Pollock Joke

Not a bad movie, just a poisonous one

Hey, you know how sometimes you drive your Lexus to a big cocktail party, and all the people there are all, "Yes, but my portfolio includes only a smattering of NASDAQ stocks," and then by the divan, someone is drinking chardonnay and saying, like, "Oooh, yes, did you see the new New Yorker? It had a cartoon featuring little dogs that was just so amusing!" and then someone else is all, like, "Yes, lovey, I was on my yacht, and we traversed the Bahamas, and then we went to the opera, and it was simply divine!" and you're all, Yes, wasn't it just très magnifique? I was at LACMA and it was muy bon!"?

Then you should go see Pollock. It is très magnifique and simply divine and muy bon—at least, if you're one of those people who belong to the Academy. Me, I'll take some kickboxing and gratuitous nudity.

Pollock is not a bad movie, just a poisonous one. Of course, the high-cultchah subject matter—the postwar, New York art scene, complete with showoff forays into brutish alcoholism and screechy manic depression—

guarantees Oscar nominations for everyone and their hairdresser. Director and star Ed Harris walked away with a nod, as did his lovely co-star Marcia Gay Harden, who played his alternately nagging and coddling mama hen, Lee Krasner.

It isn't the painting that's the best part of the flick. Though Harris moves gracefully while spreading his pigments onto his canvas directly from the tube, the butt-numbing picture keeps audience members on the edges of their seats for almost an hour and a half before delivering the money shot: When will Jackson Pollock finally discover drip painting? Oh, God, when!?

It's the relationship between Krasner (now getting some belated attention in her own right, overshadowed as she was by Pollock's "genius") and Pollock that's the best-told and most interesting part of the movie—at least from a woman's perspective.

At their first meeting, he's bemused by her bossiness; at their second, she offers him coffee and then moves toward the door, saying flatly she doesn't make coffee. She is a modern, emancipated woman; they'll have to go out. Yeah. That doesn't last. Soon, faced with his inability to care for himself—he's a falling-down, peeing-on-himself alcoholic—she marries him and sublimates whatever ambitions she might have had into cooking his eggs and helping him up flights of stairs. It's unbearably dreary, and terribly familiar and true.

There is gaudily beautiful cinematography, which you'd expect from a film about an artist, and there are terrific performances, notably from people like Amy Madigan as Peggy Guggenheim and Jeffrey Tambor (mean, nasty Hank on The Larry Sanders Show), who react with embarrassment to Pollock's violent stupors. But the movie is also awfully pretentious. When Tambor, as art critic Clem Greenberg, exclaimed, "Surface is surface; paint is paint," I'm afraid I snickered out loud. It wasn't just that Greenberg's dictates (much adhered to by New York sheep) that painting should be about the surface led to watery, colorless blobs; it was that I, as someone who knows something about art, was meant to recognize by this silly summation that this was Clem Greenberg even before he was introduced and that I should stroke myself for my worldly sophistication and perhaps have a glass of chardonnay while discussing my stock options and driving my Lexus.

Most of the movie is pretty okay, if rather a bummer. You'll learn some stuff, and it's pretty to look at, and there's fun art-world gossip from 50 years ago. Gossip is always welcome. But it's tough to take more than two hours with people who raise the hairs on the back of your neck, people who knock over tables laden with Thanksgiving dinners, people who reunite with long-lost family and ignore them completely while asking again and again if anyone speaks Italian because this Italian magazine wrote a profile, and when nobody does speak Italian, trying to translate the damn thing anyway while still ignoring everybody because the only issue is yourself and your work and whether you're better than Picasso. Then you go and kill yourself and some others in a drunken-driving accident, while some other people intellectualize your work and attach all kinds of meaning that—in this movie at least—you didn't intend because you're just an inarticulate brute. See? Poisonous.

POLLOCK WAS DIRECTED BY ED HARRIS; WRITTEN BY SUSAN EMSHWILLER AND BARBARA TURNER; PRODUCED BY HARRIS, FRED

BERNER, JOHN KILIK AND JAMES FRANCIS TREZZA; AND STARS HARRIS, MARCIA GAY HARDEN, AMY MADIGAN, JENNIFER CONNELLY, JEFFREY TAMBOR AND BUD CORT. NOW PLAYING AT SOUTH COAST VILLAGE, SANTA ANA.

 
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