My wife has picked out the last few DVD rentals – she picks out movies like a girl. She is impressed by such things as Academy Awards and nominations.
I have come to the somewhat disconcerting realization that I value movies for entertainment value more than anything else: I don’t like stupid, or at least stupidly stupid, and typical horror doesn’t interest me at all, but many serious dramas, character studies, and depressing tragedies typically get me down and leave my mind wandering. I like ideas, appreciate fine cinematography, and look for character development, but these elements work much better for me in the context of a great story told with some combination of humor, action, excitement, or intrigue.
So picture a picture like Pollock – a biography of an artist – in this context. I can tell you that Marcia Gay Harden is outstanding as Jackson Pollock’s wife and fellow-artist Lee Krasner, and doubtless deserved her Oscar; and Ed Harris (who also directed and co-produced) as abstract expressionist, “drip artist,” Pollock looks, acts and smells the part.
But what makes an artist compelling is the inner workings and a fairly straight bio like this one gives very little insight into what made Pollock tick as an artist: what compelled him to develop an ever-more abstract style that came together with his great drip paintings of the ’50s? We see the evidence of great internal turmoil, self-loathing, and the downward spiral of alcoholism, but we don’t really feel where any of it comes from. What great internal forces moved him?
Perhaps some Lynchian fantasias, dream sequences – some kind of cinematic analog for the controlled artistic wildness that made Pollock great – would have helped: we see plenty of what, but very little why or how.
And we also don’t get enough sense of why Krasner was willing to dedicate her life to literally enabling Pollock’s existence. As Pollock says toward the end of the movie (as Krasner departs for Europe, giving him the space to openly consort with his much younger, more glamorous girlfriend, Jennifer Connolly), “I owe that woman something – I’d be dead without her.”
Which is true, but her devotion to him is presented as fait accompli, we don’t really see where it came from, or why she was willing to put up with his sullen shit, other than she thought he is a great artist. She did everything for him other than wipe his butt and paint – including subsuming he own career – what did she see in the prick? If he was charismatic, we don’t really get a sense of that from the film.
Pollock’s two-year period of sobriety and explosive creativity in his late-30s yields the success that he apparently cannot handle, and his precipitous five-year decline is depressing and pathetic. Krasner – for all her devotion – can’t stop the drinking, refuses to have a child with him because he requires all her attention and energy, and Pollock’s death at 44 of a car crash that also killed a friend of Connolly’s character, bears the foul stench of suicide: which if it was, was also murder. He insisted on driving home from a party that he was too drunk to drive to, let alone home from.
Very depressing – many artists just suck as people. I was already aware of that. This film is very virtuous and does many things well, but it is low on the entertainment scale, showing too much of the degenerating human flesh that was Pollock without enough of the inner mounting flame of artistic genius that makes him interesting in the first place.