DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Pollock, Mona Lisa Smile, Finding Neverland, Finding Forrester, Titanic (and The Final Secret), The Poseidon Adventure , A Friend Like Harry, Amelie, My Kid Could Paint That, Winter Passing, Brideshead Revisited

 

Title: Pollock 

Release Date:  2000

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 122 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  R

Distributor and Production Company:  Sony Pictures Classics

Director; Writer: Ed Harris

Producer:

Cast: Ed Harris  Marcia Gay Harden, Amy Madigan, Jennifer Connelly, Jeffrey Tambor, Bud Cort , John Heard, Val Kilmer, Tom Bower, Robert Knott, David Leary, Julie Anna Rose, Rebecca Wisocky

Technical:  regular aspect ratio

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  independent artists

Review: Review of Pollock (2000); Sony Pictures Classics, R, 122 minutes

This film about the career of abstract painter Jackson Pollock, played by and directed by Ed Harris, with a tremendous amount of dedication. (Also Marcia Gay Harden, Amy Madigan, Jennifer Connelly, Jeffrey Tambor, Bud Cort , John Heard, Val Kilmer, Tom Bower, Robert Knott, David Leary, Julie Anna Rose, Rebecca Wisocky.) Harris, in fact, goes through quite a transformation in the movie (comparable to Hanks in Castaway but in the opposite direction), gaining 40 pounds or so and displaying a pot belly as the aging painter in the mid 1950s [the movies progresses through times like Giant], although he was decrepit enough in the opening scenes in Greenwich Village when he has gotten out of the War, 4-F, and a non-adaptive alcoholic at that. (A personal note: in 8th grade, I had to write a term paper “The Home Front During World War II,” and this film gives a lot more than the World Book).  In one kitchen scene, his brother complains that they’re drafting married men with children if they don’t have civilian defense jobs. So Pollock gets to be “creative” and escape the “responsibilities” or “normal” people, until he gets married himself and wants kids but his wife won’t bring children into a family that can’t support itself because of Pollock’s obsession with his art—himself and not much else from the outside world or other people.  There is this line between reality and self-indulgence.  Pollock paints brushlessly, using a stick to throw dark colors onto the canvas, and create metallic-looking images (eventually winding up in the Guggenheim) that resemble the cantaloupe surface of Triton. Sometimes the script seems overly inventive, as if trying to stretch this beyond a film that might have been shown on the Biography channel on A&E. The final crash scene is harrowing, more so than a comparable one in Duvall’s film. 

As for the “artist’s life” I share some of this, if in a more subtle, temperate manner.  I did identify with the character

Art is returning to bars now: one gay bar in Milwaukee features a mural that looks like a hypothetical city on Titan, but that’s not abstract. 

The Christmas season film Mona Lisa Smile (Columbia, Revolution Studios, 2003, PG-13, dir. Mike Newell) shows a painting of Pollock as a controversial example of modern art, as the art history teacher Katherine Watson, played energetically by Julia Roberts, tries to open the eyes of upper class Wellesley College (Mass.) girls, most of whom make it plain that they are there for a Mrs. Degree. The film starts in the fall of 1953, during the heart of McCarthyism and before the days of Betty Friedan.  The students are amazingly well prepared for her first lecture and shame her out of the hall (a scene I have trouble believing) but she fights back and quickly challenges them to think for themselves in determining what is good art of bad. At least one famous painter (Vincent Van Gogh) never sold in his lifetime, but today his paintings are chopped up for puzzles by corporate America, which will employ the students’ future husbands. There is one shocking scene teaching Emily Post etiquette, table manners, literally the expected deportment of corporate wives giving dinner parties. So, indeed, this is a finishing school, and non-conformity will not be tolerated. A nurse gets fired for passing out birth control tampons.  In time, Katherine challenges a few of the students to think about having it all—career and family, as with one girl whom she encourages to apply to law school. But most of the girls seem to really want to become Stepford Wives. Well, maybe the really want to see homemaking (and childbearing) remain a privilege, and their husbands want to remain needed.

Well, all that brings me to what I experienced of Cold War era social culture. In the 1960s I taught algebra as an assistant instructor and was relieved of my duties for being too “hard” but then hired again. And, I had been thrown out of William and Mary as a freshman for telling the Dean of Men that I was gay, but really because I had left a relatively “open” social environment (even in 1961) Arlington’s Washington-Lee High School for the more typical Cold War social climate then at William and Mary, where boys saw tribal behavior as normal. What seems shocking to us today was perceived as freedom by people who lived in this culture of new consumerism of the 1950s, even if it seems designed to keep people who didn’t “belong” in the place. (Links are http://www.doaskdotell.com/content/xchap1.htm and http://www.doaskdotell.com/content/xchap2.htm.)

The “Mona Lisa Smile” of course refers to the ambiguous facial expression in the famous Leonardo da Vinci painting. I recall in 9th Grade English writing a violent short story “Who Stole the Mona Lisa?”

During the 2003 Christmas season, NBC aired the 1997 Paramount account of Titanic (dir. James Cameron),  where a struggling artist Len Dawson (Leonardo Di Caprio) throws his whole heart and soul (sacrificing himself in the icy waters while she floats on a raft after the 1912 tragedy) to save the upper class girl Rose Bukater (Kate Wislet) that he falls in love with so she can bear children. Part of the justification for the way things were was “women and children first.” I always resent that. Of course, the film expands into social commentary, how the working classes live for today (a “real party”), whereas the rich live for symbolism and appearances. At the end, of course, we find out that the ship was not properly equipped to save any but the rich, and it didn’t do that well. The end is a real tragedy. The story is told through the eyes of an elderly Rose (Frances Fisher) when she visits the underwater site in a modern-day exploration. There are legendary love scenes (as when Len embraces Rose on the stern of the ship in the twilight) and the music score is haunting. This film sold out repeatedly in 1997.

 

National Geographic’s “Titanic: The Final Secret” (2007) actually describes Robert Ballard’s classified missions to find the USS Thresher and USS Scorpion before he found the Titanic in 1985. Blogger reviews.

 

 

An earlier movie on this theme as The Poseidon Adventure (1972, 20th Century Fox, dir. Ronald Neame) which has the claustrophobic plot of a ship turned upsidedown by a tidal wave (because the owners cut corners) and the heroic passengers escape. I saw this in a rerun at Time Square in 1974. I think the song “There Is Always a Morning After” came from this. It has the wistfulness of the Cameron film without the sweep.

 

This film has been remade in 2005 for NBC, directed by John Putch, with Steve Guttenberg. In this remake terrorists blow up the ship, as an overseas “soft target.” Aired 11/20/2005  Radical Islamic terrorists infiltrate the staff, getting hired for a number of key positions on the cruise liner (not very believable), so that they can blow it up with a series of shootings and a bomb. The interiors, though damages, looked surprisingly “normal” for an upsidedown-cake ship. Not all ends happily. Only nine people survive, out of thousands. They sit on a life raft as a boy camcorders the final sinking. Pretty standard potboiler stuff – except for the unhappy ending. A warning about what terrorists could do.

 

There is still another version of this coming from Warner Brothers and Wolfgang Petersen in 2006.

 

 

Finding Neverland (2004, Miramax, 104 min, PG, dir. Marc Forster) presents another settling with an artist, this time playwright J. M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) in 1903 London. Barrie, after a commercial stage failure (and scolding by Charles Frohman, played by Dustin Hoffman) endears himself to a widow Sylvia Llewlyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her boys, to generate create juices for the Peter Pan legend.  He creates controversy by ignoring his wife, paying attention to the widow and the four boys. The film is PG and it is absolutely clear that there is no prurient interest, yet there are rumors which, however, don’t go anywhere. The underlying theme here seems to be the need for an artist to have real involvement with other people. The film is a sumptuous period piece, with the stage play scenes particularly interesting. The film title, however, brings back unfortunate associations with Michael Jackson, “Bubbles,” and the whole tawdry story.

 

The other “Finding” film is Finding Forrester (2000, Columbia, PG-13, 133 min, dir. Gus Van Sant) about a reclusive writer William Forrester (Sean Connery) who mentors a promising young African-American writer Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown). The nemesis is Prof. Crawford (F. Murray Abraham). Forrester gives all kinds of subtle advice, such as mentioning “Finnegan’s Wake” as the book everybody buys but nobody reads. And being a published author, however you get there, may confer some status, even in bed. This film shows Columbia’s famous trademark in ironic diminished form.

 

(earlier review)

If you can have a movie about making movies, well, you can have a movie about writers. Such is Finding Forrester, from Columbia (2000), directed by Gus Van Sant (from Good Will Hunting).  It has the substance of an art movie but the big wide screen (photographing the Bronx and one effective scene in an empty “remodeled” Yankee Stadium with its reduced Death Valley) and production values of a major studio, and it’s long. (And by the way, why does Columbia play its trademark on a moog synthesizer?) I can related to the introversion of Forrester (Sean Connery), but his own explanation of not liking being expected to stay on an intellectual pedestal (the ocelot-clay feet problem) didn’t seem real.  The African-American teenager (Rob Brown) comes across with real charisma and natural speech despite his enormous gifts.  There is a hidden subplot about the turf protection and apparent pettiness of the conventional publishing world (enough to remind me of Edwin Uhlan’s [Exposition Press] book The Rogue of Publisher’s Row, the notorious argument for subsidy publishing from the 1970’s). And there is a lot of talk between teacher and student about the technique of writing, to the point that writing as a “profession” comes across as more important than what one has to say.       

Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien (“A Friend Like Harry”) (2000, Miramax/Zoe, dir. Dominik Moll, R, 117 min) is a bizarre thriller where a latent writer Michel (Laurent Lucas) meets a boyhood friend Harry (Sergi Lopez), who invites himself into Michel’s home life, especially at their retreat in Provence, in order to make Michel into a great writer. If only I had such a patron. (Maybe once I did, but…) Harry, however, turns this into a duel to the death and a test of masculinity. A big looking thriller where upper middle class life in France looks very Americanized. Cinemascope. What a Friend we have in Harry!

 

Le Fabuleux destin d’Amelie Poulain (2001, Miramax Zoe, dir. Jean-Pierre Juenet, 122 min, R) was a hit film about charity, in almost the Biblical sense. Amelie (Audrey Tatou) returns a knickknack to a former tenant in her apartment, and sets out on a mythical journey to live for others. A lot of magical thinking and pretty images. 

 

My Kid Could Paint That (2007, Sony Pictures Classics / A&E Indie / Axis / Passion, dir. Amir Bar-Lev) an examination of a child prodigy abstract painter whose paintings resemble Pollock’s, blogger discussion here.

 

Winter Passing (2006, Yari Film Group, dir. wr. Adam Rapp, 98 min, R). An aspiring actress (Reese Deschanel) is approached by a publisher about her reclusive parents’ letters when her mother dies. Her father (Ed Harris, of “Pollock”), formerly successful but now an alcoholic, lives as a recluse in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in a shack on his own property. She goes, of course. There is a bit of an ethical and philosophical question concerning publishing material concerning the love life of one’s parents, perhaps (the possibility at least got touched on by “I Remember Mama”). An aspiring guitar musician Corbit (Will Ferrell) lives on the property. Over a winter (there’s not that much snow), she manages to her father to write again (“Gold” “People Park”) although there is a scare with a suicide attempt. A quiet film.

 

Brideshead Revisited (2008, Miramax / BBC / Hanway, dir. Julian Jarrold, novel by Evelyn Waugh, 135 min, PG-13, UK, related to PBS 1981 miniseries) Waugh’s novel about a biseuxal young artist, who launches his career in pre-WWII Britain with the inspiration of a gay friend at Brideshead Estate. The story is told in retrospect when the estate is used by the British Army during WWII an he is an officer. Matthew Goode, Ben Whislaw. Blogger discussion. 

 

 

Related reviews:  Good Will Hunting, Gerry, Antwone Fisher   Fur: An Imaginary Portrain of Diane Arbus

 

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