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Image Entertainment presents
Jackson Pollock (1987)

"The modern artist is working with space and time, expressing his feelings rather than illustrating [them]."
- Jackson Pollock

Review By: debi lee mandel   
Published: February 27, 2001

Stars: Jackson Pollock
Other Stars: B.H. Freedman, Clem Greenberg, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Elizabeth Pollock, Harry Cullum, Ruth Kligman, Melvyn Bragg, others
Director: Kim Evans

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 00h:52m:00s
Release Date: January 23, 2001
UPC: 014381582222
Genre: art

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B-D-D D-

DVD Review

With the advent of the camera, the artist was emasculated, robbed of his purpose. A glorious and historic professional alliance was threatening its end: the painter and his patron. Elaborate portraits of the nobility, their estates and possessions where no longer necessary. The artist might have suffered at first, but was suddenly, irrevocably free from the rules that bound them to render life exactly as it appeared.

It is impossible to separate the art of Jackson Pollock from the man in his place and time. In the first half of the 20th century, the world was at war, the markets crashed, psychoanalysis was all the rage: the world had entered the Modern era. Matisse and Picasso reigned over a pantheon of European deities who were breaking every rule and convention in their wake. On the heels of these Fauvists, Cubists and Surrealists, American artists had to go further, paint larger, live wilder. Finding it impossible to catch up and keep up, these artists chose a reckless path of existential abandon, not just breaking the rules but ignoring them completely. Good or bad, lasting or transient—history will write the end of their story from its objective perspective.

This program tells us that Pollock was born in Wyoming and early on visited Native American tribes to study their symbols and techniques. Picasso was already using African imagery; Pollock moved to New York and followed with his own brand of primitive abstracts. Personally, I think this is his best work. But it was an echo of the master, so he moved on. The scale of his paintings was inspired by the famous Mexican muralists—Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros—as was his use of more fluid, industrial-grade paints. How or when he struck upon his idea of "drip" or "pour" painting is not discussed. From a radio interview in 1951, we hear Pollock in his own voice describing his work as the expression of his emotions. There are interviews with many people who knew him, and although most are reverential, there are some that at least hint that he was a product of hype, alcohol and ego.

"He was exploitative, manipulative, selfish and lazy.... He was coddled—that was part of his problem."
- Elizabeth Pollock (sister-in-law)

He was in analysis for most of his adult life. He was frustrated and angry. Clem Greenberg, who discusses him as a god here, was the first to call him "the greatest American painter"—but Greenberg is then himself described as the "king of hype." Pollock's success was minimal; he hit a dry spell that lasted for about 3 years before his death, fearing he had reached the limit of his own technique, not knowing where to go next. Pollock's wife, the painter Lee Krasner, repeats the prophetical warning of Hans Hoffmann, "You are very talented...but you do not work from nature. This is no good; you will repeat yourself." He had painted himself into a proverbial corner and saw no way out. At 44, in a drunken act of inadequacy, Jackson Pollock crashed his car in the summer of 1956 and died in that tragic way these rugged men romanticized. It was then that his (now estranged) wife took the reins. Krasner manipulated the market to fetch unheard of prices for his work, and is almost single-handedly responsible for the art market we know today.

In viewing non-representational abstract art, one must find one's own way. Pollock does not speak to me. And I know, he couldn't have cared less. His biographer, B.H. Freedman, finds an intimacy and calm in works like "Lavender Mist" and "Autumn Rhythm." The only calm I find is in "Blue Poles", in which dark, semi-vertical slashes cut through the canvas, providing the only place in his entire body of work for me to rest my eyes, weary from the noisy chaos of his "emotions."

Still, this is one of the best of the South Bank/RM series documenting 20th century artists. There is a plethora of his contemporaries willing to discuss the man and his distinctive technique. Clips from the Hans Namuth film of 1950 show Pollock at work, demonstrating his style by painting on plate glass and at least one other session shows him painting on canvas on the floor. Well constructed with a decent balance of deification and demystification, Jackson Pollock sets the man in his time, and there is something for everyone to learn about this controversial artist, central to the first great American art movement, Abstract Expressionism—for better or worse.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As Image has done a decent job with most entries in this series, I am surprised that Jackson Pollock is as bad a transfer as I have seen to date. I have no way of knowing how much is due to the condition of the source material, so I will tread lightly. I suspect the vintage footage (including the Namuth clips) was not restored in any way for the original program, but the entire presentation is soft, washed out and muddy. In particular, the opening video of Paul Hogan—yes, he of "Crocodile Dundee"—and a video archive interview with a curator are so over-compressed and smeary that they come off as animated Impressionist paintings. The representation of the canvases is blasphemy; one can barely make out the difference in color between "Lavender Mist" and "Autumn Rhythm"; in "Blue Poles", the "poles "appear black. It will help to be a bit familiar with the work before viewing.

Image Transfer Grade: D-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is as nasty as the image. Most of the interview segments are clipped or muted and just plain ratty, especially the gravelly voice of wife Lee Krasner. It is difficult to imagine nothing more could be done, even within the small budget I imagine this series was allocated.

Audio Transfer Grade: D


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: Snapper
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No extra features are included with this series. An easy list posted on a static menu offers 12 chapter stops (the last of which contains the closing credits). A separate, color-corrected gallery of the artwork seems a necessary addition here; it might have made the image transfer more palatable.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

I am bored with the romanticizing, the lionizing of angry, unstable, drunken men who are labeled "genius." But this program offers a larger picture which, like his work, leaves us to decide what we walk away with. An uncharacteristically bad transfer makes it more difficult for the initiate to fairly assess Pollock, but those familiar with his work will appreciate the content.


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