Thursday, May 17, 2007

Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?

Teri Horton, a former long-haul truck driver, comes off as something of a folk hero, caught up in a mad quest, in Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?. The documentary details Horton's relentless efforts to prove that the painting she picked up for $5 at a SoCal thrift store is a Pollock original worth upwards of $50 million.

The film, a favorite on the film-festival circuit last year, was released earlier this month on DVD (New Line, $27.98).

Director Harry Moses, a former "60 Minutes" producer, follows the funny, profane and potentially self-destructive Horton as she tracks down art critics, lawyers and, finally, forensic scientists.

Horton nominally is on a mission to determine the value of her find, which could potentially bring a life-changing windfall.

But there's something more at work here: The retired blue-collar laborer has only an eighth-grade education and has weathered all kinds of personal struggles, including single motherhood. And she seems determined to prove her own worth in the face of those who reject her claims out of hand simply because of the person making the case, rather than any legitimate system of validating the authenticity of the Pollock.

It's easy to sympathize with Horton's quest, particularly when Moses' camera offers an unflattering view of such self-proclaimed Pollock experts as Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hoving, perhaps one of the most pretentious and condescending humans caught by a documentarian, practically leans upside down, contorting his body to view the painting, as part of his "assessment" of the work's authenticity. He makes no efforts to hide his contempt for Horton and her efforts.

Want a make a case for American elitists' casual disdain for -- if not open bias against -- those who don't have the benefit of advanced degrees or the kind of income that allows one entree to high society? Here's Exhibit A.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that all the real-world scientific evidence -- including matching fingerprints and a chemical mix that matches the mix found on the floor of Pollock's studio on Long Island -- points to the truth of Horton's claim.

It's equally clear that the art-world experts aren't going to give an inch, in terms of conceding the authenticity of the painting, short of provenance, a history of the work's ownership that can be verified. Provenance, though, itself can be faked, and has been faked, as several scholars admit.

A post-script offers the information that Horton rejected a foreign collector's offer of $9 million for the painting. Her friends, at the trailer park where she lives, are perplexed.

Viewers won't be, though: This grandmother is one tough customer, and she isn't willing to give up quite that easily.

Cross-posted at DVD Watch

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