Lust for Life (1956)

121-122 mins | Biography | 15 September 1956

Director:

Vincente Minnelli

Writer:

Norman Corwin

Producer:

John Houseman

Cinematographers:

F. A. Young, Russell Harlan

Editor:

Adrienne Fazan

Production Designers:

Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters, Preston Ames

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

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 Jul 1955 LAT 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 30 Mar 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 ... More Less

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 Jul 1955 LAT 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 30 Mar 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 27 Jul 1890, was due to his feelings of guilt over Theo’s failing health and finances.
       In the mid-1940s, as noted in a 4 Dec 1955 NYT 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 13 Oct 1946 NYT 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 [1955], the rights would revert back to Stone. According to a 4 Dec 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 11 Oct 1953 NYT 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 20 Oct 1953 DV 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 16 Oct 1953, DV 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 Aug 1954, HR 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 Jan 1955, according to a HR news item, Kirk Douglas planned to star in an M-G-M version of Lust for Life , to be directed by Negulesco.
       HR ’s “Rambling Reporter” asserted in Feb 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 1 Sep 1955. By 17 Mar 1955, as noted in HR , 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 (see above) 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 Jul 1955. Principal shooting on Lust for Life began on 1 Aug 1955 and was not finished until Dec 1955, weeks before M-G-M’s rights to Stone’s book expired.
       A 19 Apr 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 HR 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 Dec 1955 LAT 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 Jan 1956 HR 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 LAT piece, “when backlighted, show up in truer, more luminous colors.”
       As noted in an Aug 1956 Var 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 21 Sep 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 Aug 1956 Var 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, LAHE reported in Dec 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. LAT 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 HR 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 Mar 2003.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
May 55
p. 256, 270.
American Cinematographer
Aug 55
p. 458.
American Cinematographer
Jan 56
pp. 28-9, 42-4.
Box Office
8 Sep 1956.
---
Cue
2 Jun 1956.
---
Daily Variety
16 Oct 1953.
---
Daily Variety
20 Oct 1953.
---
Daily Variety
6 Sep 56
p. 3.
Film Daily
6 Sep 56
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Aug 1954
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jan 1955
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Feb 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Mar 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Apr 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Aug 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Aug 1955
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1955
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 1955
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Dec 1955
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 1955
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jan 1956
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Mar 1956
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Aug 1956
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Sep 56
p. 3.
Look
17 Apr 1956
pp. 56-60.
Los Angeles Herald Express
20 Dec 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
27 Jul 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Dec 1955
part IV, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
24 Jun 1956
p. 1, 14.
Los Angeles Times
23 Aug 1956.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
8 Sep 56
p. 57.
New York Times
13 Oct 1946.
---
New York Times
11 Oct 1953.
---
New York Times
18 Sep 56
p. 39.
Variety
22 Aug 1956.
---
Variety
5 Sep 56
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Anthony Eustrel
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd ed
Sd ed
MAKEUP
Hair styles
Makeup created by
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Lust for Life
the Novel of Vincent van Gogh by Irving Stone (London, New York [etc.], 1934).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
15 September 1956
Production Date:
1 August--early December 1955
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
25 June 1956
Copyright Number:
LP6915
Physical Properties:
Sound
Perspecta Sound; Westrex Recording System
Color
Metrocolor; Ansco Color
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
121-122
Length(in feet):
10,977
Length(in reels):
15
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17950
SYNOPSIS

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 ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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