Lust for Life (1956) Poster

(1956)

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10/10
Brilliant, Yet Painful Classic Offers Douglas' Finest Performance...
Ben Burgraff (cariart)3 January 2007
"Lust for Life", Vincente Minnelli's rich interpretation of Irving Stone's Vincent Van Gogh bio-novel, is a film both compelling and repelling; in delving into the psyche of the artist (unforgettably portrayed by Kirk Douglas), one can see an untrained, unbridled genius smashing convention to open viewers' eyes to a world defined by passion; yet in doing so, we share in the growing nightmares and agony of his creative mind, teetering toward the madness that would destroy him, and it is an unsettling experience, to be sure!

This is a film so rich in visual imagery (with a Technicolor 'palette' that attempts to recreate Van Gogh's view of his world), that it demands repeated viewings, just to savor the details. From wheat fields 'aflame' in color, to night skies that nearly writhe in waves of darkness, the elemental nature of the artist's vision is spectacularly captured. And in experiencing the world through his eyes, the loving, yet uncomprehending concern of his brother (James Donald), and more hedonistic, shallow patronizing, and gradual disgust of fellow artist Paul Gauguin (Anthony Quinn, in his Oscar-winning performance), become elemental 'barriers', as well. Van Gogh wants to 'speak', but no one can understand his 'language', not even the artist, himself!

Kirk Douglas never plunged as deeply into a portrayal as he did, in "Lust for Life", and the experience nearly crushed him, as he related in his autobiography, "Ragman's Son". His total immersion in the role SHOULD have won him an Oscar (Yul Brynner won, instead, for "The King and I"), and his bitterness and disappointment at the snub would haunt him, to this day. With the passage of time, his performance has only increased in luster and stature, and it certainly shows an actor at the top of his form!

"Lust for Life" is an unforgettable experience, not to be missed!
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10/10
Portrait of an Artist as a Tortured Man
blanche-231 December 2006
Kirk Douglas is Vincent Van Gogh in "Lust for Life," directed by Vincent Minnelli and also starring Anthony Quinn as Gaugin (Oscar winner for his performance), and James Donal as Van Gogh's brother Theo.

This film is actually based on the Irving Stone novel and while it leaves out parts of Van Gogh's life, it does seem to hit the high points. A sensitive man with a spiritual sense of life, Van Gogh seeks from the beginning to express God in some way and to give something to the world. He is unsuccessful as a minister and eventually takes up painting, supported by his loving brother Theo. Basically he lives somewhere until whomever he's living with gets sick of him and throws him out. He is a terribly lonely man, but he has an intensity that is almost frightening to people. At one point, he takes up with a sometime prostitute with a baby - she eventually leaves. In actual fact, when Van Gogh met this woman, named Sien, she was pregnant with a second child, who grew up believing Van Gogh was his father. Sien some 20+ years later commits suicide.

Van Gogh establishes a friendship with Gaugin and has dreams of an artist colony, but his relationship with Gaugin, as with everyone but his brother, ends terribly when he stalks Gaugin with an open straight razor, later cutting off part of his own ear. It is evident from the film that whatever Van Gogh's mental problem was (and there are many theories, from bipolar, to epilepsy, to schizophrenia), it worsened as time went on, as did his physical condition. He would often buy paints rather than eat and would work ceaselessly.

Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime - however, what the film does not show is that, had he chosen to live, he was on the brink of being recognized for his work. His paintings had started being exhibited and appreciated and began to sell shortly after his death. What also isn't in the film is that his brother died shortly after Van Gogh did. It was Theo's widow who carried on the work that would be involved with Van Gogh's vast collection.

The film reduced me to tears - indeed, the song that says "they should have told you, Vincent, the world was never meant for one as beautiful as you" was certainly true. The only person who ever "got" Vincent was his brother.

As for the performances, Kirk Douglas makes a brilliant Van Gogh. Michael Douglas once said his father isn't considered a great actor because the style back then in the types of roles he played has changed. It's true - seen today, Douglas' work seems too intense at times, too big, too over the top in these times of acting so naturally as to almost be boring. However, I believe that Van Gogh must have been like the Douglas characterization. He obviously drove people away in large masses, and Douglas captured that passion, drive, and overeagerness perfectly. As Theo, James Donal is perfect as the calm one in the family. Anthony Quinn has a short but memorable role as the flamboyant Gaugin. He's wonderful - arrogant, opinionated, temperamental, with a bad temper, and Quinn plays him as an artist without the soul of Van Gogh. But who, after all, had the soul of Van Gogh? Vincent Minnelli lovingly directed this film and it definitely has his wonderful attention to detail, flow, and artistic touch. And the paintings are breathtaking. A beautiful film that will stay with you for a long time, and you'll never see "Starry Night" in the same way again.
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An Accurate Biopic
phred2217 February 2001
This film is a rarity, a biopic which is more accurate than the book it's based on. Irving Stone's book was a major best-seller which did much to make Vincent Van Gogh one of the ten most famous artists in history but it did have its inaccuracies, particularly when it depicted its protagonist in Paris with other great painters of the time. In the book, Gauguin, Lautrec, Cezanne and Rousseau come off as typical bohemians while Vincent was made much more of a leader than he was. Minelli doesn't give us a detailed look at any of the artists except Gauguin but he is more accurate about who influenced Van Gogh and he does include his best friend, the now-forgotten Emile Bernard, if only as an extra in Tanguy's shop.

When Lust for Life came out, several critics dismissed it as too lurid and melodramatic, but those adjectives are accurate in describing Van Gogh's life. Note that Kirk Douglas does not play his usual cool, fun-loving tough guy and actually uses his whole body in his acting. For once Hollywood outdid itself.
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10/10
A fantastic biographical movie
RMR-215 October 1998
Kurt Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh is absolutely amazing. He captures the frenetic passion with which Van Gogh painted. The movie has all the main influencing factors of his life and all of the master's difficulties, trials and illnesses.

The film shows Van Gogh's love of painting. He once wrote to his brother that it was impossible to see the world and not want to paint it. He saw the goodness of the simple people and showed his sympathy for them. Van Gogh's style showed the energy of nature and the toil of the poor. Van Gogh comes through as a man desperately trying to paint enough of the beauty he saw, at one moment bristling with positive energy and at the next unsure of himself and afraid of being always alone.

I was touched by Lust for Life and could not help finding sympathy with Van Gogh despite hs arguing with other painters and and falling in love with an ill prostitute and his societal awkwardness and so on. He came through not as a misfit really, but as one who was not meant for society, and a man to whom society wore upon.

The movie is excellent and moving and the end is truly beautiful in its tragedy. It is impossible to mention all the aspects of the movie I liked but this movie can be seen based on Douglas's performance alone.
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10/10
Painstakingly perfect
MartinHafer2 August 2005
I have always liked this movie--despite not being a great fan of Van Gogh's work. However, I recently came to absolutely love this film and can really appreciate the artistry of the producers and director--they OBVIOUSLY really cared about the story and did so much to replicate the life of Van Gogh.

Let me explain. I teach a psychology class and part of the class involves discussing famous people with mental illnesses. Considering I teach at an arts school, it seemed natural to show and discuss Lust for Life. In addition, I picked up perhaps the definitive book on the paintings of Van Gogh. As we watched the film, I flipped through the massive book and was shocked how accurately everything was portrayed in the film. The locations, scenery and characters were absolutely dead on in every respect. In particular, all the little bit characters in the film looked almost like clones of the paintings of these actual people Van Gogh knew. For example, the sailor friend, his doctor in the mental hospital, the artist Pisarro and MANY others were just about carbon copies.

In addition, the myth of Van Gogh was avoided in the film. Unlike the common story, Van Gogh did NOT cut off his ear and give it to a prostitute. The exact nature of the event is a little confusing, but no reputable historian would tell the often repeated story about the prostitute! It was likely a suicide attempt and only a portion of the ear was torn off as he was slicing his throat--or, he did it as a histrionic reaction to a fight with his crazed friend, Gaughin.

The only MINOR short-coming is that in a couple places, Kirk Douglas' acting seems a little overboard. But, considering how his performance was OVERALL, this can easily be overlooked. Also, although Van Gogh cut off most of his ear as a result of a suicide attempt, the movie accidentally SWITCHES which ear was removed--look carefully and you'll see.
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Passion for life
sylow18 March 2001
When I hear the name Vincente Minnelli certain scenes pop up on my inner screeningroom: A tracking shot at the fair (Some came running), the low tracking zoom towards Douglas and Turner at the pool (Bad and the Beautiful), snowmen (Meet me in St Louis) and the agony in Douglas's face in "Lust for life"; in fact as soon as his redbearded agonized face pops up, all the other movies fade away and "Lust for life" takes over my inner screening room.

But apart from being my favorite Minnelli movie, its a movie that more than any other shows his genius in use of colors; every scene is composed in breathtaking technicolor with the deepest respect for Van Gogh's own use of color, and Douglas's acting is filled with the same agony and passion as the strokes of Van Gogh's brush. As the other great movies who uses color to its fullest (Wizard of Oz, Black Narcissus, Ten Commandments), the simularities between the director and the painter is obvious. Hence, Minnelli's struggle for "painting" the scenes with the richness of technicolor becomes an echo of Van Gogh. It also reads as a textbook in composition from Steinberg's Dead Space to Eisenstein's juxtapositions. In all, Minnelli is of great skill and uses it to the fullest.

The story, which focuses on the struggle for a new way of expression, is tame at times and the acting (apart from Douglas) seems static most of the times, but the tortured face and body of Douglas and the use of color makes this one of the greatest achievements in MGM's history and one of the best movies Minnelli ever made.
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The Best Hollywood Biopic
Afzal Shaikh20 September 2007
Lust For Life may look, at first glance, to be a typical Hollywood biopic, which is usually not much more than a star vehicle about a famous, real-life but vacuously recreated character, denuded of any real personality. Minelli certainly makes his biopic of Vincent Van Gogh with his trademark lavishness. But, importantly, he does not glamorise his subject. Instead, he makes a visually rich but earthy film, which exalts Van Gogh's achievement and seeks to portray the realities of his creative life and the dark side of his personality.

Lust For Life focuses on the extremely troubled man Van Gogh was, at turns listless, priggish, childish, needy, manic and quick-tempered; but also sensitive, caring, thoughtful, romantic and altruistic. Kirk Douglas is superb as Van Gogh, holistically exhibiting his various and contradictory aspects: obsessive though circumspect artist, diffident but passionate friend, forlorn romantic and dangerous maniac. It is all the more of an accomplishment as he is such a muscular, good-looking leading actor (nor should Anthony Quinn's key supporting performance as Gauguin, a macho with hidden sensibilities, be neglected).

However, at the same time, what the film never forgets is Van Gogh's considerable achievement. Minelli's iridescence complements Van Gogh's colourful, vivacious visual style, and many of his paintings are shown throughout the film.

Critics have pointed to the over-use of melodrama in the film. Yet Lust For Life is rare in that the film is consummated by its melodrama, along with Miklós Rózsa's grand, sweeping music. In other words, its melodrama succeeds, making the viewer identify more with Douglas' Van Gogh, giving him a greater, but also justified, pathos and sense of tragedy.

Lust For Life is the best Hollywood Biopic
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9/10
'I want to create things that touch people!'
Nazi_Fighter_David15 January 2000
Warning: Spoilers
Kirk Douglas - with a powerful portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90) the greatest Dutch painter after Rembrandt, lost the Oscar to Yul Brynner ("The King and I") in 1956..

The film captured the artist's agony and everything in Van Gogh's pictures seems to be pulsating with life..Yet of the more than 800 oil paintings and 700 drawings which constitute his life's work, he sold only one in his lifetime..

"Lust for Life" begins in Brussels in 1878 where Van Gogh intent to do missionary work among the impoverished population of the Borinage, a coal-mining region in southwest Belgium.

There, he experienced the first great spiritual crisis of his life..He was sharing the life of the poor completely but in an impassioned moment gave away all his worldly goods and was thereupon dismissed by his 'superiors' for a too literal 'interpretation' of Christian teaching..

Penniless and with his faith destroyed, he sank into despair..

When his brother Theo (James Donald) arrives in Le Borinage, he finds him living in a little shack.. sleeping in the dirt and straw..Theo persuades him to return to Holland..

At home..he cut himself off from everyone, and began seriously to draw, thereby discovering his true vocation..Van Gogh decided that 'his mission' from then on would be to 'bring consolation' to humanity through 'art', and this realization of his creative powers restored his self-confidence..

A passionate man by nature, he needed 'love' and he wanted a 'home' and 'children'..He impulsively proposes it to his cousin Kay (Jeanette Sterke) - a widow with a son - who violently rejects him ( 'No..Never! Never!')

Late, in The Hague, he settled in after meeting with Christine (Pamela Brown) a prostitute who becomes his model and his housekeeper..He acquires technical proficiency confining himself almost entirely to drawings..

He visits his cousin Anton Mauve (Noel Purcell) - a Dutch landscape painter - who offered to teach him how to work with color and oil..

Van Gogh extended his technical knowledge and experimented oil paint in "In the Field", in "The Potato Eaters", in "The Loom", in a "Peasant Woman in a Red Bonnet"...

At Nuenen, after the death of his father and a discussion with his sister Willemien (Jill Bennett) he decided to leave to Paris..where he was introduced to the world of Impressionists like Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Monet..He joins his brother Theo and met Pissarro, Seurat and Gauguin..

Paul Gauguin (Anthony Quinn) opened his eyes to the latest developments in French painting..

In Paris, Van Gogh hoped to form a separate Impressionist group with Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and others whom he supposed to have similar aims..

He rented and decorated ' a yellow house ' in Arles and invited Gauguin with the intention of persuading him and found a working community of Impressionists..They worked together..each influenced the other to some extent but their relations rapidly deteriorated because they had opposing ideas and were temperamentally incompatible..

One night, after Gauguin leaves, Van Gogh broke under the strain and cut off part of his left ear..He was taken by Theo to a mental institution at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in order to be under medical supervision..

At Saint-Rémy he muted the violent colors and tried to make his painting calmer : "Self-Portrait with Pipe and Bandaged Ear", "La Berceuce", "Garden of the Asylum", "Cypresses", "Olive Trees"..etc...

Oppressed by homesickness - he painted souvenirs of Holland - and loneliness, he longed to see his brother Theo in Paris who invited him to see a pleasant homeopathic doctor-artist Gachet (Everett Sloanne) with a passion for arts..But this phase was short : Feeling dependence on Theo (now married and with a son) and his inability to succeed and in despair of ever overcoming his loneliness or of being cured, he shot himself after finishing his last painting : "The Wheatfield and the Crows" dying July 29, 1890 in 'a bright daylight..the sun flooding everything..in a light of pure gold'..

Anthony Quinn received his second Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor - after "Viva Zapata", 1952 - for his 'splendid' performance as Paul Gauguin.. The film presented him as slow and careful.. pipe smoking and unfeeling.. face to face with the 'nervous' Van Gogh.. ('If there's one thing I despise, that's emotion in painting..')

Vincente Minnelli mounted beautifully a faithful account of the life of a great painter and manages to convey his 'genius' and his personal 'agony'..
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10/10
Too Sensitive For This World
bkoganbing15 August 2005
Lust for Life, Irving Stone's biographical novel about the life of Vincent Van Gogh, stands as the centerpiece of Kirk Douglas's acting career. After growing that beard which makes Douglas look hauntingly like the troubled Van Gogh, Douglas crafts a brilliant portrayal of this way too sensitive man.

Vincent Van Gogh was a man who felt things more than most of the world's population. When we're introduced to him in the film, he's been rejected as an evangelical preacher. Van Gogh's father was a minister and Vincent feels the calling, but doesn't have the talent for preaching. He's given a backwater assignment in a forgotten coal mining area basically just to get rid of him.

He tackles it in earnest, even going down into the mines and working along side the miners who are his parishioners. That doesn't please the hoity toity church officials who rebuke him. A more tactful man might have sold the officials on a social gospel idea which was what Van Gogh was trying to articulate. But instead he explodes on them and the church gets rid of him.

It's the same with personal relationships. His intensity frightens off everyone of the opposite sex. And most of the male species as well. Only his patient and loving brother Theo, played here by James Donald, can deal with him for any length of time.

But somewhere in the vast universal scheme of things, Van Gogh was given a talent to paint. It's only on the canvas that he can articulate what he feels around him. And of course when he died he was as obscure as one can get. Now the value of his paintings could retire the American national debt.

Director Vincente Minnelli had previously directed Kirk Douglas to his second Oscar nomination in The Bad and the Beautiful in 1952. Sad to say that Douglas lost again in this third and final outing in the Oscar Derby. Personally I think he should have taken home the big prize for this one. The winner that year was Yul Brynner for The King and I. No actor better expresses rage on the screen than Kirk Douglas and this was a rage accompanying a descent to madness.

But Minnelli did get Anthony Quinn his second Oscar in the Supporting Actor category as fellow painter Paul Gauguin. They become housemates for a while and it seems as though Van Gogh has developed a decent relationship with another human being. But they came from different backgrounds and Gauguin brought an entirely different perspective to his art than Van Gogh did. What in 98% of relationships would have been a friendly disagreement becomes a bitter quarrel and Gauguin's leaving Van Gogh helps spiral him further into a breakdown.

Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, and the ever dependable, but seldom given enough credit James Donald cop all the acting honors here. Like John Huston's Moulin Rouge about Toulouse-Lautrec, Lust for a Life is a film that is so articulate that one can be art idiot and still appreciate the performances of the players.

Today Vincent Van Gogh probably would be on some psychiatric medicines like lithium and be a normal individual when on them. But would the world have the fruits of his artistic genius. An interesting question to ponder while watching this wonderful film.
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8/10
A great film by a great Director - but not a true biography
L. Denis Brown10 June 2006
Irving Stone wrote his book 'Lust for Life' in 1934 and MGM obtained the film rights to it in 1946, long before there was any intention to create this film. Biographical films about the lives of artists were not regarded as likely to be financially viable, and at the time Van Gogh, who had only sold one painting in his lifetime, was not really well known to the public or regarded as the most promising subject for such a film. This changed following a very successful exhibition of his works in 1955 and MGM decided to commission Minnelli to direct the film for them, but they had little time left to create it as their film rights to the book expired at the end of 1955. This greatly complicated the production. For example, rights to create still reproductions of almost 200 of Van Gogh's works for this film had to be negotiated with all the museums, galleries and private collectors world-wide who owned them, the pictures then had to be copied by special still cameras requiring only low illumination levels, and printed as large transparencies that could be back-lit for filming in any scenes where they were visible. Minnelli was a good choice as Director - previously a stage designer he was known for artistic sensibilities and an eye for colour. In his memoirs Minnelli reports two major battles with the studio moguls, one he won - the other he lost. Minnelli knew the Metrocolor process used at MGM generated saturated colours which would be too garish for this film. He had recently finished filming Brigadoon using Anscocolor stock and insisted this was what was needed, but Anscocolor cine stock had just been discontinued. MGM eventually agreed to buy up the last 300,000 feet of unused Anscocolor stock available, and to set up a laboratory in which it could be processed. Minnelli also bitterly opposed working in CinemaScope format, claiming the large aspect ratio was incompatible with most paintings, and would also spoil the intimacy of many of the scenes to be filmed; but he was over-ruled on this.

Half a century later we are in a position to appreciate how right he was over both these issues. Like most viewers my first reactions to a film I am watching usually relate to the quality of the film-script, the direction and the acting. If these are acceptable I know I am likely to feel that I have seen a very good film. But film stock remains very important - as a still photographer myself I am well aware of the need to evaluate whether a particular shot should be made on, for example, Fuji's Sensia, Astia or Velvia emulsions - the wrong choice usually destroys the effect the photographer is striving for. It is the same with movies - I can recall just four films ('The Riddle of the Sands',' Laura, les Ombres de l'Ete', 'Black Narcissus' and 'Lust for Life') where one of my first reactions has been admiration for the atmospheric qualities and colour rendering of the photography. There may have been others but such films are certainly not very numerous. Although the opening credits of L4L still attribute the colour to Metrocolor, this film could not have succeeded as it did if MGM had been unable to obtain the Ansco stock that was actually used. As for aspect ratio, we have only to compare the VHS version with the new widescreen DVD to confirm that Minnelli's vision was correct (and this is of course after he did everything possible to utilise sequences which take maximum advantage of the widescreen presentation that he was forced to adopt.)

The film-script has been criticised for inaccuracies in Van Gogh's life as shown (unfairly as it is based on Irving Stone's book, which is normally classed as a novel rather than a biography. MGM might have done better to write an independent film-script and present their film as a biography- not as a film of a novel. What probably prevented this was recognition that they would then be responsible for any errors.) As written it is a very powerful depiction of the gradually increasing intensity of Van Gogh's commitment to his art, which increasingly became the only significant driving force in everything he did. The two hour overall running time is just about right - the emotional impact of watching the gradual disintegration of Van Gogh's personality might have become quite distressing for some viewers if the film has been a great deal longer.

The acting is exceptional. Kirk Douglas, a remarkable look-alike to extant pictures of Van Gogh, put everything into his effort to create a believable picture of a man with an increasingly fanatical drive which eventually overwhelmed him. It earned him an Oscar nomination, but not an award. This, I feel, was not his fault - Van Gogh was too insecure to interact normally with others and this would have showed in his whole bearing, something an individual as secure and stable as Kirk could not easily emulate. An actor is by nature an extreme extrovert and trying to take the part of an introvert is very difficult - when the introvert is both fanatical and unbalanced it probably becomes impossible. This makes it hard to become involved with Kirk's portrayal of the role in the same way that one would have done with Van Gogh himself. Anthony Quinn's Best Supporting Actor Oscar award for his role as Paul Gauguin was well deserved. There were also memorable performances by James Donald as Theo and Pamela Brown as Christine. Theo's anguish in the deathbed sequence came over very effectively. The direction and camera work, although not faultless, were both of an extremely high standard. All in all, anyone interested either in modern painting or in the lives of modern painters will find this a most rewarding film to watch.
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9/10
"The meaning of toil"
Steffi_P16 December 2010
Biopics are tricky things to get right. That is one of the reasons why so many classic Hollywood versions of true stories are so liberal with the facts – storifying history in order to bring out the spirit or the legend of the subject. There have also been more recent productions which, in their devotion to historical accuracy, suck all the life out of the picture. It is a rare thing indeed then to find a biopic that sticks to the truth but also really brings us a vivid character in an engaging story.

Lust for Life begins with Vincent's journey in mid-flow, with a brief episode in which he worked as a preacher in a dirty mining town. It is as if we are observing the man from a distance, and indeed director Vincente Minnelli actually keeps his camera well back from the subject for the first fifteen minutes or so. Van Gogh's talent for painting is not referenced verbally, but sketches gradually begin to appear in the background. It's a very tentative introduction to the man, but it gives us his character and background through example rather than direct statement, and rather than highlighting his turning to art shows it as an almost incidental extension of his way of life. Screenwriter Norman Corwin (who normally worked in radio) draws from Vincent's letters to his brother Theo for a gentle and unobtrusive narrative, and the production makes extensive use of actual locations and colour prints of van Gogh's paintings, all the better for his work to speak for itself.

Director Vincente Minnelli was himself a painter, albeit one of a rather different style to van Gogh, but his painterly instinct for space and colour helps very much in creating the harmonious look of Lust of Life. He was one of the few directors from this early stage of widescreen who knew what to do with the Cinemascope aspect ratio. His technique is to soften the width by composing in depth. Take set-ups like Mauve's studio or the little flat Vincent shares with Christine, in which the furniture and canvasses create many layers in depth, giving real definition to the space and making the wide shape of the screen seem more natural. Often the screen seems loosely divided into two parts, with foreground business on one side and a distant vanishing point on the other, and Minnelli uses this to create smaller frames for different actors on the screen or to highlight one person or another. This in turn minimises the need for cuts to opposing angles or close-ups, which tend to look awkward in Cinemascope.

In the lead role, Kirk Douglas not only bears a passable resemblance to van Gogh, he really immerses himself in the character to the extent that you forget the familiarity of the actor and see only the painter. Vincent may be the archetypal tortured artist but Douglas resists the temptation to become wild or hysterical, more often showing emotional turmoil in tense body language and silent screams. In lighter moments he displays a kind of boyish enthusiasm which really helps to make a likable character out of van Gogh. In contrast Anthony Quinn's supporting role as Paul Gauguin is exaggerated and theatrical where Douglas is subtle and realistic, but it highlights the difference between the two men and helps to make Quinn's short but crucial part in the story lively and memorable.

Above I feel what really makes Lust for Life work is that it understands it subject matter. There is a clear respect for van Gogh's work from writer, director and star, and an intention to allow the audience to share in this appreciation. The effort that has gone into comparing real scenes to finished paintings, and the dialogue that touches upon art theory show how his approach to painting dovetails into his highly emotional and philanthropic character. It is this that lends a sense of meaning and poignancy to the depiction of his tragic life.
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A Classic
jjhoerr11 April 2003
This is one of my favorite films. It deeply touched me. It's in my top 20 for sure. Maybe top 10. The acting, directing, and production are all about as good as it gets. It's a shame Kirk Douglas didn't win the best actor Oscar. I think it's his finest performance. I can't think of a single bad thing to say about this great movie. It's a vivid (and accurate) tribute to the immortal Vincent.
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10/10
Memorable Film Biography
harry-7628 February 2003
Directors Vincent Minnelli and George Cukor really helmed a great production in "Lust for Life."

The art direction, costume design, set decoration and cinematography are all first rate in executing this enactment of the life of Vincent Van Gogh.

Norman Corwin's script beautifully utilizes the spirit of Irving Stone's novel, and Miklos Rozsa's score is among his most memorable.

The breathtaking element, though, are the original paintings assembled for this production. Experiencing them in brilliant close up as the camera moves into the canvases, is downright thrilling.

While the small tv screen cannot fully capture the impact of the original movie house presentation, the vividness of these original masterworks cannot be diminished. It also is a strong showcase for the Metrocolor process, and one of the great productional trophies of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The acting is uniformly strong, and the total impression of this film is a moving and memorable experience.
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7/10
Remarkable performance by bigger than life Kirk Douglas...
Neil Doyle21 September 2007
Not only does KIRK DOUGLAS bear a remarkable resemblance to the real Vincent Van Gogh, but he gives a deeply felt, bigger than life performance in the role of a lifetime, fully deserving his Academy Award nomination.

The letterbox version on TCM doesn't do justice to the film's brilliant color photography, deliberately muted for the early coal mining scenes but crisp and clear when it comes to Van Gogh's now famous paintings. I haven't seen the DVD version, but I hope it's considerably better than the print showing on cable.

At any rate, it's tremendously well done--the entire look of the production creating the sense of time and authentic atmosphere and actually filmed on the actual location sites with an impressive cast of villagers and supporting actors. PAMELA BROWN, NIALL MacGINNIS (as The Postman), and most of all, JAMES DONALD as brother Theo, who nurtures his brother and supports him financially but is unable to sell any of his paintings--except one.

It's a fine recreation of the Irving Stone novel and Douglas immerses himself in the character of Van Gogh, much the way ANTHONY QUINN does as Gauguin. Quinn's stormy, tempestuous relationship with Douglas provides some electric moments of conflict.

The score by Miklos Rozsa accents the drama at every turn, slashing at the drama the way Van Gogh slashed at his canvas with thick brush strokes. It's starkly dramatic without ever being overbearing.

Vincent Minnelli's direction is above reproach. A finer tribute to the tormented artist could not be imagined with so many of his canvases shown on screen in impressive close-ups.
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6/10
Okay, But It Should Have Been Much More
ccthemovieman-120 May 2006
The best part of this film was to see so many of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings. There must have been at least a hundred of them shown in this movie.

It's a biography of a tragic life, one of the most famous artists of all time, and a tortured soul, but the film isn't as interesting as one would hope for such a figure.

It just doesn't have the emotion and the charisma of "Moulin Rouge" (1952) in which we see the bio of another famous French painter of that era: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Kirk Douglas is okay as Van Gogh, perhaps not up to Jose Frerrer's high standards with Toulouse-Lautrec, but still convincing in showing the artist's desperate fight against loneliness and his passion for his artwork.

I am probably being too harsh constantly comparing this to Moulin Rouge but I also noticed a big difference in the cinematography, too. This just wasn't as visually striking as it should be, especially since Van Gogh loved to paint in the beautiful French countryside.

The film still has its merits and thankfully didn't get depressing dwelling on Van Gogh's mental problems. It also had good supporting roles turned in by James Donald and Anthony Quinn.

I was still anxious to see this on a widescreen DVD when it was issued in recent months but every report I read said the DVD transfer was poor, a big disappointment.
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7/10
Good film--also, teach your jr high & older child re Van Gogh!
knutsenfam16 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
When Vincente Minelli was filming onsite in France, some elderly peasants saw Kirk Douglas running around in Van Gogh garb and hair color ....and the old peasants cried out ..."It's him again!"

The optional film commentator says that Minnelli shot the different times of this film in the colors Van Gogh was currently using...i.e. during his missions work with coal miners, the film's colors are subdued mostly to gray and black.

And the end of Van Gogh's life is shot in brilliant sunlight, like his last years' paintings.

This film's bio of the adult Van Gogh, from his missions work to his death, is said to be relatively close to his actual life. It's entertaining, yet also works in shots of the most famous Van Gogh paintings.

Minnelli used the best color technology of his time and secured permission from private and public Van Gogh painting owners to film the original artworks.

It's a good movie---great if you like Van Gogh, and worth your time.
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10/10
Bio That Works
harry-762 April 2005
They seemed to do everything right with this biopic. Starting with an excellent source novel by Irving Stone, MGM Chief Dore Schary approved a major budget and on-location filming.

He then tagged great director Vincent Minnelli, backed up by George Cukor, and a superb supporting cast, including Pamela Brown, Niall MacGinnis, James Donald and Henry Daniell.

John Houseman was brought in as producer, and Cinemascope was decided on to augment the scope of the images (Metrocolor didn't quite match Technicolor, but the effect here makes a good case for MGM's patent).

Finally Miklos Rozsa created one of his most powerful scores, brilliantly orchestrated by Eugene Zador.

As for the leads, both Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn offered unforgettable characterizations, and life of Van Gough and Gaugain blazed from the screen.

One of the great classics of the '50s.
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Melodramatic but effective
Brian W. Fairbanks27 March 1999
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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8/10
Who Was the Better Vincent Van Gogh?
malvernp23 June 2006
Being of a certain age, I have a fairly clear recollection of a performance by the great character actor, Everett Sloane, as Vincent Van Gogh. For those who may be interested, Episode 27 in the second season of "The Philco Television Playhouse (3-5-1950) was entitled "The Life of Vincent Van Gogh." Why bring this up? For one reason, Sloane's portrayal (in my opinion) can stand on its own when objectively compared to the much better known one associated with Kirk Douglas. Unfortunately, few people probably recall Sloane's performance today, and even fewer will ever have the chance to see it.

For another, and perhaps in a touch of either irony or inspiration, the creative personnel responsible for "Lust For Life" chose to cast Sloane in the minor but pivotal role of Dr. Gachet in the film. As students of Van Gogh's work know, Dr. Gachet was the subject of one of the artist's most famous late paintings. Sloane delivers his amusing and entertaining performance toward the end of the movie. Looking at it today, one would never imagine that this very same actor portrayed the very intense and troubled artist with such great force and conviction just a few years earlier.

It is hard for today's younger filmgoers to realize that during the so-called Golden Age of Television, efforts like this "Philco Television Playhouse" production were not uncommon.

It does not detract anything from the overall artistic excellence of "Lust For Life" to know that Douglas may have seen Sloane's earlier portrayal---and possibly even built upon it. Stranger things have happened.
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6/10
Visually remarkable but a bit on the dull side
Martin Bradley11 August 2005
Minelli's movie about Van Gogh is generally regarded as one of the best of all biopics, mainly because he plays it straight and 'psychologically' it's deeper than most movies of it's kind. But for that very reason it's also duller. Minelli has taken the excitement out of the material and if we wince when Van Gogh mutilates himself, it's only because we know what's coming.

Kirk Douglas plays Van Gogh in that tortured, melodramatic style he employed in "The Bad and the Beautiful" and Anthony Quinn won an Oscar for his memorably short performance as Gauguin. Visually, if you see it in a good widescreen print, it can be remarkable with Minelli employing his usual fidelity and good taste to recording the period. The paintings are the real McCoy.
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One of the Five to Ten Great Artists we Immediately Think Of
theowinthrop9 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
November 1888 is a month that has two events making it the most notorious for bloodstained mutilations. On the night of 8-9 November 1888 Mary Jane Kelly, a prostitute in the Whitechapel area of London was butchered in her small rooms in Miller's Court by Jack the Ripper, leaving poor Mary's remains looking like she was being cut up for meat like a cow or steer. About three or four days later, in Arles, France, a desperately unhappy and mentally ill painter named Vincent Van Gogh, angry at being deserted by a man he thought of as a soul-mate (artist Paul Gauguin) sliced off the lower part of his left ear lobe, nearly bleeding to death.

It's odd to think of those two events like that, juxtaposing the most hideous murder of the 19th Century with the most (unfortunately) celebrated action of a famous painter outside his activities as a painter, but there you are - history does have these crazy coincidences of time and space that we rarely are fully aware of. Oddly enough, given that a recent book on the Ripper linked that killer to the British post-impressionist Walter Sickert, it is odd that no comments on this coincidence of dates have arisen earlier.

LUST FOR LIFE was based on a best seller by Irving Stone on Van Gogh. Directed by Vincent Minelli, with his star from THE BAD AND THE BEAUTFUL Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh, it is one of the most colorful pictures of that period, and it remains one of the best film biographies. This is not just a fine biography of an artist (it's peer films are Korda's REMBRANDT with Charles Laughton, and Huston's MOULIN ROUGE about Toulouse Lautrec with Jose Ferrer), but a really first rate biography. For a change there is something to work with outside of the ability to paint. For Douglas's Van Gogh is driven to madness and suicide by a personality that craves affection, family and friends, but turns people off again and again.

From the start we see the real problem here. Talented Vincent is the son of a stern minister (Henry Daniell, in an all too brief part) in Holland. Daniell probably does what he should given his training, but he is a Calvinist, and that sects' dogma is quite restrictive and unforgiving in many respects. Vincent, as he tells his father, does believe in God, but in a loving God. Later Vincent realizes that he could have accommodated his father by attending church.

He also tries to marry the widow of a friend (Jeanette Sterke), but his passion runs into her faithful devotion to the memory of her husband, to the point that she tells her parents Vincent disgusted her with his revelation of love. Subsequently he tries to make a life with a prostitute with her son, but the poverty involved in his trying to learn his trade as a painter is too hard for her to accept, and she eventually breaks with him as well.

Gradually Vincent goes to Paris and lives with his closest friend and brother Theo (James Donald). Theo was the only one (despite occasional quarrels with Vincent) who supported him and tried to help, and (as a result) their letters have become part of world literature (the only painter I know whose writings as literature - as opposed to the notebooks of Da Vinci - are read for their passion). In Paris Van Gogh meets other impressionists giants (Pissaro, Seurat, Gauguin, Lautrec*). He finally decides to go to the southern village of Arles to paint, and is helped there by the local postman (Roulin - Niall MacInnis), Theo convinces Gauguin to join Vincent (he knows Vincent was one of the few people the boorish Paul did not insult - not realizing it was due to the brief time they knew each other). And the result was a disaster.

(*An actor supposedly plays Lautrec in this film, but I honestly did not see him. Interestingly enough, the friendship of Vincent and Henri pops up in MOULIN ROUGE, when Henri tells his mother about Vincent's pictures of sunflowers.)

Vincent hoped that if he and Paul worked side by side they could create the basis for an artist colony at Arles. The problem was temperament. Vincent desperately needed people to understand and love him. Gauguin was totally self-absorbed, and did not mind loneliness. Vincent embraced color and movement in his paintings. Gauguin was more ordered (this is not disparaging Paul Gauguin - it's just seeing his style of painting is not the same as seeing Vincent's in terms of viewer effect: Gauguin's colors are controlled but rich; Vincent's are like hurricane driven emotions.

When Paul finally has enough of Arles, its weather, its people, and Vincent, he decides to leave. Vincent chases him with his razor, but finds the unfazed Gauguin facing him down. Ashamed and in emotional agony Vincent returned to his room, and committed the self mutilation we remember.

The rest of the film follows his attempts, supported by Theo, to save his sanity - first under the care of an asylum headed by Lionel Jeffries, and then under a doctor who likes artists played by Everett Sloane. But, although some of his greatest work was produced from 1889 - 1890, in the end he commits suicide. A short life, but one rich in artistic endeavor.

Douglas gave his all in the role - possibly his best performance (though PATHS OF GLORY, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, and SPARTICUS equal it). He did not win the Oscar though nominated. Nor did Minelli get an Oscar for the beautiful film work he did. Anthony Quinn won his second best supporting actor Oscar as Gauguin, which if a short role was definitely memorable.
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10/10
A Special Film
gazebo3504 February 2007
I saw this film when it first came out in 1956 and have seen in many times since. It had a profound effect then and still does. Indeed i may indeed call it my favorite film. it is my favorite because it deals with a true historical figure. and it does so with great sensitivity and finesse. this is truly spectacular considering this is a Hollywood bio. to me it remains unequaled in film bios of great artists or whatever. Douglas does a convincing job as the troubled van Gogh and the rest of the production is notable for its historical accuracy. its ambiance, mood and color. the believability of its many personages as they march across the screen. this is a true cinematic masterpiece, moving and deeply affecting and recreates the mood and life of the time with great precision and believability. the whole cast was superb as was of course Anthony Quinn as Gauguin.
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7/10
True to life rendition of a tragic life
jc-osms6 November 2007
Initially the thought of Kirk Douglas playing Vincent van Gogh seems as unlikely as Al Pacino playing Arthur Scargill! And yet with a bravura performance of total immersion and commitment Douglas wins you over. Of course he seems too physical for the part and even the mandatory red hair and beard fails to convince the viewer of passable physical resemblance, unlike Anthony Quinn as Gaughin, but in a sustained start-to-finish portrayal of the downs and downs (there were very few ups) of the artist's life, you are quickly caught up in this tragic story of unrecognised tormented and ultimately doomed genius. It's almost as hard to believe that the suave purveyor of classic Hollywood musicals, Vincente Minelli, could pull off the directorial task with such aplomb, but with obvious love of the source material, countless opportunities to recreate the artist's masterpieces and most of all sympathy with the tortured artist, result in an accomplished end product filmed in glorious colour. Is it too obvious to draw a parallel between Van Gogh and Minelli's own flawed genius of a wife Judy Garland, similarly destined to die tragically young? Whether yes or no, this is serious Hollywood film - making at its grandest. The playing is very good, despite the jarring of Anglo-American accents - it's not long into the movie before Douglas exhorts Almatty Gahd - but the narrative stays true to the artist's life-story, quoting from Van Gogh's own letters, relayed in the third person by his devoted brother Theo, until his ultimate unhappy ending at his own hand. The sparks really fly too in the Quinn / Douglas scenes where Gaughin and Van Gogh attempt their short-lived joint home-making exercise where the artistic arguments between two temperamental individuals are convincingly and sensitively laid before the laymen viewers. Interesting to note the likes of actors Max Jaffe and Edward G Robinson in the list of donors of original works at the movie's conclusion.
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10/10
A movie for ANY Van Gogh enthusiast!
saywardstudio17 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is truly a treasure; any art lover should see it. The filmmakers painstakingly re-create interiors and scenes to make the picture come alive. I truly believe I'm a spectator in his life. The film does a good job of encompassing his entire artistic career, starting from his earliest days. They use actual dialog from his letters, and the close up shots of the artwork is really his. It is hard to say what was truly wrong with him, mentally or physically. There could be a number of conditions that we know more about now than we did back then. I think humanity had a stifling order of things, a 'code' of sorts in which everybody lived, and there was very little or no room for outbursts of any kind, even if you couldn't help it, which I believe was the case with Van Gogh. From his letters (and of course, paintings!) you can see he is a very intelligent person; he realizes things are getting rocky-he himself admits he has a problem. But he doesn't know what to do about it- and doctors at the time are hard pressed to help him, either. I also think the frustration of not having money, sometimes to cover the basics, relying on his brother for just about everything, not selling any paintings, not having his 'studio of the south' artist colony, and on top of all that, the lack of true love, led to depressions that, when you look at it, would be monumental things to try and overcome. Tensions with family didn't help, either. So all of this coupled with a possible physical problem, for example, seizures, something he actually has no control of, and that people really didn't understand, could give the illusion of instability. However I believe he was a person that was honestly trying to do the right thing, and living to the fullest all the time through his art. This movie captures all of these things I am trying to explain. All of the characters and scenes are beautifully acted; something I find interesting is that it was filmed in some locations where he lived and visited, also at a time really not so long after his death. It's been a while NOW but when the movie was filmed he had only been deceased approximately 60 years, give or take a couple of years. A real gem. Very inspiring. One of my all time favorite movies about my all time favorite artist. :)
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Not yet available in a widescreen version!?! Why not?!?
Greg Couture15 July 2003
I haven't seen this film since its theatrical release and cannot imagine enjoying it without an approximation of the CinemaScope/Metrocolor mounting that was so carefully and beautifully achieved. This is one of those better Hollywood attempts at tackling a serious subject of artistic import that should be seen as its makers intended. A DVD release, with the widescreen ratio preserved, is essential. I fail to understand why the keepers of cinema gold like this are so stingy with their treasures. Come on Turner Classic Movies, M-G-M, and Warner Home Video! Give us a break!!
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