Friday, May 01, 2009

Vincente Minnelli's "Lust for Life" (1956)

What drives things? An inner truth finds some reflection in Minnelli's harmonious compositions, and his rhythms.

In September 18, 1956, after the premiere of Lust for Life, Bosley Crowther wrote beautifully in New York Times, despite greatly sinning by not crediting Vincente Minnelli, THE ARTIST himself:

"... it is gratifying to see that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in the persons of producer John Houseman and a crew of superb technicians, has consciously made the flow of color and the interplay of compositions and hues the most forceful devices for conveying a motion picture comprehension of van Gogh.

In "Lust for Life," (...) color dominates the dramatization—the color of indoor sets and outdoor scenes, the color of beautifully reproduced van Gogh paintings, even the colors of a man's tempestuous moods. These pictorial color continuities, planned like a musical score, have more effect upon the senses than the playing of Kirk Douglas in the leading role."

First time I saw Lust for Life, I said to a friend of mine: "It's the portrait of an artist, by an even better one." I still don't disagree with this.

Just like Van Gogh, Minnelli is an expressionist... All artists are.

There is such grace, and powerful drama. It's the story of a man who can't be happy (or sane) because of some inner conflict he (or we) can't put into words. He can only put them in paintings, and I'm pretty sure Minnelli, in his own way, feels the same. Notice how dark Lust for Life is, especially at points there is no good reason in the plot to be dramatic, but the inner workings of the human psyche work beyond psychology, and beyond explanation.

Vincent says: "Sometimes I work on into the night, hardly conscious of myself anymore, and the pictures come to me as in a dream with a terrible lucidity." and somewhere else: "I work as a miner who knows he's facing disaster."

Is this Minnelli talking to us somehow?

The story of someone who committed suicide, who suffered all his life, and the title is: Lust for Life. I find this a simple proof of how Minnelli's vision goes beyond the common ways of seeing things. As stated twice in the film, death "happens in a bright daylight, the sun flooding everything and in a light of pure gold."

The best moment of Lust for Life, and perhaps one of the highest points in all Hollywood, comes at a very unexpected, seemingly unimportant moment. It's just a pan following Theo's wife, from the window to the door where she'll be greeting Vincent. The decor, the costumes, everything is the exact opposite of what's going on in Vincent's life. It's the antithesis of the whole movie, in some way, included in the movie. She looks at herself in the mirror for a second, to make sure she's perfectly beautiful. Yes she has happiness, but is it real?

Then the camera pans back, the characters move around, etc. It's a choreography of bodies and camera moves impossible to explain in words... The whole shot lasts 2 minutes 56 seconds.

Just like Tag Gallagher says, Lust of Life is a "super masterpiece".

You can read ALL OF Vincent Van Gogh's letters here.

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