Cast & Crew
In Holland during the late 1880s, Vincent van Gogh fails his training to become an Evangelical priest, but upon pleading with the committee to put him to use, is assigned to the miserably poor coal-mining region of the Borinage in Belgium. Although Vincent is not a stirring preacher, his eagerness to ameliorate his parishioners' suffering leads him to work alongside them in the filthy, dangerous mines. After some months, the church reverends come to inspect Vincent's work and are horrified to discover that he has donated all of his possessions to the locals and is living in ascetic poverty. They strip him of his duties, but Vincent, who wants desperately "to be of use" in life and escape his past failures, remains nonetheless. After he falls into a depression, however, he is rescued by his devoted brother Theo, who sends Vincent back to their family home in Holland. There, Vincent writes Theo passionate letters about the drawings he has undertaken, a new interest that keeps the volatile Vincent in good spirits, as it allows him a method of capturing "the poetry hidden in everyday images."
Vincent's widowed cousin Kay moves in with the family for the summer, and although Vincent offends her by suggesting that one year is enough for her to mourn her late husband, her presence cheers him, and soon he falls in love. At the same time, he battles with his father Theodorus, a pastor, over Vincent's new concept of God as a being one can serve through love and art rather than just through formulaic ritual. One day, Vincent confesses his love to Kay, after which she flees the house in aversion. The infatuated Vincent follows her to her family home, where he holds his hand over a candle flame to prove his devotion, only to learn that Kay has said she is disgusted by him.
In a nearby bar, Vincent meets another lonely, desperate soul, a prostitute named Christine, and the two turn to each other for support and affection. Soon, they share an apartment in The Hague, along with her infant son. Eager for feedback, Vincent brings his paintings to his cousin, successful artist Anton Mauve, who encourages Vincent and provides him with color paints with which to experiment. The discovery of color and his love for Christine inspires a feverish period of creativity for Vincent. Over time, however, their hot-tempered personalities and constant lack of money prompt Christine to leave Vincent just as he learns that Theodorus has died. Vincent returns home, where he forges a new painting style inspired by the workers of the nearby fields, but his eccentric ways offend the neighbors, and soon his sister Willemien presses him to leave.
With nowhere else to go, Vincent turns to Theo, who has helped support him financially over the years, and who now invites him to Paris. There, Vincent is transfixed by the local Impressionist painters, including Camille Pissarro and Georges Seurat. He absorbs their philosophies but still searches for a visual language of his own, one that will express the beauty of nature and transfer emotion to the canvas. Theo remains Vincent's greatest advocate but wearies of his brother's aggressive, obsessive personality. After Vincent meets the virile, fiery painter Paul Gauguin, he is inspired to move south to Arles in order to paint in complete isolation.
There, he is soon thrown out of his rooms for using the landing as storage for his numerous paintings, so local man Roulin helps him secure a house at a reasonable price. Theo's rent money allows Vincent to paint uninterrupted, roused by the golden fields and sunlight. Autumn, however, brings winds so strong that he can no longer work outdoors, and in lonely misery, Vincent turns to alcohol for solace. He still paints day and night, often forgetting to eat. Theo, who has since married a Dutch woman named Johanna, is desperate to ease his brother's pain and so pays Gauguin to stay with Vincent in Arles. Vincent, overjoyed to have the company of his beloved role model, fails to notice Gauguin's aversion to Arles's tranquility and Vincent's obsession with art. The two men are soon squabbling regularly over their respective works and Vincent's increasing dependence on Gauguin, and one day, their fight turns physical, causing Gauguin to storm out. Crazed with grief, Vincent takes the razor he had earlier brandished at his friend and cuts off a portion of his ear.
By the time Gauguin returns for his things the next morning, Vincent is near death from the blood loss. Roulin tends to him, but the locals mock Vincent, driving him to another state of collapse. Vincent begs Theo to commit him to a sanitarium in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where Dr. Peyron diagnoses him with chronic inertia and terror. After some months, however, Vincent turns once again to painting, which proves therapeutic but does not ameliorate the epileptic seizures he now suffers. His health continues to decline over the next year at the institution, but when he feels physically stable, he asks to return to Paris. There, Theo and Johanna welcome him, distressed at his obvious health problems, and introduce him to their baby son, Vincent.
Despite the news that he has sold his first painting, Vincent remains depressed and is not helped by the local therapist, Dr. Gachet. He moves to Auvers-sur-Oise, where his work becomes more assured and masterful, but his body and mind grow weaker. On 27 Jul 1890, while working on a painting of crows in a field, Vincent, overwhelmed by despair, writes a note reading "I am desperate. I can foresee absolutely nothing. I see no way out," and shoots himself in the chest. He remains alive for two days, allowing Theo enough time to race to his bedside. Theo is holding his brother tenderly as Vincent, at the age of thirty-seven, dies of his self-inflicted wounds.
Helen Van Tuyl
Charles K. Hagedon
Dr. Wesley C. Miller
Edwin B. Willis
F. A. Young
Best Supporting Actor
Best Art Direction
Lust For Life - Lust for Life
Minnelli was the ideal choice to bring the story to the screen. A former stage designer known for his visual style that mirrored and amplified the dramatic story of each of his films, he was the right match for a movie about a painter. But he had to fight several battles to get the look he wanted; some he won, some he didn't. Minnelli didn't want to use CinemaScope for Lust for Life, reasoning that, as he said in his autobiography, "the dimensions of the wider screen [bore] little relation to the conventional shape of painting," but the then-popular process was a must for MGM, which like every other studio was looking for cinematic gimmicks to overcome the threat of television. Minnelli did win a technical battle, however, concerning the film stock. The studio was using the Eastman color process which, contrary to the soft, subtle tones he wanted to depict Van Gogh's world and his art, produced colors "straight from the candy box, a brilliant mixture of blues, reds, and yellows that resembled neither life nor art," the director said. He preferred the defunct Ansco process, and he and Houseman hounded MGM executives until they bought up the remaining 300,000 feet of Ansco stock. The company then opened a lab especially to process Minnelli's footage.
Another problem concerned filming Van Gogh's actual paintings. The masterpieces could have been ruined by the intense light required for motion picture cameras, so Minnelli sent crews into museums and private collectors' homes to capture about 200 of Van Gogh's paintings with special portrait cameras that made time exposures without excessive light. Enlarged transparencies were then made of each shot, which were backlit and refilmed with special lenses.
Most of the picture was shot where Van Gogh lived and worked, including The Hague in the Netherlands and Arles in southern France. The production team even found two older citizens of Arles who had known Van Gogh 60 years earlier; one of them had sat for the painting "The Baby Roulin." Even on location, however, there were problems to be solved. Because Van Gogh's work was so well known, the film couldn't get away with showing scenes or landscapes that had been altered since the master painted them. In one case, they had to put a tree in the ground that had been removed since the original's depiction in a famous painting.
One other obstacle had to be overcome during principal photography, and it was a major one. The ten-year film rights to Stone's book were set to expire at the end of 1955 and Stone adamantly refused to grant an extension, so when the project got the green light, Houseman and Minnelli were told they had nine months to complete the picture. They were still shooting when December 31 came around, but Stone had finally relented (to the tune of $30,000 a week), and shooting was completed two weeks into the new year.
Kirk Douglas wanted to play Van Gogh ever since director Jean Negulesco told him he resembled the artist. He threw himself into the role, to the point of taking on so many of the artist's stormy, unstable traits he frightened his wife in his off-hours at home. He was rewarded for his efforts with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor but lost to Yul Brynner in The King and I (1956). An Oscar did go home, however, with Anthony Quinn, who in his brief screen time as Van Gogh's contentious friend, painter Paul Gauguin, made an impression that earned him Best Supporting Actor. Lust for Life was also nominated for Best Color Art Direction and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Producer: John Houseman
Screenplay: Norman Corwin, based on the novel by Irving Stone
Cinematography: Freddie Young, Russell Harlan
Editing: Adrienne Fazan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters, Preston Ames
Original Music: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Kirk Douglas (Vincent Van Gogh), Anthony Quinn (Paul Gauguin), James Donald (Theo Van Gogh), Pamela Brown (Christine), Everett Sloane (Dr. Gachet), Niall MacGinnis (Roulin), Noel Purcell (Anton Mauve), Henry Daniell (Theodorus Van Gogh), Jill Bennett (Willemien), Lionel Jeffries (Dr. Peyron), Laurence Naismith (Dr. Bosman), Eric Pohlmann (Colbert).
C-123m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
by Rob Nixon
Lust For Life - Lust for Life
Lust for Life - Kirk Douglas is Painter Vincent Van Gogh in LUST FOR LIFE on DVD
When he is giving his first sermon, Vincent notices one man who stays near the door throught the sermon, and finally leaves before the talk is over. Vincent later catches up with the man and demands to know what was wrong with it, what he said that was offensive. To his surprise, the man explains to Vincent that he doesn't know anything about the people to whom he's preaching; that they live underground in the mines and only come home to sleep. So Vincent accompanies the man down into the mine the next day so that he can get a first hand account of the deplorable conditions under which these men, women and children slave every day. Pretty soon he realizes that he real mission is not to preach to them, but to minister to them in the trenches, a mission he takes up valiantly: he uses his stipend from the society to rent a hovel in the poorest neighborhood. He gives up his bed to a sick woman because she need it more than he does, and sleeps on piles of straw, and is directly on hand when there is trouble at the mine.
After he has been established for some time, the board from the Messengers of the Faith Society arrive for inspection and are appalled to find what he's done. One of the board goes so far as to say that he is "sleeping on straw like an animal," and the stipend is meant to cover living in a place much more dignified. When Vincent explains that in order to reach these people he must become one of them, the board leaves in disgust. And the result is that Vincent and his stipend are cut off from the society.
Having had no correspondence from him for months, Vincent's brother Theo (James Donald) tracks him down and finds him still living in his hovel and weak from a long illness. Theo convinces him to come back to their family estate for time to recuperate. There he takes up drawing, which he'd been doing as a pastime, in earnest. Theo invites him to move in with him in Paris, which he believes will assuage both of their loneliness. Vincent arrives just in time for the impressionist exhibition which has created a very negative stir with the critics. Vincent attends, and is fascinated by the color and light with which the master painters are working, So his uncle, who owns an art gallery, arranges for him to meet the artists one by one, from Gauguin (Anthony Quinn, who won the Oscar® for Best Supporting Actor for his performance), to Georges Seurat, and a host of others, all of whom are more than willing to discuss their work.
After a few months together, friction starts to develop over Vincent's obsession for perfection and his rages over what he sees as his own inabilities. Among other things, he has grown tired of painting people and buildings, and wants to paint the bright colors that spring up naturally in nature. Theo decides to once again modestly support Vincent in sending him to Arles, where the vast countryside offers endless opportunities for painting nature in all its splendor. In Arles, staying in a cluttered house and going out every morning to paint, rather than becoming better, Vincent becomes even more obsessed with achieving perfection, capturing the bright oranges and yellows of the fields and their flowers.
The obsession grows until it reaches the point of madness, and the unbalanced painter takes a razor blade and slices off one of his ears. Theo is called down to Arles to help him, and Vincent informs him that he wants to commit himself to an asylum. Theo makes arrangement for Vincent to be accepted in a respectable establishment where the rest and discussion with psychiatrist really seem to pay off. When Vincent is released, he find that Theo has made arrangements for him to stay at the home of a doctor who is a family friend. But of course, once he starts painting again, the same demons rear their heads, and unable to face the emotional turmoil again, Vincent commits suicide.
Lust for Life is a interesting fictionalization of the life a great painter (who, like so many, was not recognized while he was alive). Kirk Douglas gives a powerhouse performance as the tortured painter, playing the role with an amazing intensity that occasionally threatens to go over the top but never quite makes it. James Donald gives a beautifully understated performance as Theo, who goes on loving his brother no matter what, and Anthony Quinn brings his own intensity to the role of Gauguin. Director Vincente Minnelli and cinematographers Russell Harlan and Freddie Young, though, are the one who fill the screen with gorgeous landscapes and close-ups of Vincents most noted works. The photography is truly a feast for the eyes.
The transfer of the film for Warner Bros. new DVD does full justice to the beauty of the film's images. The colors are bright but still realistic, and the black level is solid, delivering excellent contrast and shadow detail. The extras include a feature-length commentary by film historian Dr. Drew Cooper, and the theatrical trailer.
For more information about Lust for Life, visit Warner Video. To order Lust for Life, go to TCM Shopping.
by Fred Hunter
Lust for Life - Kirk Douglas is Painter Vincent Van Gogh in LUST FOR LIFE on DVD
All I see when I look at your paintings is just that you paint too fast.- Paul Gauguin
You look too fast!- Vincent Van Gogh
Director Vincente Minnelli had a portion of a field spray-painted yellow to closer resemble Vincent Van Gogh's painting.
Before the opening credits, a written foreword appears thanking more than twenty museums, galleries and collections, including The Trustees of the Tate Gallery, London, the Musée du Louvre, Paris and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, for the permission to photograph the paintings of Vincent van Gogh. The list of art institutions ends with the statement: "Without their help and that of private collectors the world over, this motion picture about a great painter could not have been made." The closing credits include a written acknowledgment listing the help of over thirty additional art institutions. A July 1955 Los Angeles Times article also noted that the Soviet Union had agreed to allow the photographing of four van Gogh paintings from the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Although the cast credits list the main character's surname as "Van Gogh," it is frequently listed as "van Gogh" in art and historical sources. Throughout the film, full-screen images of some of van Gogh's paintings are interspersed with the action or juxtaposed with similar, real-life scenery. Excerpts from van Gogh's letters are read throughout in voice-over by James Donald as "Theo van Gogh."
Van Gogh was born in Holland on March 30, 1853 and, as shown in the film, was supported throughout life, both emotionally and financially, by his devoted brother Theo. The artist wrote frequent letters to his brother describing his mental malaise and passion for painting. Considered among art historians to be one of the greatest Post-Impressionist painters, van Gogh was known for breaking from his impressionist training by using expressionist technique. Lust for Life deals with the period in van Gogh's life from 1878, when he began religious works in the Borinage after attempting careers in art dealing and teaching, to his death in 1890. As shown in the film, van Gogh began suffering from periods of mental depression while working in the Borinage. While the film faithfully portrays many moments in van Gogh's life, including his passion for painting, friendship with Gauguin and failed romances, it omits other key episodes, as does the Irving Stone novel, on which the film was based. For instance, the film does not cover a romance he undertook with a neighbor of his parents, Margot Begemann, whose subsequent attempt to poison herself devastated van Gogh. The picture also does not include references to several attempts van Gogh made on his own life while at the asylum in Saint-Rémy, during which he repeatedly attempted to poison himself by ingesting his paints. In addition, many biographers theorize that van Gogh's ultimate state of despair, during which he shot himself on July 27, 1890, was due to his feelings of guilt over Theo's failing health and finances.
In the mid-1940s, as noted in a December 4, 1955 New York Times article, Stone had written a screenplay version of his novel Lust for Life while working at Universal. By 1946, M-G-M purchased the novel's screen rights and, according to a October 13, 1946 New York Times news item, planned to star Spencer Tracy in the film. That contract included an agreement that, if the studio did not produce a film within ten years , the rights would revert back to Stone. According to a December 4, 1947 letter written by Dalton Trumbo and reproduced in a collection of his letters, M-G-M had hired Trumbo to write the screenplay for Lust for Life. Due to M-G-M postponements, and possibly due to complications caused by Trumbo's being blacklisted, there is no evidence that any screenplay was submitted. For more information on the Blacklist, please consult the entries Crossfire and Tender Comrades (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). An October 11, 1953 New York Times article reported that director Jean Renoir attempted to buy the rights from M-G-M in order to shoot a biography starring Van Heflin as van Gogh. A October 20, 1953 Daily Variety item added that Willis Goldbeck would begin producing the Renoir film in Europe the following week, but that picture was never made.
Although, according to a October 16, 1953, Daily Variety article, Stone had reacquired the radio and television rights to his book several years earlier, he now approached M-G-M to buy back the film rights as well. Stone wanted to make a feature version of Lust for Life in partnership with Jean Negulesco as director, Carlo Ponti and Dino De Laurentiis as producers and Yul Brynner as the star, however, M-G-M would not sell the rights.
In August 1954, Hollywood Reporter reported that Jack Palance was negotiating with M-G-M to buy the rights and produce an adaptation under his own independent company, with himself in the starring role, but the purchase never went through. In January 1955, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Kirk Douglas planned to star in an M-G-M version of Lust for Life, to be directed by Negulesco.
Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" asserted in February 1955 that the studio had only ten months left to make the film before the rights reverted back to Stone, and so were rushing forward to place it into production by September 1, 1955. By March 17, 1955, as noted in Hollywood Reporter, a photographic unit had begun shooting backgrounds in Arles, France, in order to capture the almond trees in bloom. According to information in the Arthur Freed and M-G-M Collections at the USC Cinema-Television Library, director Vincente Minnelli had to leave the production of Kismet a few days early in order to begin work on Lust for Life, necessitating that Stanely Donen take over the helm of Kismet for a few days in July 1955. Principal shooting on Lust for Life began on August 1, 1955 and was not finished until December 1955, weeks before M-G-M's rights to Stone's book expired.
A April 19, 1955 "Rambling Reporter" item noted that M-G-M hoped to secure José Ferrer to play Toulouse-Lautrec in Lust for Life, the role for which he had won an Academy Award nomination in the 1953 John Huston production Moulin Rouge (see below). According to contemporary news items and reviews, Lust for Life was shot almost entirely on location, including in The Hague, other areas of Holland, the Borinage in Belgium, and Paris and Auvers, France. Although 1955 Hollywood Reporter news items add David Horne, Jimmie Dime and Louis Mercier to the cast, their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
Minnelli, a painter himself, prepared a complex production design for Lust for Life to mirror van Gogh's works, in which different periods of the painter's life were presented in different color schemes. The scenes in the mining town, for example, emphasize grays, while the Paris scenes have a red accent. Producer John Houseman stated in a December 1955 Los Angeles Times article that "what we hope to achieve is an integration of his life and work." Although the onscreen credits state that the film was shot in Metrocolor, a January 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item asserts that the film would use a new high-speed, fine-grain Ansco Color negative for the first time. Modern sources agree that a combination of CinemaScope and Ansco Color technology afforded a fidelity not attainable with conventional photographic methods. In addition, the directors of photography shot van Gogh's works using direct negative prints which, according to Houseman in the Los Angeles Times piece, "when backlighted, show up in truer, more luminous colors."
As noted in an August 1956 Variety article, M-G-M planned to release the film in six art house theaters as test engagements before setting a national release plan; however, the dates of those releases have not been determined. Lust for Life had its premiere in New York on September 21, 1955 at the Plaza Theatre as a benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Similar gala openings in other cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, benefited area museums and art programs. The August 1956 Variety article added that M-G-M produced a thirty-minute, 16mm, color short entitled van Gogh: Darkness into Light narrated by studio head Dore Schary detailing the film's production. Although the short was lost for many years, Los Angeles Herald Express reported in December 1984 that a copy had recently been discovered and was presented to Minnelli by Frank Yablans, then the vice-chairman of M-G-M.
Lust for Life received glowing reviews, in which many critics praised Douglas' performance and noted his close physical resemblance to van Gogh. Los Angeles Times called the picture "one of the most remarkable films ever put together" by Hollywood. Some critics, however, found the character of van Gogh difficult to understand or sympathize with completely; the Hollywood Reporter review referred to the character as "a boor and a bother." In his autobiography, Minnelli stated that the film represented his greatest achievement, and Douglas noted in his autobiography that van Gogh was his most difficult, and most rewarding, role.
Douglas won the Golden Globe and the New York Film Critics' Circle awards for Best Actor and was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his role in Lust for Life. In addition, Anthony Quinn won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and the film earned nominations for Oscars in Art Direction/Set Decoration and Best Screenplay, Adapted.
Other filmed versions of van Gogh's life include the 1987 animation feature Vincent by director Paul Cox with John Hurt as the voice of van Gogh and Vincent and Theo, a 1990 film directed by Robert Altman and starring Tim Roth and Paul Rhys. In addition, van Gogh was the subject of Nicholas Wright's Broadway play Vincent in Brixton by which opened on 6 March 2003.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1956 National Board of Review.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1956 New York Times Film Critics.
Winner of the 1956 Award for Best Actor (Kirk Douglas) New York Film Critics Association.
Winner of the 1956 Golden Globe for Best Actor (Kirk Douglas).
Released in United States Fall September 1956
Re-released in United States August 3, 1990
Re-released in Amsterdam April 13, 1990.
Re-released in United States August 3, 1990 (Los Angeles)
Released in United States Fall September 1956