Lust for Life (1956)
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: Norman Corwin
Kirk Douglas gives one of the screen’s great performances as Vincent van Gogh in this artist biopic, filmed in luscious Metrocolor with CinemaScope lenses. What Douglas accomplishes as Van Gogh is loads more impressive than the over-feted celeb-mimicry of recent biopics (i.e. Foxx as Ray; Hoffman as Capote; Streep as Child). Without video evidence of the artist’s living personality, mannerisms, vocal intonations (a luxury that more often than not turns acting into impersonating), Douglas is left instead with the task of re-vivifying, in flesh, the emotional expressiveness found in Van Gogh’s artistic legacy (his paintings, as well as his famous letters to his brother Theo). It’s a performance that draws equally on the physical and the psychological; Douglas’s muscular body—shown vigorously at work as a miner early in the film, and violently as a drawer and painter thereafter—seems constantly ravaged by Van Gogh’s creative hunger and inner agonies. (How the hell did Douglas lose the Oscar to Yul Brenner?*) As Paul Gauguin (in a role that won him the Supporting Oscar), Anthony Quinn threatens to devour the scenery every time he’s on screen, but his trademark volcanism and bluster are kept in balance with Douglas’s implosive, frayed-nerve sensitivity. Whenever the two share scenes, the body thrills. And if you leave aside the acting, the picture is still a beauty—narratively fluid and gloriously eye-filling. Minnelli’s use of Van Gogh’s psycho-colours as inspiration for his own palette yields a masterful symbiosis; the film’s visualization of Van Gogh’s The Night Café alone proves that, pace b&w devotees, colour belongs to the cinema.
*Jesus Christ, look who else Yul, the “King of Siam,” beat out that year: Sir Laurence Olivier (Richard III); James Dean and Rock Hudson (both Giant).
[In the interest of upping the frequency of posts here at Wipe, we’ve decided to try our hand at writing shorter, “capsule” reviews for your daily (or semi-daily) reading pleasure. Below you’ll find the first of these “Time Capsule Reviews” (note: punny name subject to change; it just seemed appropriate for this particular posting). In the meantime, we’ll continue to work on our longer reviews and other exciting features, to be posted throughout the week. We ask for your patience and undying loyalty as the Wipe team tinkers with the format of the site. Thanks!]
Blind Husbands (1919)
Director: Erich von Stroheim
Screenplay: Erich von Stroheim
The brilliant and notoriously difficult Erich von Stroheim debuted as a director/screenwriter with this potently erotic yet severely moral silent feature. Always a superb actor (probably best known for his supporting roles in La grande illusion  and Sunset Boulevard ), Stroheim himself co-stars in Blind Husbands as a libidinous Austrian cavalry officer with designs on seducing the wife (Francelia Billington) of a neglectful doctor (Sam De Grasse) during a vacation in the Dolemite mountains. The film ostensibly concerns the doctor’s moral (and indeed sexual) duty to overcome his “blindness” to his wife’s desire to be loved. But as in his later masterpiece Greed (1924), Stroheim strikes deepest in Blind Husbands by exploring the moral and existential consequences of compulsive overreaching: hence, the film’s primary fascination lies in how the cavalry officer’s lustful, reckless appetite for women (unmistakably alluded to in his boast: “To me mountains are lifeless rocks. My pleasure has always been to master them”) binds him to a cruel, bitterly ironic fate. If that makes Blind Husbands sound self-righteous in tone, let me just say there’s something undeniably hilarious about the moral reckoning of Stroheim’s character, alone atop a mountain, driven into childish hysterics by what is apparently the judging eye of a vulture circling overhead.