(2000, 122 minutes)
Director/actor Ed Harris' carefully crafted film about the life and work of premier abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. And both of those words are key. Because this isn't a standard biopic, nor is this some bio-pathological attempt to get inside the head of the man and explain his suffering. The film shows how his life and work were so inseparable, so codependent, that they could not exist apart. When he is left alone to work, he is able to manage despite his depression and alcoholism. When he cannot work or when it frustrates him (or when he no longer is the darling of the art critics), he breaks down into self-destructive behavior.
Along with Harris' superb performance in an Oscar nominated lead role (as well as Marcia Gay Harden's Best Supporting Actress winning role as Lee Krasner), the painting scenes are amazing, capturing the intensity and flow of the works, themselves. It allows you to almost feel the momentary bursts of creativity as he puts paint to canvas. He isn't just dripping and spattering, he is drawing over the canvas (something aided by placing it on the floor so he can work at it from all sides). If one ever sees the (actual) film of him at work (a project that the movie depicts as something Pollock came to loathe and suggests helped get him drinking again) where the camera is underneath a sheet of glass, you can see that it isn't merely randomly painting or dripping. He has an amount of control over the lines that he is creating. He paints what and where deliberately, not randomly. The film is able to capture that.
But it is about the silences, too. Not trying crack open his head to find what it was at the root of his suffering, it suggests that even Pollock has no idea. And like the way he attempts to divorce his work from over-analysis and the idea that art must mean something, Pollock the man and artist is presented to the audience. Like a painting. If one wants to connect the dots and look for cause and effect, one may, but the interpretation is by the audience. Not the story, not the film.
Time and time again there is silence as Pollock contemplates his work or just seems asea in the world around him. Almost as if he cannot articulate what he's thinking or feeling except through his work. And that is when he's most comfortable. When he's by himself painting.
The soundtrack is mostly made up of old songs playing on the radio with an upbeat score during the happier, more productive times. But much of it is quiet. Silences run throughout the film, often made more obvious by the use of ambient sound or a dropout of sound altogether as in the moments before the fatal car crash. Despite the racing car and the screaming, thrashing passengers, the sound drops and you see him staring again. Lost. Only to be broken by the sudden violence by the crash. No Hollywood explosion or wild car crash effects. The car comes to rest nearly out of view of the audience. And then silence again except for the insects.
The screen goes black and the credits roll following some information on what happened to the other people in Pollock's life. Even the final song over the credits is quiet, contemplative with the vocalist accompanied by a piano. It's a credit to the power of the film that almost the whole audience (less than twenty, but it's not really a date movie) sat through half the credits, silently.
Perhaps, like his art, we were trying to fill the silences the way he filled the space on a canvas. In the end all we can do is look at the work.