could really relate to Pollock. To read the text of another interview with Ed Harris, click here: http://www.dvdtalk.com/interviews/actor_ed_harris.html
Unfortunately, this doesn’t last, and we see him taking a glass of whiskey at a dinner party while his wife says, “Jackson, please, no!” Then there is a break in the film, and Five Years Later is flashed on the screen. In actuality, it was six weeks, but it is really shocking to see Harris-Pollock next. In the interim, he has put on 30 pounds, looks totally unhealthy, and has grown a beard. He and his wife Lee now argue a lot, he can’t seem to produce any artwork that anyone is interested in, and he has an affair with a younger woman (played by Jennifer Connelly, whom Lee doesn’t seem to place any blame on, at least in the film, since she is so young and innocent; she’s just in love with the great Artist). Sadly, we watch him just standing in the back yard where he used to lay down his huge canvases so he could work on them like he has no idea what to do anymore. Lee can’t take his constant neediness anymore, and the affair is just too much for her, so she finally leaves him. He is devastated, can’t imagine ever getting his life back on track, and tragically drives his car off the road into a tree, committing suicide. He is just so lost in his own torment at that point that he doesn’t pay any attention to the fact that there are two other passengers, one the young woman he’s been having an affair with, Ruth, and her girl friend, Edith. Edith is killed in the accident; Ruth is the only survivor. This shocking scene is Hollywood’s take on it, of course, but it is based on fact. Jackson Pollock, the artist, died in 1956, when Alcoholics Anonymous was still in its youth, and there weren’t nearly as many meetings or the publicity about addiction help the way there is nowadays. After watching in horror as the alcohol takes over Pollock’s life and changes him, there isn’t much doubt that it is a disease-he doesn’t want to drink, he has to because he has become so sick.
In conclusion, I found this to be a very well acted movie, and was very impressed with the ways both Harden and Harris portrayed their characters. I also found it revealing to get a glimpse of the art scene in New York City, and remain content that I am not majoring in art. It is all too hectic and crazy for the likes of me.
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