GOT A LUST FOR LIFE | KIRK DOUGLAS THE ROLE THAT ALMOST CRACKED HIM

*

Lust for Life was the film that should have finally won Kirk Douglas the coveted Best Actor Oscar– after having been nominated for the brilliant The Champion (1949), and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).  He was definitely due for his gripping portrayal of the tortured, complicated Van Gogh, and losing to Yul Brenner in The King and I was an injustice. Douglas was personally devastated by the loss–  “I really thought I had a chance,” he said stoically after losing. It was a blow that gnawed at his soul for years. Lust for Life Director Vincente Minnelli himself stated, “Kirk Douglas achieved a moving and memorable portrait of the artist—a man of massive creative power, triggered by severe emotional stress, the fear and horror of madness. In my opinion, Kirk should have won the Academy Award.”

When you think of method actors, it’s usually Marlon Brando, Monty Clift and James Dean that come to mind– but Kirk Douglas, who’ll never share their misunderstood, hipster mystique, was also known to throw himself into every project.  He would not only dissect his own lines, but everyone else’s, and carefully go through the entire script front to back. It was often said that Kirk Douglas tried to direct every film he was in– he was headstrong and wouldn’t back down from any director. That intensity was also manifested at home, as told by his wife, “When he was doing Lust for Life, he came home in that red beard of Van Gogh’s, wearing those big boots, stomping around the house—it was frightening.”

Filmed largely on location in France, Lust for Life is often noted for its beautiful cinematic use of color to tell the story, which is true– but it is Douglas’ deeply personal acting and eerie likeness to Van Gogh (so much so that while filming on location where Van Gogh had lived, some older inhabitants of Van Gogh’s believed that he had actually returned) that power Lust for Life.  It was said that Douglas got so deep inside Van Gogh’s twisted pain and inner turmoil that it nearly drove him to the brink of madness, and it was very affecting and difficult for him to unwind from the role.

Looking at these still images from Lust for Life crystalize and convey Kirk Douglas’ intensity in a way that even the film can not.  They are absolutely stunning in their composition and emotion.  They slay me.

*

*

France, 1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”. — image by Frank Scherschel

*

*

France, 1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”. — image by Frank Scherschel

*

*

France, 1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”. — image by Frank Scherschel

*

*

France, 1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”. — image by Frank Scherschel

*

*

France, 1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”. — image by Frank Scherschel

*

*

1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”.

*

*

1955 — Kirk Douglas poses beside a self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, painted by the artist in 1886-1887 to show his remarkable resemblance to the great painter. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

*

*

France, 1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”.

*

*

1955, Auvers-Sur-Oise, France — Vincent Van Gogh (Kirk Douglas) scatters crows from his painting in the movie Lust for Life. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

*

*

France, 1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”. — image by Frank Scherschel

*

*

1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh (and Anthony Quinn, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of  Gauguin) in the film “Lust For Life”.

*

*

France, 1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”. — image by Frank Scherschel

*

*

1956 — Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh in Lust for Life. — Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS

*

*

1955 — Actor Kirk Douglas portraying the artist Vincent Van Gogh in the film “Lust For Life”.

*

*

14 thoughts on “GOT A LUST FOR LIFE | KIRK DOUGLAS THE ROLE THAT ALMOST CRACKED HIM

  1. “They are absolutely stunning in their composition and emotion. They slay me.” The slay me too… Great post, gorgeous selection of photos. So intense. I’ve not watched the movie, but this has inspired be to watch it asap.

  2. Dead ringer for Van Gogh. I’m a huge Kirk Douglas fan. My favorite role of his is Dax in Kubriks Paths Of Glory, which I consider one of the best films ever made. Thanx for another tasteful and enjoyable article. Keep up the excellant work!

  3. Such a fine site my man.

    What other ‘venue’ is bright n’ savvy and well considered and souped up enuf to have Saarinen n’ Shelby, Marley n’ Miles, Johnny Cash, Norman Rockwell, Howard Hughes, Dick Teague, Tom Waits, Van Gogh and Chet Baker all under one hood.

    In my biz (design) I despair of the flip flop debate about….

    ”Everything New Is Great. Everything Retro Is Not” one day,
    ”Everything Retro Is Great. Everything New Is Not” the next.

    It’s the body of work, done consistently well that tells the story.

    Rick A (London)

  4. I love this site.

    Douglas never seems to get the respect he deserves – like everyone saw The Vikings and judged him on that. Not that I don’t love The Vikings.

    Anyway, keep up the awesome work – I’d suggest something to focus on for the next post, but it seems you’re always two to three steps ahead of me in that regard around here.

  5. Great post. Kirk Douglas is completely underrated, as you’ve pointed out. Ace in the Hole is another great movie with an outstanding performance. What a brave actor he is.
    While you put the spotlight where it belongs, Lust for Life also features a marvelous cameo by Anthony Quinn as Paul Gaugin. And, as a completely minor not, the way Quinn tosses his paints and a few clothes into a bag and throws it over his shoulder on his way out of the door is a lesson in mobility cool that’s always stayed with me.

  6. @philT — to be fair, it was made at a time when van Gogh was just beginning to be understood from a psychological standpoint… his life was so complex, and we really still don’t know the full story. was he manic depressive? lead poisoning? mercury? epileptic? something else, or a mix of the above? there’s so many theories.

    anyway, for its time, this movie and kirk douglas’ portrayal is just stunning. his resemblance to vincent van gogh is so uncanny, and their attention to detail in the physical sets and location shots is just amazing. despite the over-the-top parts, and the historical inaccuracies, it’s just a fantastic film. thanks so much for posting this — i haven’t seen some of these photos before.

  7. Very, very well done Monsieur J.P. There were so many things going on in the tortured soul of Vincent: a troubled Dutchman in Arles, his tolerant brother Theo, his insane layering of paint on the canvas like no one else before, Gauguin, absinthe, debts, whores, etc., etc.

    Kirk Douglas had to have reached a certain epiphany filming this movie, not just for his dead ringer resemblance (even better than Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison), but for the ability to channel all of that intensity into a single character role. I would have to agree with Minnelli, Douglas should have taken the Oscar for his role in this magnificent film.

    Thank you for bringing the film, Douglas’ portrayal and both he and Van Gogh’s collective intensity back into the spot light. The photos are just killer…why I love this blog. I’m going to pour myself a couple of fingers of Calvados and listen to Serge Gainsbourg. Salut, mon ami!

  8. Although a powerful performance & film, Kirk is not an individual to admire, he has committed at least one vicous & violent act in his past-(early to mid 1950′s)
    & has yet to repent of course!!!

Comments are closed.