I was going to write on Waking Life, to counterbalance Tyler’s review of Inception, but Inception is fun and Waking Life is not and I just couldn’t sit through it again. Elitist Professor recommended it to me years ago; I sat through it with diligence and focus and boredom and nausea. I formed a resolution in my heart never to learn the how-to’s of lucid dreaming. Then, that night, I dreamt that I woke up and went to the bathroom three times before I actually woke up and went to the bathroom. Or did I? Yeah, I’m pretty sure I did.
I heart reality. I’m an accountant that way: ever since I was a kid, I’ve liked having one interpretation of the world. It doesn’t hold up, of course, especially after courses in literary theory, but I’m such a square that I’ve been remarkably good at ignoring all I’ve read. Jacob’s Ladder is even worse than my most horrible nightmares. Pollock is about on a level with them.
Because I feel very strongly about rock-solid reality, I approve of representational art and am much less fond of modern art. The vagueness bothers me. “Well, this can be titled ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ or ‘Ode on Indolence.’ Heck, I’ll just put a number on it and let people feel whatever they feel.” I tend to think that’s lazy, but Pollock, directed by and starring Ed Harris, more or less reconciled me to it.
The biopic begins in Greenwich Village, 1941, before Jackson Pollock was anybody, while he was living with and scrounging off his brother and sister-in-law. Almost right away, you understand that he’s bipolar: in seconds, the meekest, quietest boy in the world can become the angriest alcoholic boor in New York City. He is disgusting. He is not someone you would want to live with. He is not a sympathetic character and you can never get into his head. You can only watch the train derail again and again. You’re never comfortable, but you’re always intrigued.
Even crazier than Pollock may be the woman who eventually becomes his wife. Marcia Gay Harden does a bang-up job playing Lee Krasner, the Brooklyn chick who never loses faith in Pollock and his (disputable) genius. She gets him to the top. She introduces him to Peggy Guggenheim; he pees in Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace. (I repeat: he is disgusting.) I wish the writers had given us more of a clue regarding her motivation to stay with him. Through his poverty and his alcoholism, she follows him around, repeating, “You’re a genius, Pollock.” Is that really enough? Couldn’t she have devoted her life much more happily to Save the Whales instead? Don’t make a human sacrifice of yourself to anyone, guys, no matter how big a part you’d be in their biopic.
The art is the best part of the entire film. I’ve said I don’t like modern, but I’m ready to make an exception for Pollock. Granted, it’s mostly variations on a theme, and the theme is How to Succeed in Crazy Without Really Trying, but watching Ed Harris spill paint on a canvas is terrific fun. Those are the most enjoyable and the least worrisome moments of the film – when Pollock is concentrated on his painting, you know nothing can go wrong.
Val Kilmer plays a peripheral role as some uninteresting artist I’ve never heard about, and a young Jennifer Connelly comes in at the end. You know that Jennifer Connelly slept with Jackson Pollock before she slept with John Nash? That girl really knows how to pick up the lunatics.
Inception couldn’t hold my attention all the way through, but Pollock did. You’ve seen They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, right? You can handle anything. Check it out.
Image credit: www.jacksonpollock.com