Dir: Ed Harris. US. 2000. 130 mins.
Prod co: Brant-Allen Industries Inc. Co-prod: Zeke Productions, Fred Berner Films. US dist: Sony Picture Classics. Int'l sales: Alliance Atlantis Pictures International, tel: (1) 310 899 8000. Exec prod: Peter M. Brant, Joseph Allen. Prod: Fred Berner, Ed Harris, Jon Kilik. Scr: Barbara Turner, Susan J. Emshwiller, based on book "Jackson Pollock: An American Saga" by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. DoP: Lisa Rinzler. Prod des: Mark Friedberg. Ed: Kathryn Himoff. Music: Jeff Beal. Main cast: Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Amy Madigan, Jennifer Connelly, Jeffrey Tambor, Val Kilmer, John Heard, Robert Knott.
Ed Harris' first film as director is a sensitive though fairly conventional biopic of the painter who revolutionised American Art in the late 1940s. Abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock was an aggressive, self-centred artist who liked to project a tough frontiersman image. He was intense and utterly serious about his art, but childishly sensitive to criticism - both good and bad - and unable to control his temper or his alcohol habit.
One of the challenges of making a film about Jack the Dripper is that of turning sceptics on to the man's work; Pollock manages the feat without ever being over-didactic. In fact, the film should boost the value of the artist's canvases - an effect already registered by Julian Schnabel's Basquiat, also produced by patrons of the arts Peter M. Brant and Joseph Allen.
The plot focuses on the artist's live-in relationship with fellow painter Lee Krasner(Marcia Gay Harden), which coincided with the most fertile period of Pollock's career. Recognising Pollock as a genius, Krasner put her own art on the back burner and stood by her man with a mixture of determination and frustration.
Harris himself has been working up to the part of Pollock for around ten years; he even had his own studio built so he could practise the daubing, smearing and dripping of paint that - in the simplest analysis - marked the three stages of the artist's career. The quiet intensity of his Pollock binds the film together, exploiting the tension inherent in the script's careful shuttle between scenes of tenderness and creative focus, and others of raw anger and destructiveness. Shoehorned into the surrounding chaos, the scenes of Pollock/Harris painting are among the most riveting of all.
The look of parts of the film is more Edward Hopper than Pollock: somberly-lit 1940s apartments, country stores and telegraph poles. Music and costumes are both nicely restrained (except for the over-the-top outfits of Pollock's first patron, Peggy Guggenheim). The film should attract medium-to-large arthouse audiences in the US and Europe if the critical response is upbeat. Pollock's one main fault is its 130-minute running time; it could lose twenty minutes without sacrificing the balance of the story.