Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Lust For Life (1956) ***

NR, 122 min.
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Writers: Norman Corwin, Irving Stone (novel)
Starring: Kirk Douglas, James Donald, Anthony Quinn, Pamela Brown, Everett Sloane, Niall MacGuinnis, Noel Purcell, Henry Daniell, Madge Kennedy, Jill Bennett, Lionel Jeffries

Vincente Minnelli’s “Lust For Life” reminded me a great deal of the recent biopic “Jobs”. It’s pretty much a CliffsNotes version of the great painter Vincent Van Gogh’s life with a powerful performance by Kirk Douglas at its center. Much like it could be said about Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs, Kirk Douglas looks remarkably like Van Gogh, but his performance doesn’t depend on his similar likeness.

By today’s standards, “Lust For Life” does not make for the psychologically revealing portrait we’ve come to expect of our biopics. It’s a great history lesson about the man, however. It touches upon all the highlights, and Douglas’s powerful portrayal pushes the whole thing along. I think that’s the right image. He pushes it. It wants to stop at all the important points, but the performance keeps it moving. It would get bogged down in its didactic nature were it not for Douglas shoving past the point of wearing out its welcome at any one spot.

Like “Jobs”, it misses some of the depths to be delved into the developments of Van Gogh’s life. Douglas’s performance makes up for the spots that seem thin, but a movie that picks and chooses the events to focus on in the artist’s life might have yielded more rewarding results. It has nothing on Paul Cox’s wonderful documentary “Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh”, which uses the actual letters written by Vincent to his brother Theo as its narration. But, it’s a good starting point for someone who doesn’t know anything about the famously troubled artist.

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