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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

POLLOCK (article first published : 2003-05-19)

Look at the work of American artist Jackson Pollock, darling of the New York scene in the early 1950s, and you might, like some of the man's early critics, wince and wonder if his chaotic tangle of paint splashes and splatters could not have been done equally well by a five-year-old.

However, see Pollock, a captivating film marking the directing debut of actor Ed Harris, who also fills the title role, and you will get an altogether different picture. Through Harris's deft direction, fine performances and some smart scripting we get to discover that Pollock's twisting and tortured patterns were no random squiggles, but carefully considered portraits of an inner turmoil that began years before.

During the early part of World War 2, the adult Pollock is shown as a bit of an oddball - a selfish boozer, taciturn and unpredictable, and unnaturally close to his burdened brother. Notwithstanding an obvious talent for the creation of abstract art, he was very clearly a right royal pain in the backside.

Something about him, however, truly touched lesser American artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden) - and it was not just the potential greatness of his talent.

Krasner not only took in the irresponsible, alcoholic, manic depressive and spurred him on to greatness, but later married him. And she continually rallied art critics to her enthusiasm for her husband’s art, sacrificing her own career in the process.

Pollock later verbally abused and cheated on her and it was only after his untimely death that Krasner put her own life in order again and went on to produce her best work as an artist.

In presenting the anguished artist, Harris, one of the most under-rated actors of his generation, turns in yet another fine performance, giving away nothing of the workings of a troubled man's mind but the colourful canvases he creates after much angsty thought, then with great gusto once an idea clicks.

There is a particularly powerful sequence in which Pollock, faced with a huge blank canvas that will become his first commissioned work, fully expresses the fear and exhilaration that such a landmark task presents to one so mentally muddled while keen to impress both himself and his patron.

Harris's excellent acting is matched every step of the way by a marvellous Harden, whose performance won her a well-deserved Oscar for best supporting actress in 2001.

Featuring a supporting cast including Val Kilmer and Harris's wife, Amy Madigan, as pretentious art experts, Pollock gets a rating of 8/10. – Billy Suter




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