Lust for Life

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There are some good movies that I’ve avoided watching on television, perhaps because their seriousness might be trivialized by the small screen. Since I’ve had many chances to see classic films on the big screen in this area, I’ve probably subconsciously waited to see them in a theater.

That was true with The Great Dictator (1940), which I first saw at the Redford Theatre in September 2009, and equally true with Lust for Life (1956), which I viewed for the first time at the Detroit Film Theatre on February 19, 2011.

Lust for Life, which starred Kirk Douglas as the painter Vincent Van Gogh, richly rewarded the DFT audience with a movie that beautifully merged the cinematic excellence of the DFT with the portrait art experiences of its host, the Detroit Institute of Arts. This widescreen M-G-M release had a full, vibrant spectrum of colors both in the paintings it featured and in the landscapes and everyday people who inspired Van Gogh.

About three-quarters through Lust for Life, I felt that transfixed, transcendent state that has always been part of my best movie experiences, with both serious and popular films. And I could sense a similar feeling in the large crowd for this film, which was presented as part of both the DFT’s Saturday afternoon DFT 101 series and the DIA’s current Fakes, Forgeries, and Mysteries exhibition.

Before the movie, the curator of that exhibition, Salvador Salort-Pons, gave a short introduction which included the fascinating fact that a Van Gogh painting in the exhbition is also featured in the movie. There was a smattering of applause during the film for both the appearance of this painting and an onscreen credit to the DIA for its help in providing the art for Lust for Life.

After Lust for Life, I slowly made my way out of the DFT. People around me were already building on their movie experience with their own throughtful observations about Van Gogh’s art and life.

I worked my way through the large, enthusiastic crowd that was arriving for a 7 p.m. showing of the very popular Academy Award Nominated Short Films. I felt uplifted and enriched by the experience of Lust for Life, and glad that I had waited to see this powerful film on the big screen.

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Copyright © 2011 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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