A documaker’s dream subject, “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?” is about a feisty fe-male trucker who buys what may be a Jackson Pollock for five bucks at a small-town Cali-fornia thrift shop. Her improb-able purchase ignites a firestorm of controversy as museum ex-perts, world-class forgers and forensic scientists weigh in on it. Unfortunately, veteran “60 Minutes” helmer Harry Moses smothers his docu in chipper, old-fashioned voiceover narra-tion that telegraphs every reve-lation. First feature-length docu financed from inception by New Line made a low-key bow at Gotham’s IFC Center Nov. 15, distrib Picturehouse perhaps foreseeing a gap between small-screen realization and theatrical potential.
Seventy-three-year-old ex-Teamster Teri Horton is lauded in docu for her earthiness and spunk, as she tinkers with her truck or shares drinks with cronies at a local bar. Though one often gets the impression of watching a rehearsed routine, enough of the ornery Ozarks-born gal’s determi-nation comes through to explain how she persevered through 15 years of being dissed by the art world for her lack of couth and her canvas’ lack of provenance.
Class lines are drawn from the outset: If Horton’s blue collar friends and family appear some-what uncomfortable in their “in-formal” reenactments, the deni-zens of the art world positively bask in the limelight. Wearing their senses of entitlement like designer suits, the experts patronizingly pontificate on their absolute, if ineffable power over value on the art exchange.
Horton’s counterpart and polar opposite is definitely Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the nec plus ultra of high-end curatorship. Peering around the would-be Pollock from all angles like an inquisitive crane before dismissing it utterly, Hov-ing reps the genus “snob” in all its pristine glory, with no acerbic wit or gay posturing to alibi his pre-tentiousness as camp.
He dismisses Horton even more cavalierly, since, in his words, he is the expert and she knows nothing. His appearances alone are worth the price of ad-mission.
The saga gets more convoluted when Horton brings soft-spoken Peter Paul Biro, a respected foren-sic scientist often employed by galleries and museums, into the mix. Matching a fingerprint and paint samples to ones found on the floor of Pollock’s studio, Biro establishes a case for Horton’s painting to be legitimately attrib-uted to Pollock. When even this evidence fails to impress, Horton approaches ex-con art dealer Tod Volpe, who parlayed his jail sentence for fraud into the bestsel-ler “Framed.”
Moses, in his arch, self-voiced narration, stresses the link be-tween Pollock’s hard-drinking lower-class background and Horton’s, presenting it in direct contrast to the hallowed halls of privilege and the obscene amounts of money in the cultural commod-ity market. The overwritten script for Moses’ perky voiceover is meant to force complicity with the audience, but its heavily under-lined points are redundant and far less effective than the viewer’s own unmediated comparisons.
If authenticated as a Pollock, Horton’s painting would be worth upward of $50 million and, in-deed, Horton still steadfastly refuses offers of single-digit millions, insisting that the work’s real value be recognized.
Tech credits are adequate, with Terence Blanchard’s score a particular plus.