POLLOCK - DVD review

In addition to the physicality that Harris invests in his performance, the actor also had to learn to paint in a way that would approximate Pollock's genius.


Sony won big at the Oscars in March 2001 but not through its main motion picture arm, Columbia Pictures. Rather, its art house division, Sony Pictures Classics, carried the day. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" won four Academy Awards, and "Pollock" scored the biggest upset of the evening when Marcia Gay Harden won in the Supporting Actress Category.

Ed Harris, a widely respected actor for quite a while, produced, directed, and starred in "Pollock." The film celebrates the life of Jackson Pollock, a pioneer in the art world famous for "the drip method." While the project brought renewed attention to Pollock's life and work, it also reminds the world that a true passion for an idea can result in a brilliantly realized film, one that can even resurrect a deceased historical figure. "Pollock" is Ed Harris's personal triumph and his gift to the world.

The film's gestation began years ago when Harris's father came upon a book about Jackson Pollock in a bookstore. At first, the elder Harris thought that he had seen his own son on the cover as Ed Harris bears a striking physical resemblance to Pollock. Well, Ed's dad sent the book to his son, and Ed began to think about the possibility of making a movie based on Pollock's life.

Now, Pollock may have been a genius, but he was not an easy man with whom to live. He meets a woman who understands and loves him, Lee Krasner (played by Marcia Gay Harden in the film), and she willingly puts her own artistic ambitions on hold in order to support him. However, Pollock's alcoholic demons continually plagued him throughout his life, and he could never find a happy balance between creating and destroying.

In addition to the physicality that Harris invests in his performance, the actor also had to learn to paint in a way that would approximate Pollock's genius. "I've been painting and drawing off and on since I became committed to making this film," Harris once said, "It's preposterous to think I could ever paint as [Pollock] did, and yet I had to paint in the film. The most challenging part of all that was gaining enough confidence to paint for myself in the style in which he painted." Mr. Harris is far too modest. Perhaps art critics won't praise him to high heaven for imitating Pollock, but Harris deserves kudos for actually painting (as opposed to Julia Stiles's situation in "Save the Last Dance," where the editing left me confused as to whether or not she was actually doing the dancing).

Pollock died in a car crash at the age of forty-four, and his death was not about his loss, but ours. As with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who died even younger than Pollock did, we'll never know what else the genius had stored up in his brains. 'Tis most a pity.

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is of average quality. Due to its low-budget "independent" origins, "Pollock" looks like a film made with artistic rather than technical considerations in mind. This enhances the gritty realities presented in the film, but the video looks less clean than other recent films. While the picture is stable and generally free of grain, it also looks muted and "quiet" rather than "alive" (as one would expect from a film about painting).

I'm slightly confused about the DVD's audio specifications. While the information listed on the back cover of the DVD's box art states that the soundtrack was encoded in Dolby Digital 5.0, my A/V receiver display indicates a DD 5.1 signal being sent from the disc. However, the LFE indicator never went "active" as it does during low-end intensive films such as "Saving Private Ryan." I guess this could simply be a case of a "phantom" 0.1 signal, where the movie was recorded in 5.0 but the DVD engineer kept the 0.1.

Whether the mix is in DD 5.0 or in DD 5.1 doesn't matter all that much. "Pollock" is a small, mostly quiet drama, so the sound field limits itself to the front three channels. This isn't a show-off mix, so directional effects are kept to a minimum. However, the lively music in the film dances across the soundstage, emanating from all five main speakers. There is a lot of bass for a full, rich sound.

You can opt for the included DD 2.0 English mix, and Sony provided English, French, or Spanish subtitles as well as English closed captions on the "Pollock" DVD.

The primary extra on the "Pollock" DVD is the audio commentary by Ed Harris. As mentioned previously in this review, Mr. Harris nurtured the project for years and ended up producing, directing, and starring in "Pollock." He explains to the viewer how he approached making the film and, surprisingly, makes for a very lively, spirited conversationalist. Harris made his reputation as a serious actor by using his intense eyes for full piercing effect. Yet, on the commentary track, he sounds as approachable and amiable as the next guy.

You can knock yourself out with the "making-of" featurette (also a standard extra these days) or the Charlie Rose TV interview with Ed Harris. The featurette provides an opportunity for the other filmmakers to get their two bits heard, but, look, the film was Harris's pet project, so I say that he's earned the right to hog as much screen time as possible. :-)

There are also four extended/alternate/deleted scenes for your viewing pleasure. Theatrical trailers for "Pollock" and "Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould" as well as filmographies of some of the cast members round out the disc.

A one-sheet glossy insert provides some background information on the making of the film as well as chapter listings for the main feature.

Entertainment Value:
I've long admired Ed Harris, and I think that he was robbed of the Supporting Actor Oscar for which he was nominated for "The Truman Show." It was a tough call this year between Mr. Harris and Russell Crowe ("Gladiator"), but given the origins of "Pollock," perhaps we should just be grateful that the film got made at all. Please, check out this title at your local video store or retailer before renting/buying a title that you've already seen a bazillion times.


Film Value