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

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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.

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

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

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

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