There's a single shot in Ed Harris' Pollock (2000) that quietly embodies a number of thoughts about the man, his art and his life. Dwarfed by the raging fits, the drunken episodes and the pissing in the fireplace, it's a shot that will pass most people by. Having been commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim to paint a mural, Pollock, played by Harris himself, stretches an enormous canvas and props it against his studio wall. As he walks in front of it, sizing it up like an opponent, the single bulb in the room casts his shadow across the blank surface. A dark, hulking doppelgänger that alternately stalks and confronts the forlorn Pollock, the shadow is the mirror image of his self-absorption, a sexually ambiguous, abject other, anxiety-ridden and out of control.
Torn by conflicting desires and derailed by self-destructive impulses, Pollock was a brutish Dorian Gray clad in dungarees and work boots. His portrait, captured by Hans Namuth's camera, revealed the corrupted, cloven truth of his nature. In the film Pollock hisses at Namuth: 'you're the phoney, not me.' Yet even Greenberg recognized the artist's 'Gothicness', pointedly criticizing the work in 1947 for its 'paranoia and resentment'. 1
Mining this shadow realm, the space T. S. Eliot located 'between the essence and the descent', Pollock's infamous drip technique, born out of frustration, not only acknowledged but exploited the gap between the artist's intention and the art. 2 As the shot ends, Pollock steps out of frame and we are left with just his shadow filling the screen.
1. Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism. Volume II: Arrogant Purpose, 1945-1949. ed. John O'Brien, University of Chicago Press, 1986, p. 166.
2. T. S. Eliot, 'The Hollow Men', 1925.