The Need to Be Needed A Review of the Film Pollock

By Ronnie Friedland


The sad story of the interfaith marriage of artists Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner is powerfully told in Pollock, directed and co-produced by Ed Harris, who also renders a riveting performance as Pollock himself. Along the way, a vivid portrait is painted of the struggles artists go through, the poverty in which they live (bathtubs in the kitchen and all), and the role of vulnerability in their lives.

The Krasner-Pollock relationship begins when Krasner, a tough-talking bohemian Jewish artist–played by Marcia Gay Harden, who won an Academy Award for her role–is gutsy enough to pop in uninvited to Pollock’s studio/home. They have never met, but are to appear together in an art show. When, a few weeks later, Pollock accepts her offer to visit her studio, he says her work is okay for a girl. To prick his stereotype of girls, she offers him coffee, then laughs and said if he wants it, they have to go out for it–he doesn’t expect her to make coffee for him, does he?

But soon enough Krasner is making him coffee and thinking more about Pollock’s art than her own. Talented and innovative, but also a deeply disturbed alcoholic, Pollock requires lots of nurturing. Krasner apparently finds this appealing: early in their relationship she and his brother find Pollock deranged and dirty in a hotel room, and she takes him home to care for him. Little by little, he takes all she had to give, leaving her nothing to give to others, which is why she says, she refuses to have children with him–probably a wise decision.

Pollock does his best work when he stays away from alcohol. But despite the efforts of Krasner, who convinces him to move to Long Island in order to get him away from his Greenwich Village drinking buddies, he eventually gives in to his thirst.

When he is drunk, Pollock can be cruel, not only romancing other women right in front of Krasner, who is at that point his wife but also calling her a “Jewish bitch.”

The scenes of Pollock with his mother (Sada Thompson) and siblings are heartbreaking. In one chilling dinner scene, when he becomes upset that his brother plans to move from Manhattan to Connecticut, rather than say anything Pollock leaves the room to turn up the phonograph to an ear-piercing blast.

The obvious rivalry between Pollock and other artists, such as Willem de Kooning (Val Kilmer) and Tony Smith (John Heard), is interesting to watch, as is Pollock’s complicated relationship with the critic Clement Greenberg (Jeffrey Tambor). In fact, Pollock is a film that anyone interested in the art scene in the 40s and 50s should find fascinating.

One of the many spectacular performances is by Amy Madigan, Ed Harris’s real-life wife, who plays Peggy Guggenheim, the wealthy benefactress of many artists, including Pollock. Portraying her as a rather cold and willful aristocrat used to getting what she wants, when she wants, Madigan is wonderful in the scene when Guggenheim goes to see Pollock’s art at the appointed time, and no one is home. On this occasion she becomes enraged, although on another occasion–when she has good reason to become angry as she watches the drunken Pollock relieve himself in her fireplace in the midst of a party–she chooses instead to laugh.

The film, written by Barbara Turner and Susan J. Emshwiller, is based on the book Jackson Pollock: An American Saga by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.

It’s an unforgettable film filled with stellar performances. Don’t miss it.


About Ronnie Friedland

Ronnie Friedland was the founding Web Magazine Editor of InterfaithFamily.