Jackson Pollock's Noir Sensibility: Hans Namuth's "Pollock Painting" as Experimental Film Noir
Kalamaras, Danielle Lee
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Hans Namuth's film "Pollock Painting" (1951), from its inception, remains ambiguously described as a documentary, utilized in large Pollock retrospectives as a visual aid for his canonical drip technique. This paper will argue that because Namuth produced his film after viewing photographs of Jackson Pollock in "Life" magazine, Namuth's filmic vision of the artist was not a vision of objective documentation, but rather was constructed photographically from Pollock's mass-media "action painter" persona. The photographs taken for "Life" magazine as well as Namuth's own photographs of Pollock served as templates for the creation of Pollock as a self-destructive noir protagonist. With the help of Paul Faulkenberg, a popular producer friendly with the Film Noir director Fritz Lang, "Pollock Painting" can be considered an early experimental film (in my paper I used Maya Daren as a parallel) that uses popular cinematic techniques found in the visual vocabulary of Film Noir. The use of the cinematic techniques of the flashback, object symbolism and the self-destruction of the protagonist in Hans Namuth's film "Pollock Painting" shows that a film noir sensibility explicitly utilized in noir popular culture films pervaded visual culture when Namuth filmed "Pollock Painting." Namuth appropriated Pollock's "action" image from the mass media, including "Life" magazine, only to represent (and even allude) to Pollock's inevitable demise. Namuth's "noir sensibility," expressed through "Pollock Painting," depicted "Pollock" as the troubled protagonist destined to violently self-destruct before the viewer's eyes. In "Pollock Painting," Namuth filmed Pollock carefully painting on glass in sequence three, representing Pollock's dismissal of his infamous drip technique in exchange for delicate figuration. Paradoxically, this noir image of the artist reflected Pollock's life: unable to live up to his "action painter" persona Pollock returned to his favored alcohol addiction, abandoned his famed drip-technique, and violently self-destructed.