Film Reviews

POLLOCK

By • Feb 16th, 2001 •

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Jackson Pollock was lousy in bed. I realized this is ultimately what we want to know about every starring character in every film: Is he or she good in bed? Forget those $2000 weekend screenwriting courses about structure, foreshadowing, and “raising the stakes.” There are only two rules in screenwriting: (1) Tell us how good your characters are in bed and, (2) Make sure someone tells the main character how beautiful he or she is.

It doesn’t matter that Brad Pitt plays a “doofus” in THE MEXICAN – Julia Roberts admits her man is sensitive and giving in bed. The bigger the star, the more important this information is.

Jackson Pollock was so well known for not being able to perform with art patron Peggy Gugghenheim that it had to be shown. This is a pivotal scene in POLLOCK because it explains so much, especially his relationship with his wife, the castrating Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden). Although Pollock (Ed Harris) is the focus of the movie, it’s Lee we can’t help analyzing. Krasner is a painter herself, but she quickly assesses Pollock as a genius and becomes his caretaker, champion, and artistic interpreter. Only she really understands him: she is THE Jackson Pollock authority. No wonder she wouldn’t have a child with him. She’d have to take care of a baby. Then who would minister to Jackson’s needs? She infantilized him, allowing Pollock to indulge some demon inside himself. He became a brooding alcoholic. We don’t find out why. Maybe it had something to do with his mother? A traumatic childhood that left his brother intact, but scathed him?

Jackson finally breaks free somewhat and takes a young mistress. No matter, Lee tells him she will not divorce him. What can poor Jackson do to get even with her? Well, he does find a way, albeit a final one. He commits suicide by recklessly driving his car while his mistress and her friend are with him. He dies in the company of his mistress, not his wife. So it’s Ruth Kingman (Jennifer Connelly) who is now forever attached to the life story of the great Abstract Expressionist. This must have made Lee really mad.

Director Ed Harris does a brilliant job playing the tortured, uncommunicative painter. Harris gained thirty pounds (and a beard) to play Pollock in his declining years. There’s a riveting scene that explains the Pollock/Krasner relationship: in front of friends he screams at Lee and tells her he hates her. Lee just brushes him off. The poor man couldn’t get rid of her except by killing himself.

Harden has a terrific role and she knows it. Pollock may be who the film is about, but she’s in every scene with him. (I’m surprised Lee allowed him to paint alone in his own studio.) Harden plays Lee tough and without sentimentality. It is to her credit that her body is not lean and taut but soft like women in the 1940s.

Harris gives his wife, Amy Madigan, the harshly lit part of art groupie Peggy Guggenheim. It is a wonderful cameo for Madigan. Stephanie Seymour (Victoria’s Secret model and wife of co-producer Peter Brant) has a tiny part. So much for sleeping with the producer!

For all the heroic attempt to explain the “brilliance” of Pollock’s drip technique, my husband and I still walked out of the theater saying: “Throw paint on a canvas? I can do that.”

Postscript: Ruth Klingman played an important part in my life. A friend of my former husband’s, she was well-known around New York as “The woman who was in the car with Jackson Pollock when he died.” (No one ever mentioned the fact that Ruth’s girlfriend died in the car along with Pollock). I thought she was shrill and annoying. One Friday my husband asked what would I prefer to do for the weekend, go to the country and visit Ruth, or go on a boat with another one of his clients? I hate the water, but a weekend with Ruth? I said “Boat.”

That weekend I met my next husband on the boat.

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