American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Reporter from Life magazine: "How do you know when you're finished with a painting?" Jackson Pollock: "How do you know when you're finished making love?" Pollock was a great painter. He was also miserable and made everyone around him miserable a lot of the time. He was an alcoholic and manic-depressive, and he died in a drunken car crash that killed an innocent woman. What Ed Harris, in an Oscar-nominated turn, is able to show in "Pollock" is that when Pollock was painting, he got a reprieve. He was also reasonably happy during those periods when he stopped drinking. Then the black cloud would descend again.
"Pollock" avoids the pitfall of making simplistic one-to-one connections between the artist's life and his paintings. This is not a movie about art but about work. It is about the physical labor of making paintings, and about the additional labor of everyday life, which is a burden for Pollock because of his tortured mind and hung-over body. It is said that it takes more will for an alcoholic to get out of bed in the morning than for other people to go through the day, and there are times when Pollock simply stops, stuck, and stares into space. He didn't have de Kooning's luck and find sobriety.
Pollock is often depressed, but "Pollock" is not depressing. It contains all the hum and buzz of the postwar New York art world; the vibrant courage of Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner; the measured presence of the art critic Clement Greenberg (who more or less validated Abstract Expressionism) and the fun-loving energy of the millionaire art patron Peggy Guggenheim, who collected paintings and painters. It was a time when Pollock traded a painting to pay a $56 bill at a store and found himself in Life magazine not long after. Things were on the move.
This is Ed Harris' movie. He started thinking about it 15 years ago, after reading a book about Pollock. He commissioned the screenplay. He raised the money. He stars in it, and he directed it. He knew he looked a lot like Pollock (his father saw the book and thought the cover photo resembled his son). But his similarity to Pollock is not just superficial; he looks a little like Picasso, too, but is unlikely to find the same affinity. He seems to have made a deeper connection, to have felt an instinctive sympathy for this great, unhappy man.