A true artist’s ‘Lust for Life’

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Richard as Claude Monet in "The Impressionists."

One of his last paintings before Van Gogh took his own life.

These old boots remind me of my father's "brogans" and of high school art class still lifes.

One of Van Gogh's expressive self-portraits.

I am having trouble with my sleep yet again. And so, as I often do, I flip on the TV and go to Turner Classic Movies. It is one of my favorite satellite channels and right now they are presenting 31 Days of Oscar, with a plethora of award-winning films. It is a real feast for movie lovers.

This morning I saw for the first time the 1956 film, Lust for Life, based on the Irving Stone bio of brilliant-but-tortured post-Impressionist artist, Vincent Van Gogh. It is obvious that director Vincent Minnelli and crew had admiration and respect for Van Gogh’s talents and worked hard to get the right look for the film and also managed to remain reasonably faithful to Van Gogh’s true story.

Many museums and private owners allowed their Van Gogh paintings to be photographed for the movie. Shot in Metrocolor, it is inconcievable the film would have had the same breathtaking visual impact if shot in black & white. Van Gogh’s out-sized personality–his obsessive need for love and acceptance, passionate about capturing his artistic vision on canvas, driven by the inner demons of his mental illness that also drove people out of his life demanded a sweeping color canvas on film that matched the vividness of his paintings.

Kirk Douglas was nominated for an Oscar for his performance; having also seen Yul Brenner’s The King & I, I have to say I do consider Douglas’s the superior performance. He captured the intensity and passion of Vincent, his attempt to invest his canvases with an emotional honesty, with a life and vigor that practically leaps off the canvas.

Seeing Douglas’s performance as Van Gogh, I could not help but recall Richard as Monet in The Impressionists. Another one of my favorite artists, brilliantly portrayed. Both actors captured the artists’ “lust for life.” Who are some of your favorite artists?

About fedoralady

I'm an LA native--Lower Alabama, that is. My husband of more than 30 years and I live here on a portion of my family's former farm with two gorgeous calicos and a handsome GSD mix. My background is art education, and over the years I've been a teacher, department store photographer, sales associate and a journalist. My husband, his business partner and I have Pecan Ridge Productions, a video production company, for which I shoot & edit video and stills and manage marketing. I also still write part-time for the local paper. I love movies, music, art, photography and books, and my tastes in all of them are eclectic.

15 responses »

  1. I love Rembrandt, and I love the impressionists, Renoir in particular for the “joie de vivre” that leaps off (not sure that’s the correct expression but I hope you know what I mean.) his paintings. Van Gogh always makes me feel unsettled, not that that is a bad thing, it just means his work has a profound effect on me. It’s very powerful. Haven’t seen “Lust for Life” unfortunately. There is another film about Van Gogh directed by Robert Altman: “Vincent and Theo”. Always wanted to check that one out as Tim Roth (one of my favourite actors) plays Vincent in it but somehow never got round to it. And now I’m too busy catching up on Richard stuff! 🙂

    • Oh, yes. Joie de vivre is an excellent way to describe the feeling one gains from seeing Renoir’s paintings. Couples dancing, enjoying an outing on a boat–the Impressionists sought to capture the immediacy of life on canvas, images that reflected the world around them. Which of course was completely contrary to the accepted artistic standards of their time.It’s hard for us to imagine those beautiful paintings being so reviled and rejected.

      Van Gogh does make a strong impression on you. It think knowing how troubled a soul he was gives his work an extra poignancy for me. I saw Vincent and Theo but it has been quite a while. Tim Roth is an excellent actor, I agree. I try to watch any movies I run across about artists, composers, writers, dancers . . . Yes, “Richarding” does tend to take up a lot of one’s time.

      • Ever since I was old enough to appreciate art I’ve been drawn to the Impressionist paintings, especially those of Renoir and Degas (the latter probably because I love the ballet as well)
        I also particularly like the work of two Australian Impressionists, Frederick McCubbin and Tom Roberts, whose paintings portray Australia’s light and landscape so beautifully.

    • I do think he captures the essence of the passionate artist so well in that series and the photography is just luminous. And while the wig they stuck on him is manky and there is some dodgy facial hair, he is still breathtaking. I don’t think his eyes have ever looked more incandescently, ethereally blue than as Monet. He also smiles and laughs quite a lot, which you don’t get that much in some of his roles.

      • I can’t wait for the manky wig! LOL! Or the dodgy facial hair! There’s something about him and the colour blue. His eyes are stunning, he looks great in blue shirts, I loved Spooks blueish set.

        • He wears his blue smock a lot as Monet. 😀 And he is certainly fitted out in blue quite often in his series, so I think the wardrobe people like the way he looks in blue, too.

      • It’s not just the photography that’s luminous (angie is right, it’s stunning) so is Richard’s Monet. His smiles and laughter are divine. Whenever I watch the series I come away with what feels to be a full heart; the beauty, the passion, I’m always moved by it.
        For an added bonus if you haven’t already seen it, this behind the scenes clip is delightfully Richard at his giggliest:

      • @Mezz I think I must have watched that clip about a dozen times since you posted it! I can’t get enough of RIchard’s laughter, it’s gorgeous! 🙂 I haven’t heard him laugh like this before. A sight for sore eyes and a wonderful sound for sore ears! :)))

        • For such a sweet and sunny-natured man in RL, he plays baddies and tragic heroes really well. Just goes to show what a great actor he is. But I DO hope to see a few more roles where he can share those gorgeous grins and those belly laughs.

      • Glad you’re enjoying it Judit! It’s one of my absolute favourite clips and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve watched it, I never tire of Richard’s laughter and smiles. We see them all too rarely in his roles.

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