Lust for Life


Warner, color, NR, 122 min. plus supplements, Dolby Digital 5.1, widescreen, Street: Jan. 31, $19.97; First Run: W, Sept. 1956, NA

Vincente Minnelli, who was a Sunday painter in his private life, translated his love for great art into truly gorgeous CinemaScope images of original Van Gogh paintings in Lust for Life, the highly melodramatic 1956 biography of the artist. These images retain their radiance, but the film is otherwise awash in classic Hollywood clichés about the lives of artists. Its importance as a major studio “art picture” is reflected on by academic Dr. Drew Casper in his audio commentary. Casper, a Minnelli biographer and a devoted fan of the film, delights in tying Lust for Life to the great trends of the ’50s, from the national fascination with psychoanalysis to the preference for “confessional” reading matter such as the scandal magazine Confidential. He offers such interesting tidbits as the fact that the film contains retakes shot by Minnelli’s fellow MGM stalwart George Cukor, and Casper has very kind words for Minnelli, star Kirk Douglas, Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Anthony Quinn and, of course, Van Gogh. Surprisingly, Casper completely avoids a topic that seems quite obvious to modern viewers: namely the way in which Van Gogh’s feelings for fellow artist Paul Gauguin (Quinn) are depicted as obsessive love. The Dutch master is seen wanting to keep company with his hot-tempered friend and roommate 24 hours a day and cuts his ear off in anxiety after learning that Gauguin will be moving out of their shared apartment. To ignore this dimension of the film is unfortunate, as it is an aspect that will be particularly interesting to 21st century viewers familiar with recent, more intense renditions of Van Gogh, including Robert Altman’s Vincent and Theo and Martin Scorsese’s interpretation in Kurosawa’s Dreams. –Ed Grant