Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

If this movie teaches you anything, it is what mothers and the rest of the world know already. Don't marry an artist.

Ed Harris has made a brave choice for his first movie as director. Jackson Pollock was the guy who flung paint at canvases. In the Fifties, he was considered a giant of what was then called modern art. The Americans were coming into their own after European dominance and New York was the hot spot where new ideas were breaking.

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Writers and artists don't make great biopics. Their lives tend to be boring and self-destructive. Instead of going to the office, they go to the shed in the garden. Social intercourse is minimal. Which is where the wife comes in. She has to be mother, housekeeper, psychiatrist, lover, accountant, secretary and (optional) chauffeur.

Pollock was a country boy from out West. He's living in New York in the early Forties with his brother and his brother's pregnant wife. Already, he's showing signs of manic depression and alcoholism. His sister-in-law can't stand it. He paints poor copies of Picasso's cubist period in the back bedroom.

If it wasn't for Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden), he would have drunk himself to death without achieving a sniff at recognition. She was an artist from Brooklyn, the daughter of Russian immigrants, volatile, intelligent, energetic and a true believer in Pollock's genius. She moves in and becomes, amongst all those other things, his publicist. Quite soon Peggy Guggenheim (wonderful cameo role from Amy Madigan) is on the mailing list. She has money, influence and an eye for fresh talent. Certain critics get the message. "Paint is paint. Surface is surface. That's all there is," Clem Greenberg (Jeffrey Tambor) says. He's one of them and that's the way they talk.

Harris looks like Pollock, but even if he didn't, it wouldn't matter. He's such a fine actor, it's a delight watching him work. Obviously, this is a labour of love and he's exceptionally honest in his portrayal, even putting on pounds to show the famous artist in decline, once fame has turned him sour and he's back on the sauce.

Pollock didn't fling paint at canvases. That's a perception, nurtured by the Philistine mob, who feared the curse of the new. He dripped paint onto canvases and the result is beautiful. Pollock can't explain. "The source of art comes from the unconscious," he says.

Other than what he does - the paintings on the wall - Pollock is not an attractive man. When he drinks, he rages. When he doesn't drink, he's depressed. He's not interested in anyone but himself. He treats Lee badly. The only reason this movie has an 18 certificate is because of the language he uses.

The performances of the two leads are beyond reproach. As a directorial debut, the film is patchy, but intense. To his lasting credit, Harris does not attempt to lie about Pollock's failings as a human being. He comes as close as anyone to the creative process.

The real hero is the heroine.

Reviewed on: 06 Apr 2001
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The agony and the ecstasy of Jackson Pollock breaking new ground in American painting.
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Director: Ed Harris

Writer: Barbara Turner, Susan Emshwiller. Based on the book Jackson Pollock - An American Saga by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

Starring: Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Amy Madigan, Jennifer Connelly, Jeffrey Tambor, Val Kilmer

Year: 2000

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: USA


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