Vincent Van Gogh is the archetypical tortured artistic genius. His obsession with painting, combined with mental illness, propels him through an unhappy life full of failures and unrewarding relationships. He fails at being a preacher to coal miners. He fails in his relationships with women. He earns some respect among his fellow painters, especially Paul Gauguin, but he does not get along with them. He only manages to sell one painting in his lifetime. The one constant good in his life is his brother Theo, who is unwavering in his moral and financial support. Written by
John Oswalt <email@example.com>
Although I started my academic career as an art major, my interest was always in making art of my own rather than studying the works of the past masters. As a result, I wouldn't know a Manet from a Monet, but one painter whose work I can always identify is Vincent Van Gogh, perhaps the most famous example of the "tortured artist" who sought solace from the pain of life through his work. Like so many artists from different mediums, Van Gogh's life, especially the dramatic episode in which he sliced off his ear in an epileptic fit, is more famous than his work, a situation heightened, no doubt, by Don Mclean's melancholy ballad "Vincent," an improbable chart topper in 1972. Prior to being honored by the composer of "American Pie," Van Gogh's biggest brush with popular success came with Vincent Minnelli's film of Irving Stone's best-seller, an often melodramatic but still effective dramatization of the artist's troubled life. Kirk Douglas' intense portrayal of the impoverished and often fanatical Dutchman is helped immeasurably by his physical resemblance to his subject. Bearded, and with his blonde hair dyed red, Douglas could easily be mistaken for the man whose self-portraits hang on the wall of the modest bedroom where much of the film takes place. Occasionally, Douglas' clenched teeth and fist approach to drama comes through to reveal the actor behind the makeup, but his Oscar nominated performance seldom falls victim to the actor's "star" persona. Even Anthony Quinn, an actor who has given the same performance in dozens of movies, is good, but his brief turn as Paul Gaughan is hardly distinguished enough to merit the Oscar for best supporting actor. The rest of the cast is beautifully assembled with James Donald properly sympathetic as Vincent's patient, supportive brother, Theo, and no way can I complain about any film that finds room for the splendid presence of Henry Daniell, seen here as the patriarch of the Van Gogh family. The paintings, a wild riot of colorful intensity, are seen throughout (courtesy of numerous private collectors and public museums, including my hometown's Cleveland Museum of Art), and without them, "Lust for Life" would have a lot less luster.
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