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'Pollock' at NYFF

A 10-year obsession comes to the screen


In this story:

On both sides of camera

Re-creating masterpieces

RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Ed Harris says he had many reasons for spending a decade obsessing over making a movie about the life of Jackson Pollock.

"I think the fact that art itself transcends the written word interested me," says Harris. "The fact that this was a man who took modern art in another direction and was given credit for being a bit of a revolutionary -- that interested me.

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    "But also, as a human being -- his troubles and his pain and his insecurities and his confidence and his needs -- I really have a great deal of empathy for this guy," he says.

    Harris' empathy shines through in "Pollock," which made its United States premiere Wednesday at a press screening for the 38th New York Film Festival.

    The film, which received a warm reception here, is scheduled for nationwide distribution by Sony Pictures Classics on February 16.

    On both sides of camera

    Just how committed was Harris to this film? At a news conference following the screening, Harris says he took on three roles - star, producer and director -- to make "Pollock" a reality.

    The film, which marks Harris' directorial debut, follows Pollock's professional life from bottom to top and back: from his days of struggle in New York City in the early '40s, to his mid-century reign as king of abstract expression, and finally to his downfall and death in 1956.

    Marcia Gay Harden plays Lee Krasner, Pollock's wife and an artist who spent much of her life promoting Pollock's work while dealing with his self-destructive, alcoholic personality.

    For Harris, a two-time Oscar nominee ("Apollo 13" in 1995 and 1998's "The Truman Show"), the movie is the product of a decade-long fixation with Pollock's story. Harris says he decided to make the film in the early '90s, picking up painting as a way to get into the artist's mind as his plans for a film assumed shape and color.

    "By the time we got ready to film, I felt pretty confident -- not in my ability to recreate Pollock's paintings, but to paint for myself in his way," says Harris.

    Most of the film was shot in New York City or on the Jackson/Krasner property in East Hampton on Long Island. Many scenes depict Harris, as Pollock, employing abstract painting techniques, including the controversial "drip" method that became the artist's trademark.

    "When I'm working in the film, I'm really trying to create something that means something artistically," says Harris. "Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I failed. But it was part of the film that I felt was very important, to see this man's work because the work was his life."

    Re-creating masterpieces

    Many of Pollock's paintings were re-created in finished form by "The Jackson Five," a term coined by the film's cast and crew to describe the quintet of artists who took on the unenviable task of trying to retrace each dollop and drip of Pollock's wild expressions.

    The effort, said Harris, is convincing - on film, at least.

    "I didn't think you could recreate it," says Harris. "(Pollock's paintings) were such complex, interwoven, beautiful paintings. I thought, 'They can't do that.' ... But it works cinematically."

    Harden says she had a different experience with learning how to paint for her role.

    "I think I hoped (that) by playing Lee Krasner, I would be a great artist," she says, laughing. "It didn't work out that way."

    But she did commit herself to the role, immersing herself in Krasner's contradictory existence as early feminist and devoted wife. The actress, who starred in this year's "Space Cowboys" and "Miller's Crossing" (1990) among other movies, says she did her homework for the role.

    "Before I met Ed for the first audition series I had read as much as I could about Lee, because I felt like since Ed had been with the project for so long I didn't want to come to the table without any of my own ideas," she says. "I didn't want him to feel like he had to feed me."

    Harris, who spent years forming his ideas, thinks all the time planning and executing "Pollock" weren't wasted. He's hoping art and movie fans will agree.

    "I had lived with this for so long and it became so intimate to me that the acting part of it felt pretty intuitive on its own level," he says.

    For Harris, it was life - his own - imitating art.

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    New York Film Festival

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