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Review by Jeremy Kleinman | posted July 11, 2001 | E-mail the Author
The Movie
For almost anyone without a professional art education, an examination of any of Jackson Pollock's later works for which he became so famous may elicit an entire spectrum of feelings. Frustration at its lack of a defined focus, confusion as to the artist's intention, wonder at the use of colors in distinct places, and awe at the manner in which this confusing conundrum of a painting still seems to work as a painting. With an enigmatic, artistic figure like Jackson Pollock as its focus, one could not help but have lofty expectations of "Pollock" as Ed Harris attempts to bring the painter's life to the big screen. If one is hoping to obtain a greater insight into the meaning behind the paintings for which Jackson Pollock is most famous, one is likely to be disappointed, however if one wishes merely to see a compelling drama and learn more about the man himself, "Pollock" is definitely worth watching.

His pet project for almost a decade, Ed Harris succeeds as a director and as an actor in bringing "Pollock" to life, from his early days as a struggling little-known painter to the height of his fame and eventually to his tragic death. While Harris has put in many fine performances in previous films such as "The Right Stuff" and "The Rock", Harris seems to transform himself into Pollock for the film, and does a simply masterful job at bringing him to life, whether displaying his mannerisms or painting as Pollock had painted. In fact, it is precisely at those times during which Harris is painting that it becomes most apparent the depths to which Harris had studied Pollock and was able to effectively channel him. While it is always interesting to watch an actor fill the dual role of actor and director on a film, Harris seems to use both roles to unify his vision of Pollock and his life. While Harris does seem a bit unrestrained in a few scenes in the film, he does seem to do a good job as director, well capturing the beauty and art in the process by which Pollock painted and getting strong performances from many of the actors and actresses with whom he worked. To that end, Harris includes many famous and intriguing characters from the art world to bolster the story. While a few cameos, including that of Stephanie Seymour add little to the film, the portrayal of Peggy Guggenheim by Harris' wife Amy Madigan is an enjoyable one, and the inclusion of fellow painters like De Kooening adds an enjoyable level of depth to the film.

While Jackson Pollock was an American icon and one of the most famous painters of the 20th century, this film is not for everyone. Pollock's eccentricities, mixed with his alcoholism make him a difficult character to like at times. Because the film does a wonderful job showcasing Pollock's immense talents, their squandering is a bit frustrating. Further, while the film is quite a fascinating one, this is often neither a fun or exciting film to watch. Nevertheless, the film features an impressive depth, tremendous performances by both Harris and Marcia Gay Harden who won an academy award for her portrayal of Pollock's wife and beautiful paintings which make the film definitely worth watching for anyone with more than a passing interest in Pollock and his work. As stated above, the film does not solve the mysteries of Pollock's artistic expression. Rather, it seems to embrace the position somewhat articulated by Pollock in the film that one should not be as concerned with what is being expressed as just appreciating its form. While this refusal is somewhat unsatisfying, the film is often fascinating and definitely worth watching.

The Picture
"Pollock" is presented in Widescreen Anamorphic video presentation with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture quality of the transfer is, for the most part, first rate with few, if any problems whatsoever. The colors, particularly those of Pollock's paintings appear vibrant and fairly true to form, flesh tones appear fairly accurate and the viewer is at no time distracted by any imperfections from the transfer.

The Sound
The sound transfer on this DVD is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (although it is listed as in Dolby Digital 5.0). The sound seems to be balanced fairly well, and the film makes some, but not a tremendous use of surround sound features. The dialogue and music seem clear throughout the film and this is not a film with tremendous special effects. All in all, there are no major sound problems of which to speak and the viewer need not make significant adjustments in volume level in order to enjoy the film. Additional Materials
To supplement this very fascinating film, the DVD is accompanied by a wide variety of additional materials. The DVD contains production notes, filmographies for the film's stars, theatrical trailers for "Pollock" and "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould," a making-of documentary, feature length commentary by Director/ star Ed Harris, four deleted scenes and an interview of Ed Harris by Charlie Rose.

While three of the four deleted scenes contained on the DVD would not have drastically altered the film through their inclusion, the fourth scene, entitled "Lee's Painting" is an extraordinary scene which really adds an interesting dimension in the relationship between Pollock and Lee, his wife. While the scene may have been cut because it affected the pace of the movie, it is definitely worth watching. The four included scenes have not been polished and appear somewhat unfinished, their inclusion on the DVD are welcome additions and add to the appreciation for the movie, even if the first deleted scene strongly parallels an old Saturday Night Live skit about Picasso.

Ed Harris' commentary, the first he has recorded for a DVD, is interesting and is worth the time for those who wish to dig deeper into the film. While Harris does often seem a bit lonely, as if he would have benefitted tremendously from having Marcia Gay Harden or another of the filmmakers contributing along side on the commentary track, leaving a number of brief pauses of silence, Harris does do a credible job of offering and impressive insight into the film, Pollock's life, and his journey toward making this film, from the time he received a book on Jackson Pollock from his father, who worked at the Art Institute of Chicago until he decided to both star in and direct the film. Harris recounts a number of anecdotes while sticking with an extremely scene-specific approach to the commentary track, also speaking on some subject germane to what is unfolding onscreen. As a listener (and viewer) it is interesting to hear Harris swear during the commentary, which initially concerned me but as time wore on, seemed to suggest a strong sense of candor, that he was speaking directly as to how he felt about the material and what had happened without pretense. In fact, in one scene in which Pollock has been picked up at the drunk tank and is somewhat broken down emotionally, Harris confides that he drew on his own, similar experience in order to get a feel for what Pollock experienced.

Less commercial than those often included on DVDs the making-of documentary on this DVD is fairly interesting. While it features the usual allotment of cast interviews, the documentary also includes footage of the actual Jackson Pollock painting. This both allows the viewer to more fully appreciate the transformation which Harris undergoes as an actor and to see how close the movie was in its portrayal of real individuals. The documentary is rather artfully done, and does also do a good job of taking the viewer behind the scenes to have the opportunity to see Harris in the role of the director and to get a sense for the process by which the film came about.

Finally, the interview with Charlie Rose is a nice addition to the DVD, focusing both on Ed Harris and his film, and the life of Jackson Pollock himself. While some portions of the interview cover ground already covered on the commentary track, the very enjoyable making-of documentary, or elsewhere, the interview is well conducted and quite interesting. This is the only item on the DVD in which there is a bit of a deeper plunge into what inspired the specific paintings that Pollock seemed to do in such an abstract, chaotic manner. Approximately 25 minutes in length, it rounds off the DVD nicely.

Final Thoughts
Filled with good performances and beautiful art, "Pollock" is a fascinating look deeper into the life of an individual who was enigmatic as a person and as a painter. While not coming close to offering the keys to unlock all the secrets of Jackson Pollock's art, this film does an exceptional job of allowing the viewer to be a veritable fly on the wall while it is being created and to obtain a greater understanding of the person that Pollock was and the life he led. "Pollock" is an intriguing film and one definitely worth watching for fans of the artist or of Ed Harris.

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