History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"Pollock" film does disservice with its emphasis

Watching the movie "Pollock" (2000), I was reminded of "Walk the Line."
Ed Harris was reportedly obsessed about making "Pollock" before he could finally make it a reality. He plays the painter in the movie. Why would he feel such a lure to this character? I suspect he felt more of a lure to Hollywood accolades. Sorry for such a cynical thought, but movies that tell the story of troubled, "complicated" artists in American history seem to have an edge for getting accolades. If you can separate this "formula" from the actual movie, you might not think the movie is that good.
John C. Reilly recognized that formula. That's why he came out with a biting satire - he eviscerated it - with his movie "Walk Hard." It was a satire on "Walk the Line," the biopic about Johnny Cash. I watched "Walk Hard" when it was making the rounds at theaters.
I watched "Pollock" on DVD last week, thanks to our Morris Public Library. What these movies do, is identify an iconic artist whose work led his name to be familiar to everyone, and show his flaws as a human being as he rises, dips, rises again or whatever.
There is no easy ticket to fame. Fame itself can seem to destroy people. Today it seems there are agents who do better insulating creative young people from the vicissitudes of stardom. Jim Morrison of the Doors seemed to desperately need such help. Same with Pollack, Jackson Pollack, who didn't just sink from fame at the end of his life, he killed himself and an innocent passenger in a drunken driving incident.
Usually you can leave the theater with some reverence about such a subject even though the movie depicts the troublesome things. The nature of Pollock's death cannot be overlooked.
I'd leave the theater wishing I had chosen a different movie. I watched it on DVD from the library. Nobody made any money from me on it.
I associate Ed Harris with John McCain. Harris played the politician in "Game Change," the movie which I suspect was more a biopic about Sarah Palin than the Arizona senator. McCain is a sympathetic person and I say that as a Democrat.
Pollock had some meteoric fame as an artist. He gave us a generous dose of "modern" art. Right away a whole lot of biases kick in when you hear the term "modern art." That's if you're like me.
There is an intelligentsia out there that likes to tell us knaves what "good art" is. I have tried fending off this crowd all my life. A tremendous amount of bulls--t circulates about the criteria for determining good art. Countless college art teachers are out there prowling around, protecting their tenured status by pretending to know all these criteria and lecturing the rest of us. I reserve the right to look at a work of art and decide if I like it. To put it succinctly: A work of art can be judged by the emotional impact it has on the viewer. I don't listen to the horribly preachy commenting of art practitioners who of course are trying to feather their own nest.
I know of a Civil War artist, who in fact may be the best, who is preachy in saying that any Civil War art is worthless unless it's totally accurate, presumably down to the last belt buckle. He's the type who could probably tell you in what factory such belt buckles were made. A columnist for a Civil War re-enactors magazine finally got fed up with the pronouncements of this artist, and said such rigid standards were really just a matter of opinion. The columnist said that the kind of historical accuracy being promoted by the artist in question - OK he's Don Troiani - would pertain to "illustration" rather than "art." Illustration shows something as it is, or was.
Again, "art" is to be judged by the emotional impact on the viewer.
The classic painting of George Washington as a boy but with an adult head is of course ridiculous in the context of "accuracy." But it's a classic.
What made Pollock's art so significant for a time? Was it because he had unearthed some fascinating new form of visual expression that would open new vistas? OK, now I'm going to put on my media analyst hat. Ahem. Pollock made his splash in the 1940s when the general interest magazines like Life and Look were at their apex. When the phone rang at the Pollocks' residence and it was Life Magazine, looking for a story - this is depicted in the movie - it was transformative for the Pollocks. It was like gold being deposited in their front yard from a dump truck.
I know all about media entities "looking for a story." I'm sure Life Magazine was always looking for something fresh. The media are averse to subjects deemed tired and old. Allow me to make a parallel with the music world. Chuck Mangione tasted fame in a meteoric way with his "fluegelhorn" in the 1970s. Was it because of the genius of his artistry?
People like Pollock and Mangione are well-grounded artistically to be sure. The movies don't tell us enough about that. The movies become preoccupied with their eccentricities and struggles as they ride the wave of fame and eventually fall off it.
Why did Mangione come to the forefront? It was because radio DJs had gotten sick of the BeeGees. Yes! They were looking for something that would represent a complete departure. So we got "Feel so Good" on the charts from Mr. Mangione, the slightly-built brass player who seemed to struggle reaching the high notes. His life probably won't warrant a biopic.
But Harris made certain we got reminded of "Pollock." The artist has been described as an "undiagnosed manic-depressive." If he was undiagnosed, how do we know he had it? Maybe he was just a difficult SOB. Given how he died, I'm not inclined toward any sympathy for the man. He had everything and then he just imploded. He looked unkempt at the end.
We only care about the man because "kingmaker" Life Magazine catapulted him to the forefront, giving him a wave to ride. If his art had obvious merit, that would be one thing. It did not have obvious merit. If his art did in fact reflect discernible craftsmanship, I wish the movie "Pollock" had told us something about it.
I doubt Harris needed a stand-in for the scenes in which he's painting. That's because this type of painting can be faked by anyone. Just splash paint around here and there. Nice work if you can find it. I remember P.J. O'Rourke laughing in a C-Span interview once, talking about how college students all over the U.S. were encouraged to ape Pollock, splashing paint around.
The professors were misled. Pollock was "great" not because of any special genius, I'd argue, but because Life Magazine was looking for a story. I'm sure the Life journalists were thinking "hey, we'll get some great visuals for this." Photos of Pollock's oddball work were certainly a conversation topic for people with Life Magazine on the coffee table. The formula worked. And in its wake we had Pollock the man, a tortured soul much like Jim Morrison, floundering. Life Magazine moved on. The artist crashed and burned.
The movie tells us that Pollock once studied under Thomas Hart Benton, the noted muralist. The comment is made: "But your art is nothing like his." The topic is then dropped. I would be fascinated to know why Pollock studied under Benton, what he thought he got from it, and how it might have influenced him. Again, I'm looking for more insights into how Pollock developed his craftsmanship to the degree he had craftsmanship. I suspect he did. I just wish like heck the movie could have told us something about it.
This is the prime failing of the movie, I feel. It seems derivative. It's like "Walk the Line." Here's a famous man who through a combination of talent and timing, became famous but who has great difficulty balancing that with the demands of his private, personal life.
The sad thing about these movies is that they don't tell us enough about the earlier stages in these guys' lives when they were working hard, not abusing alcohol or drugs, getting their proper amount of sleep and building their craft. We see too much of the oddball phase of their lives as they near falling off a cliff.
Young people who see these movies can get the wrong idea. They might think it's OK to develop the oddball traits because hey, that's how these guys got famous. That's not how they got famous. They stayed famous in spite of their bad habits, not because of them.
Billy Martin became a baseball genius in the time when he lived a more boring life. A better example of this is Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson made his stamp as a writer from when he lived a responsible lifestyle. These guys become caricatures at the end. They barely cling to their craftsmanship. I wish "Pollock" had told us more about the artist studying under Thomas Hart Benton. But that would be boring!
Life Magazine was "looking for a story." Ed Harris was "looking for a movie." Maybe John C. Reilly has shown us that "The Emperor has no Clothes."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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