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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

One of Hollywood's Greatest Biopics

Author: de_niro_2001 from scotland
19 March 2008

The title of this film could just as easily have been the title of Kirk Douglas's autobiography and Kirk Douglas talks about this film as if it had a great deal of meaning for him. Although I think he gives Van Gogh a gregariousness that I don't think he had (but I might be wrong) there has never been a better portrayal of Van Gogh. In the last year or so John Simm and Andy Serkis have played Van Gogh in British drama-documentaries but they can't compare with Kirk Douglas. When Lust for Life was made Van Gogh was still within living memory in Arles and Auvers and a few of the older people saw Kirk Douglas and exclaimed "il est retourné!". If you're an art buff and are familiar with Van Gogh's work you recognise Jules Roulin and Père Tanguy right away in the film. Actors who bear very close resemblances to the people they portray were cast for the film. Anthony Quinn deserved his Oscar for his portrayal of Gauguin who like him was a larger-than-life character. I read it was the shortest performance to win a best actor Oscar and it was only 3 minutes or so long. I must admit it seems longer than 3 minutes. After the premiere John Wayne, who as the world knows had very set ideas on what a man had to do, told Kirk Douglas he was disappointed in him for playing such a weak character. Kirk replied that he was an actor and that he had to play all kinds of roles and it is very clear he was not ashamed, in fact of all the roles he's played this seems to be one of which he's very proud. He also shows Van Gogh's insensitivity, such as when he makes some very cruel remarks to his cousin Kay who is still coming to terms with her widowhood and he comes on to her so intensely that she disowns him. This scene also made me think the real Van Gogh must have been perversely attracted to woman in black. As Kay's husband had died less than a year before she was dressed in black. Before the time frame of this film when Van Gogh was in London he had fallen madly in love with his landlady's daughter, Eugenia Loyer. Her father had also recently died and she was always dressed in black at the time he knew her. Generally, though, he could be a bit obsessive about women, in fact the people of Arles presented a petition to their mayor demanding that Van Gogh be removed from the town as, among other things, he kept on leching at the women. Dr Gachet is portrayed in the film but his daughter Margeurite isn't. Van Gogh painted her playing the piano but Doctor Gachet, knowing Van Gogh's lecherousness, kept him well away from his daughter most of the time. This film sums up the tragic waste of Van Gogh's life. He struggled with poverty and failure all his short life but if he had not killed himself he may well have died a rich man. It's an indication of how much his paintings sell for nowadays when Kirk Douglas said he couldn't afford to buy one of them.

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14 out of 27 people found the following review useful:

complete failure, watch rather Van Gogh by M. Pialat

Author: grandisdavid from washington DC
28 September 2005

Well...I watched this movie yesterday because I was interested in the subject and I like Kirk Douglas very much. First, the acting is really disappointing, Douglas seems to act that like Spartacus having a knack for painting, and Quinn does not really fit in the shoes of Gauguin unless you expect him to behave like Zorba the Greek...but it may be mostly because of the direction, Second, the direction is awful, terrible soundtrack, absolutely out of fashion and inappropriate (very Hollywood like. It does simply not catch a single breath of the era! Chamber music of Ravel or anything else from the period would have been better! The dialogs are pathetic and dull. In fact it could really be entitled "Van Gogh for the dummies". Third, the cinematography is poor. Supposedly filmed on location, it seems that some of the backgrounds have been painted, and not by Van Gogh if you know what I mean!

The only good thing is that you get some good shots of Van Gogh's paintings (but you should mute the volume of your TV as the ridiculous soundtrack could ruin it).

In 1991, Maurice Pialat made a movie entitled "Van Gogh", based on the end of his life in Provence (it is not a complete bio) and far from being flawless, mostly because of its editing (the dancing towards the end is way too long). BUT, Jacques Dutronc acted splendidly as Van Gogh, and the cinematography, the soundtrack, were much better to catch the atmosphere of Provence at that time. This one is more refined and I advise it to anybody interested in Van Gogh.

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15 out of 29 people found the following review useful:


Author: kep315 from Pacific Northwest
14 August 2006

I wonder if IMDb users are watching the same film as me, or is their judgment being clouded over by nostalgia for the old studio system with actors like Kirk Douglas and directors like Vincent Minnelli.

First off, Douglas was waaaaaaay too old for the role of Van Gogh. In the opening scenes, Van Gogh is a young man of 25; Douglas was around 40, and it shows (Van Gogh was only 37 when he died). Secondly, where's the accent? Van Gogh was born in the Netherlands, and yet Douglas plays him all-American. Lastly and most importantly, this is the most terrible acting I have ever seen!!! Douglas chews the scenery frantically, playing the character like a 19th century James Dean. Call it "Earless Without a Cause." Kirk Douglas' voice and mannerisms make me cringe, his puppy-dog eagerness and submissive personality ringing untrue.

The next-worst performance belongs to Anthony Quinn, as an over-the-top Gauguin. I just wished he'd go to Tahaiti already.

The whole picture reeks of Hollywood romanticism rather than a more realistic European squalor. The script is overly melodramatic and obvious; every time it's mentioned, the word "crazy" jumps out, like a not-too-subtle foreshadowing.

This is a white-washed, sanitized version of Van Gogh's life -- though I'm surprised they included scenes where the artist lived with a prostitute (here called Christine) and her young child (in "Vincent and Theo" the prostitute is Sien, and the child considerably older, and a girl. Makes me wonder which version is correct. I'm guessing V&T). All the other stuff -- trips to the brothel, Theo's syphilis, the ear-cutting, and the suicide -- is either not mentioned, or occurs off-screen. Not surprising for a movie made in 1956.

Only worth seeing if you want to howl with laughter.

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Quinn improves rather bland biopic

Author: SnoopyStyle
12 February 2015

Vincent Van Gogh (Kirk Douglas) fails as a preacher activist in a coal mining town. He returns home. He struggles against his father and his love Kay rejects him. He takes care of the homely Christine and her baby but she leaves him due to his obsessive painting. All the while, he diligently works on his art supported by his brother Theo van Gogh (James Donald). He befriends fellow artist Paul Gauguin (Anthony Quinn) and the two live together to paint. However the partnership doesn't last and he falls into a depression.

Kirk Douglas is fine but the first half lacks drama. It's a simple recitation of his life with little tension. It tries to fill the blandness with Kirk's narration. The paintings are interesting and beautifully colorful. The movie gets better in the second half with the arrival of Anthony Quinn. The two artists' companionship has some compelling tension. The movie improves a bit at that point.

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Only hacks need two ears

Author: tieman64 from United Kingdom
7 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Few artists embody the "tortured artist archetype" as fully as Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Born in 1853, Vincent was traumatically named after a brother who died one year prior to his own birth. A moody child, he'd hoped to become a Christian minister, but several failed romances, and his growing disillusionment with the church, set him upon a different path. He'd become a painter instead, and quickly become preoccupied with sketching the plights of the lower classes. For Vincent, the poor and the downtrodden came to represent a certain "truth". He empathised with their suffering, identified with their despair, and saw divinity in their lives, squalid homes and craggy faces.

Vincent's career would last about ten years. Much of this time was spent in poverty, depression and isolation. Occasionally he'd hang out with prostitutes and fellow painters, but they did little to stave off the suicidal thoughts festering in his brain.

Despite his unhappiness, Vincent worked at a feverish pace. He'd produce thousands of sketches and over 800 paintings, his work slowly transitioning from social realism to vibrant post-impressionism. Much of this work was done in Arles, in the South of France, where Vincent would famously chop off his ear. Afterwards he'd spend a year in a mental asylum, where he suffered a series of mental breakdowns. His last completed paintings would portray ominous wheat fields. Writing of these paintings, Vincent would say: "they depict vast, distended fields under angry skies, and I did not have to go out of my way very much in order to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness." He would die days later, after fatally shooting himself in the chest.

Vincente Minnelli directed "Some Came Running" in 1958 and "The Sandpiper" in 1965. Both films find artists refusing to be absorbed by a culture or society they deem to be conformist, staid or offensive. Mocked for dedicating their lives to vague artistic calls, and pushed to the margins of society, Minnelli's artists quickly find themselves on suicidal or self-destructive paths.

Released in 1956, Minnelli's "Lust for Life" tells a similar tale. It stars Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh, and touches upon all the now famous cornerstones of van Gogh's life. Whilst not as great a film as Robert Altman's similarly themed "Vincent and Theo", Minnelli's film nevertheless offers a good example of 1950s, big studio, auteurist melodrama. Minnelli's film is grand, voluptuous, every emotion and gesture ridiculously larger than life, every frame bursting with strange colours. More interestingly, Minnelli fills his picture with subtle references to countless van Gogh paintings, figures and compositions. Elsewhere he throws in clever references to other prominent painters, like one scene in which we see George Seurat painting his 1884 masterpiece, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte". The marvellous Anthony Quinn costars as post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, another painter who rose to prominence only after his death.

Minnelli has too many films about artists to list. A subset of these films, though, seem preoccupied with "tortured artists" ("Lust for Life", "The Cobweb", "Two Weeks in Another Town", "Some Came Running", "The Sandpiper") who seem incompatible with the outside world. A large chunk of Minnelli's filmography is itself "about" the problems individuals face – sometimes linked to gender issues - fitting in with crowds. Minnelli was himself a gay man, but most biographies portray him as an openly and proudly homosexual artist who rose, seemingly effortlessly, above the problems faced by the tortured artists of his films.

8/10 – See "Art School Confidential", "Young Man with a Horn", "In a Lonely Place", "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" and "Vincent and Theo".

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Kirk Douglas becomes Vincent Gogh and is terrific in this film.

Author: braddugg from India
5 May 2014

Kirk Douglas becomes Vincent Gogh and is terrific in this film. Just watch it for the portrayal.

Vincent Gogh lived a very complicated film, as shown in the film perhaps. But to adapt to the complications and portray them without any compromise would have been the most challenging part. Kirk Douglas, the fine actor he is has done this effortlessly. Kudos to the great man for his acting itself.

Expectedly, the art direction is wonderful, as this is a film about painter, his paintings in itself would make the shots beautiful. The cinematography was adequate if not great. The lines were good and the editing was fine. But mind you, this is a biopic so it would take some liberties in terms of length in showing few important aspects of the life of Vincent Gogh.

Vincent Minnelli was one of the most celebrated directors of his time and he did this film with a great grand vision as his earlier films. But, he somewhere lost his vision in the making. He made a clichéd biopic that is definitely good but must not great. I suppose that the script did little justice to the emotions which Kirk Douglas portrayed and also what Vincent Gogh could have gone through emotionally.

This is good for a one time watch just for acting. A 3/5 for a good film and of these, 2 stars only to Kirk Douglas and the remaining star for the film overall. It's a good film but tests our patience at times.

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Capturing Illumination In A Dark World

Author: LeonLouisRicci from United States
14 February 2014

It is the Quiet and the Non-Verbal that Impress the Most in this Biopic of Van Gogh, because Kirk Douglas' Overripe, Very Loud Performance and an Intrusive Musical Soundtrack do Nothing to Enhance the Experience.

What does are Scenes that Show the Artist, in one of the Many Moments of Intense Frustration, looks up and upon an Oil Lamp, nothing is Said, and in the Next Shot there is the Painting of the Lamp, again Nothing is Said. Plain and Profound it is a Beautiful Transition from Observation to Mind to Art.

What also makes the Film Beautiful is the Original Artwork Constantly Filling the Frame and the Number of Outdoor Scenes of the Artist Reveling in His Beloved Sunlit, Natural World. Another Positive and Enlightening Aspect is the Portrayal of Van Gogh's Lust for the Human Condition and how he Transposes these Folks at Work in Back Breaking, Soul Depleting Toil to the Canvas.

There are Many Good Things to Enjoy in this Movie but the Dialog, Sound, and Overacting is not Among Them. But some of that is Muted by the Color Schemes, the Settings (both indoor and out), and the Insight of the Struggle to Find Beauty, Apply that to Art that Touches People, while at the Same Time Reflecting on the Devastating Hypocrisy and Ugliness that, Especially in Van Gogh's Life, was more than He could Bare.

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A decent enough biopic

Author: sme_no_densetsu from Canada
3 March 2010

Vincente Minnelli's "Lust for Life" is a biography of brilliant but tortured Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. The film follows Van Gogh from his early missionary days to his untimely demise at the age of 37.

Kirk Douglas portrayed Van Gogh and he was good enough to land an Oscar nomination. Co-star Anthony Quinn (as Paul Gauguin) ended up winning an Oscar for his performance. Both men look the part and give solid performances though I have a bit of difficulty believing Douglas as a Dutchman. The supporting cast is dependable but fairly forgettable with the exception of James Donald as Vincent's brother Theo.

The art direction/set decoration received Oscar attention, which I'd say was warranted, but, overall, the film's look doesn't really come close to the artistry of Van Gogh himself. Minnelli's direction is decent enough but not particularly worth remarking on. The score by three-time Oscar winner Miklós Rózsa is similarly respectable but unremarkable.

Ultimately, though, the main thing responsible for my lukewarm reaction to the film is the script. While it landed an Oscar nomination I found that it didn't really capture what made Van Gogh tick. I don't know if any film could do that, though. In the end, "Lust for Life" isn't a bad film; it's just one that doesn't quite live up to its potential.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

One Artist's Life.

Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico, USA
7 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This seems burdened with the trappings of the usual 1950s biographical picture. The usual formula goes something like this. An epic musical score accompanies the tale of a man who discovers a hidden talent in himself, rises to the top, is undone by internal demons, then rediscovers his authentic self and finds peace and love.

But you won't find that stereotypical structure here. Kirk Douglas is Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch painter who led a tumultuous, immensely productive, and finally tragic life, relieved only by a few intermittent episodes of happiness and clarity.

I don't think I'll bother dealing with my impression of the quality of his work, because I am an ignoramus and because I've already reviewed it in Simon Schama's "The Power of Art: Van Gogh." It's enough to say that Vincent Minelli's film doesn't spare Van Gogh. His early sketches are pretty clumsy. I did better than that in high school.

But the poor guy's life was a shambles. He failed as a minister and later as an artist. His brother Theo managed to sell only one of his paintings during his lifetime. Van Gogh fell in love but his approach was so clumsy, so inept, that the woman finally refused to speak to him. Then he fell in with a whore, who left him because -- genius or no -- he was not making enough money to suit her.

But the greatest of Van Gogh's loves that we see in the movie, aside from painting itself, is Anthony Quinn's Paul Gaugin, who was something of a jealous fraud. In Tahiti Gaugin copied some of his paintings from photographs. And when I lived in Polynesia I found out that Gaugin's "Vahini No Te Vi" wasn't carrying a "vi" at all.

Not that it matters except that it illustrates the difference in attitudes between Gaugin and the man who hoped most desperately to be his best friend. Gaugin's painting were flat in tone and careless about their sources while Van Gogh's strove for authenticity and impact in their frightening imagery -- those roiling skies, those agonized cypress trees. One of their more demonstrative arguments led to Van Gogh's famous self mutilation. It's a shame because Province was an ideal place for Van Gogh to work. He loved it. The sanitized collection of Van Gogh's letters are ecstatic about the light and warmth of Arles. The letters in fact are as full of color as his paintings. That yellow house he lived in still stands. It's been converted into a tourist attraction with an al fresco café.

The screenplay is unsparing. Van Gogh's life was disorderly and filthy, his face and hands paint stained. And Kirk Douglas embodies the artist. It may be one of his best performances. He gives the painter a habit of rubbing his stained fingers and palms over a face and skull devoid of any glamor whatever. His brother Theo is played by James Donald, always a sympatico figure on screen. The enthusiastic but helpless Dr. Gachet is played by Everett Sloane. Anthony Quinn as the tempestuous Gaugin is thoroughly convincing. There's a nice touch when he visits Van Gogh for the first time in Arles, looks at the mountain of magnificent paintings, and slumps because they're better than his own work. "Well, I see you've been busy," he manages to say.

This is far superior to the usual biography. The style is classic. The camera doesn't do tricks. It's not "Lawrence of Arabia." But, like Lawrence, it's about an unstable man of extraordinary talent. Today, Van Gogh would probably be diagnosed as bipolar. Everything points to it. And instead of quietly resting in a sanatorium he'd be treated with drugs. He might have painted fewer pictures but he probably wouldn't have shot himself in the stomach and died early.

The viewer will get to see in close up many of Van Gogh's more familiar pieces. Those less familiar with our cultural history will benefit at least as much as those of us who are older and know a little something about the man. What I mean is that everybody, regardless of background, can afford to take another gander at "Starry Night" if only to be reminded of the thin line between self torture and the apprehension of a rapturous beauty.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Kirk Douglas IS Vincent Van Gogh

Author: Petri Pelkonen ( from Finland
7 March 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a movie about a tormented soul.Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853.He wanted to become a pastor, and became a missionary in the village of Petit Wasmes.There he saw some true hardship and he wanted to live like those he preached to sleeping on a straw in a small hut.Then he decided he wants to paint, and struggled to become a known artist.His brother Theo always believed in him.In Arles he lived for a while with a fellow artist Paul Gauguin, and they fought.And he cut off the lower part of his left ear lobe.This man did magic on the canvas but did not find peace with himself.He killed himself with a pistol on July 29, 1890.Lust for Life (1956) is directed by Vincente Minnelli.It's based on the 1934 novel by Irving Stone.The cast is great.Kirk Douglas was born on December 9, 1916.There is uncanny resemblance between Douglas and Van Gogh.Sure they have done something to make him look more like the painter, like dyed his hair red.The beard covers Douglas' famous cleft chin, something Van Gogh didn't have.It's hard to picture anybody else playing this part better than Kirk Douglas plays it.This is one of the finest performances of his career.Anthony Quinn is magnificent as Paul Gauguin.James Donald does excellent job as Theo Van Gogh.Pamela Brown is terrific as Vincent's love Christine.Everett Sloane is great as Dr. Gachet.Henry Daniell as Theodorus Van Gogh and Madge Kennedy as Anna Cornelia Van Gogh are both very good.Jeanette Sterke is fantastic as cousin Kay.Wilton Graff as Rev. Stricker and Isobel Elsom as Mrs. Stricker are great.Noel Purcell is brilliant as Anton Mauve.Toni Gerry is very good as Johanna.Also Len Lesser is seen in the picture as Cartoonist.And Marion Ross playing Sister Clothilde.This movie is a classic and does very good job portraying one man's agony.It earned four Academy Awards nominations, but only Anthony Quinn won for Best Supportive Actor.I know Kirk Douglas would have deserved one, too.It's a powerful moment when Vincent shouts at those priests calling them hypocrites.The mutilation scene is memorable.Vincent looks at his image from the mirror and doesn't like what he sees.He moves away from the picture and all we see is a reflection of a lamb when he does his deed.The use of color is excellent.The movie itself looks like a painting.

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