Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Art and "Lust for Life"

Lust for Life starring Kirk Douglas as Vincent vanGogh. Directed by Vincent Minnelli and produced by John Houseman. A bit of a production powerhouse I would say, and trust me, they all left their glorious mark on this film. I admit, this was a rather selfish choice. You see, what little I knew of vanGogh's work, I love. And the song, "Starry, Starry Night" well I love that too. And so I figured a movie about this would be a safe pick.
And I was right - This movie is brilliant. I loved it! It is an biographical look at the painter from his time working at a mining village in Belgium to his death. How true it is, I don't know, and I don't really care. It's so powerful - in every way. Douglas is perfect in the role. His range playing the disturbed genius is so effective. From his moments of tortured genius and savage lonliness to a quiet moment standing with a woman looking out the window. My gosh, it's beautiful. James Donald (who plays Theo vanGogh) deserves praise too. His contrast to both the character and the acting style of Douglas perfectly mirrors the opposites between the two men. His patience, understanding, and love for his brother is ever-present, even in his despair, confusion, worry, and occassional frustration. Anthony Quinn plays Paul Gauguin, a painter whose bombastic lifestyle both matches and conflicts with vanGogh's. His role in vanGogh's life is unclear to me. He is portrayed both as friend and rival, with a hint of a deep attachment on vanGogh's part.
Artistically, this movie is beautiful. The appropriate scenes are so saturated in color, and there are a few, in contrast, that are so start. The best example I can think of is the church his father preached in. The lines are all hard and everything is stark, straight, and hard, which directly contrasted with all the views of the work and the world he was living in just prior to that. Major props given to make-up and costume. They somehow managed to make Douglas into a painting come to life. Right down to his hair, the sheepskin vest, and even the corduroy jacket, they all give the deep and rich strokes that vanGogh used so often in his work.
Throughout the movie, there is a desperate, searching, striving, yearning feeling. I got so caught up in it. It was easy to feel for this person, even easier for me to empathize with him, At the end you are left with a little depression, and yet respect for the beauty, the mastery, and also a sense of relief. It is a sad end, a tragic end, but for once all that tension is gone.
5 out of 5 stars, no kidding
Art. As Sondheim wrote it "isn't easy" And no matter how much it seems that way, art is not magic. It is magical, but there is a difference. But I will get to that later. I never had a knack for art, but I appreciate it. But even that is not easy. I suppose it is one thing to like a painting, or to love it, but to truly appreciate it from a scholarly point of view is hard work. I don't have that ability either. I like art, and I appreciate it in my own way, but I can't exactly tell you why it is good, or sometimes, even why I like it so much. I guess I need to be taught to see the beauty and the brilliancy of some things. That is one thing I wish was different about me. If only I had the instincts to just know on sight brilliance or genius. But no, I have to work to see it. Even in theatre. It has taken me a long time to be able to truly appreciate some of the things I see. I still don't have that ability truly, just an amateur's attempt at it. Which is why it is so hard for me to judge things. But on the other hand, sometimes that makes appreciating all the more magical. I guess it is win/win. If you don't know the how something is done, then it seems magic, and when you do know it is less magic, but you can appreciate the artistry of how it is done. Which is better??

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