WHO THE $#%& IS JACKSON POLLOCK?PG-13
"I'm an expert, she's not," art authority Thomas Hoving says of 73-year-old truck driver Teri Horton in Who the $#%& Is Jackson Pollock? The smug insult sums up why Horton has spent more than 15 years trying to convince the art world that she owns a genuine Jackson Pollock painting. Harry Moses' documentary tells a great story, full of twists and turns, but also makes a larger point about art, culture, class and commerce in a cruelly elitist society.
With the craft and style of a thrilling mystery tale, Who the $#%& Is Jackson Pollock? cleverly recreates Horton's journey to authenticate her Pollock canvas, bought for five dollars at a thrift store. In many ways, this relatively short nonfiction feature far surpasses 2000's over-praised Pollock, the stodgy biopic about the father of gestural Abstract Expressionism.
The sharp and feisty Horton is undaunted by the dismissive attitude of the art world. She even gets forensic-science research that backs up her claim, but the supposed experts are not impressed. Though they tell Teri her discovery is not a genuine Pollock, she continues her search for the truth; she even passes up a private dealer's offer to pay her two million dollars, much to her son's dismay, because selling the work would not provide answers or satisfaction (and, ironically, Teri doesn't even like the thing!). It also happens that the painting might be worth as much as $50 million.
Eventually, Teri finds a potential savior in Tod Volpe, a dealer who had spent time in prison for art fraud but who is able to arrange a complex investment-group venture which gives the unauthenticated work a new cachet and "buzz." However, despite her elevated social status, Teri's dream to validate her belief remains elusive.
Who the $#%& Is Jackson Pollock? actually tells several stories at once: Teri's, Pollock's, and the painting's. All of the narratives are disorganized and disorienting, much like Pollock's style, and the contrasts between Teri's "trailer-trash" friends and the snobs who populate the New York art scene also parallel Pollock's penchant for creating distinctions through form, color and drippage.
Director Harry Moses will have you rooting for the Missouri-born, husky-voiced Horton while leaving just a little room for doubt about the painting in question. The art-world establishment figures make perfect antagonists to a working-class woman who seems tougher-than-nails but harbors dark secrets. (She becomes vulnerable only once on camera--when discussing the tragic death of her teenage daughter.) We also learn how oddly similar Horton is in personality to the late, celebrated Pollock.
Alternately sad and funny, Who the $#%& Is Jackson Pollock? plays more like an extended "60 Minutes" segment than a film like Orson Welles' dense, cerebral F for Fake, and in fact director Moses and executive producer Don Hewitt were once part of the "60 Minutes" team. The only real drawback in this regard is that Moses' off-screen narration sounds too much like an unctuous TV news-magazine voice-over. One other quibble: The recreation of the lead-up to Teri's suicide attempt (following her daughter's death) seems exploitative of Teri, however artistically shot.
Who the $#%& Is Jackson Pollock? doesn't really answer the titular question any more than it answers Teri's inquiries, but it mesmerizes in its attempt.