DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Lust For Life (RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Feb 3, 2006.

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  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]
    Lust For Life






    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1956
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 122 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Enhanced Widescreen
    Audio: DD Surround Stereo
    Color/B&W: Color
    Languages: English & French
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $19.97
    Package: Single disc/Keepcase





    The Feature:
    With the recent announcement of Academy Award nominations, Warner Home Video is rolling out the red carpet, releasing seven of their Oscar winning pictures – each of them debuting on the DVD format for the very first time. Included in the group are: Cimarron (1931), The Champ (1931), Captains Courageous (1937), The Good Earth (1937), Kitty Foyle (1940), Johnny Belinda (1948) and the featured film, Lust For Life (1956). The collection of titles garnered a total of eleven Academy Awards and sport some of the biggest Hollywood names including Spencer Tracy, Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper, Louise Rainer, Paul Muni, Ginger Rogers, Jane Wyman and Kirk Douglas, just to name a few. The single disc DVD’s will sell for $19.97 SRP.

    The film, Lust for Life, based on Irving Stone's biographical novel about the life of Vincent Van Gogh, stands as the centerpiece of Kirk Douglas's acting career. Yet, ask someone which films are Douglas' best films, you'd most likely get responses which include Spartacus, Ace in the Hole, Paths of Glory or maybe even The Champion. After growing that beard which makes Douglas look hauntingly like the troubled Van Gogh, Douglas turns in a brilliant portrayal of this sensitive yet troubled man. When we're introduced to him in the film, he's been rejected as an evangelical preacher. Van Gogh's father was a minister and Vincent feels the calling, but doesn't have the talent for preaching. He's given a backwater assignment in a forgotten coal mining area basically just to get rid of him.

    He tackles it in earnest, even going down into the mines and working along side the miners who are his parishioners. That doesn't please the church officials who rebuke him. A more tactful man might have sold the officials on a social gospel idea which was what Van Gogh was trying to articulate. But instead he explodes on them and the church gets rid of him. It's the same with personal relationships. His intensity frightens off everyone of the opposite sex. And most of the male species as well. Only his patient and loving brother Theo, (played by James Donald), can deal with him for any length of time. But somewhere in the vast scheme of things, Van Gogh was given a talent to paint. It's only on the canvas that he can articulate what he feels around him. And of course when he died he was as obscure as one can get. Now the value of his paintings could retire the national debt.

    Director Vincente Minnelli had previously directed Kirk Douglas to his second Oscar nomination in The Bad and the Beautiful in 1952. Sad to say that Douglas lost again in this third and final outing in the Oscar derby. The winner that year was Yul Brynner for The King and I. No actor better expresses rage and anger on the screen than Kirk Douglas and this was a rage accompanying a descent into madness. Detective Story is another excellent example of Douglas' ability to convey rage.

    But Minnelli did get Anthony Quinn his second Oscar in the Supporting Actor category in this M.G.M. film as fellow painter Paul Gauguin. They become roommates for a while and it seems as though Van Gogh has developed a decent relationship with another human being. But they came from different backgrounds and Gauguin brought an entirely different perspective to his art than Van Gogh did. What in 98% of relationships would have been a friendly disagreement, becomes a bitter quarrel and Gauguin's leaving Van Gogh helps spiral him further into a breakdown.

    Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, and the ever dependable, but seldom given enough credit, James Donald cop all the acting honors here. Like John Huston's Moulin Rouge about Toulouse-Lautrec, Lust for a Life is a film that is so articulate that one can be an art idiot and still appreciate the performances of the players. Today, Vincent Van Gogh would probably be on a bevy of psychiatric scripts and would function normally. But would the world have the fruits of his artistic genius...? An interesting question to ponder while watching this wonderful film.

    Lust for Life was nominated for four Academy Awards including: Best Actor (Kirk Douglas); Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Quinn); Best Writing (Norman Corwin); and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters, E. Preston Ames, Edwin B. Willis, and F. Keogh Gleason). However, the big secret seems to be how only Quinn took home the Oscar, especially considering his little relative screen time. Perhaps the even bigger secret is why Douglas never won an Academy Award for any of his individual performances…

    The Feature: 3.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Video:
    Presented in the film's original 2.35:1 CinemaScope/Metrocolor aspect ratio, this transfer was mostly pleasing. Colors appeared quite nice although I might stop just short of calling them rich and vibrant... something that is perhaps more inherent with the Metrocolor process rather than the transfer itself. Blacks were inky dark and deep while whites were clean and stark.

    Image detail was also nice and showed a pleasing amount of finer detail, not only on close-ups but on many of the longer and wider shots - and there's plenty of them in this film. A slight amount of fine film grain is evident but the film looks dimensional and textured - fitting, given the subject matter.

    The print was exceptionally clean and free of any scratches or other distracting blemishes. Authoring seems to have been handled fine as there are no signs of any compression issues - the same can be said for edge enhancement and the like as the disc is free of any other distracting anomalies.

    Video: 3.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Audio:
    The film's original four-track soundtrack is presented here in "Dolby Digital Surround Stereo", and does a decent job representing the film. The track seems rather limited in terms of the stereo spread, but is certainly satisfactory. This is mostly dialogue driven, so don't look for much in the way of dynamics - beyond the film's scoring. The track however, is clean and virtually free of any hiss or other noisy distractions.

    Dialogue was clear and always intelligible. The dynamic Miklos Rozsa musical score is impressive (as usual) and sounds fine, however at times, becomes slightly thin and shrill during a few of the crescendos. I never noticed problems discerning the dialogue during the score. On the other hand, fidelity of the track comes through adeptly highlighting the highs and lows. Not much to speak of with the use of surrounds beyond some musical filler and there's no LFE present.

    Audio: 3.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Special Features:
    Not much here in the way of Special Features, however, a couple of solid inclusions can be found starting with:
    [*] A Commentary which features the colorful film historian, Dr. Drew Casper, biographer and film professor at the University of Southern California. For those of you familiar with Mr. Casper, you'll appreciate my "colorful" reference. The professor is intense and unleashes an avalanche of information pertaining to the production and the film's performers. He certainly doesn't follow the usual formula of commentaries as his delivery is vastly different than most of those who participate in these things. While this plays on the side of academia, the man knows his stuff and his enthusiasm is contagious.
    [*] The only other feature is the Theatrical Trailer which shows in reasonably good shape. Duration: 3:02 minutes.

    Special Features: 2.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



    Final Thoughts:
    A biopic of Vincent Van Gogh, played with much passion by Kirk Douglas in one of his very best performances. Douglas perfectly captures Van Gogh's intensity and tormented genius - even beyond the uncanny physical appearance. James Donald is also very good as Theo Van Gogh, Vincent's brother and art dealer. Anthony Quinn's win for his Oscar performance as Van Gogh's friend and fellow painter, Paul Gauguin is also a highlight. Add to that, the marvelous score by Miklos Rozsa and beautiful cinematography by Russell Harlan and Freddie Young which attempts to mimic the painter's work. While not necessarily my favorite Minnelli film, one can't help but appreciate the use of colors in this film and the parallels that are drawn with Van Gogh's own life and career.

    Another fine effort from the folks at WHV, this disc sports a solid transfer and includes an interesting and informative commentary. Fans of Douglas will want to add this classic to their libraries.

    Overall Rating: 3.5/5 (not an average)
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Recommended





    Release Date: January 31st, 2006
     
  2. Drew Salzan

    Drew Salzan Second Unit

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    Is the audio a 2 channel mixdown or the original 4.0 (L, C, R and S)?
     
  3. Mark-P

    Mark-P Producer

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    Herb, I've purchased this disc, and you didn't make it clear that even though the the jacket says "dolby surround stereo", it is in fact dolby digital 4.0 or possibly 4.1

    The disc is flagged to indicate 5.1 on DVD players and receivers, but the surround channels sound like mono to me and I didn't notice much in the lfe channel. Dialog is directionalized across the 3 front channels.
     
  4. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    I'd rate the movie a little higher than you do Herb. its left quite an impression on me after first seeing it on the MGM widescreen LD about 15 years ago, and i've been patiently looking forward to its release on DVD.

    unfortuantely at the same time i'd also rate the video quality lower than you do (not by too much though). its not unwatchable, but it is somewhat soft and dim to my eyes. a possible cause for the later i've read may be due to the fact that the original paintings are seen throughout the film and the use of these necessitated using different, less harsh lighting.
    the absence of fine detail though is a disappointment i wasn't really expecting.

    it was a big surprise to casually put in the Cinemascope version of Oklahoma! afterward and find that its transfer looks a good bit sharper and more resolved than this one.
     
  5. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    I love this film, and I love the DVD. It is the best I've ever seen the film look.

    I only wish that the 3-strip Technicolor process was still in place at the time this film was made. It surely would have given Minnelli what he wanted.

    This was a very personal film for him, and he fought to have it made. MGM had bought the book on which it was based nearly a decade before, and was about to lose their option.
    Against his will, Minnelli agreed to direct the musical version of KISMET (1955) if the studio agreed to allow him to make LUST FOR LIFE. That's how dedicated he was to the project.

    Minnelli goes into detail about this whole experience in his "autobiography" I REMEMBER IT WELL, which was published in the mid-70s. I have a deteriorating paperback copy from my childhood, but still find it incredibly useful, although it is one of those bios written with a second party, and there is speculation that Minnelli's Alzheimer's was already in an early stage (they did not know about the disease then), and may have been the key factor that led to his final film A MATTER OF TIME being such a fiasco.

    Getting back to the topic at hand, I am so grateful to Warner that they brought it to DVD aznd gave the film such an outstanding presentation. It may not look "perfect", but I think anyone would be hard-pressed to find an MGM 1956 film that looks better.....

    Lastly, Kirk Douglas had the rotten luck of being nominated for the Oscar up against Yul Brynner for THE KING AND I. There is no way in hell anyone could have not voted for Brynner, as it is one of the greatest characteriztions ever captured on screen (and of course was created on stage). If it had been any other year, Douglas would have easily walked away with the trophy, which he so richly deserved. His performance is spectacular in its subtext and shading, just like Van Gogh's work itself.

    Costco is selling all the new first-rate WB Oscar winning classics at an unbelievable price. I bought all of them there. Regardless, I join Mr. Kane in heartily recommending this release for anyone who wants to see an unforgettable and masterful motion picture.
     
  6. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    do you qualify that beacuse of the use of Metrocolor on the MGM films?
    to me the image of LFL shares similar qualities to Kirks Indian Fighter thats on an MGM disc (but its a UA technicolor production). in any case, both films look somewhat dim, flat and not very well resolved- although i do think LFL looks a good bit more appealing than IF.
    but neither look nowhere near as good as something like Man In The Grey Flannel Suit- a Fox film from '56.
    i wouldn't have much reservation in using the term 'outstanding' for that.
    LFL, in terms of the image on the disc, is a shoulder shrug for me in comparision.
    i realize this may be due to the source, and the particular filming conditions, but in the case of Indian Fighter, the transfer on the R2 disc looks Hi Def incomparison to the R1, so in the absence of anything better, can we ever really know just how good it could be?
    Warner has had a few misses (tho far fewer than most studios).


    dvdbeaver has some screencaps up with their review, and i would agree with his impressions of it.
    i don't have the LD to view on my pj, but has there ever been an anamorphic transfer on dvd that hasn't bested a 4:3 letterboxed LD transfer?

    that said its still great to finally have it, and Warner was nice enough to provide a commentary for it.
     
  7. Joe Caps

    Joe Caps Screenwriter

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    Man in the Grey Flannel suit looked just as dimon laser. Since then, Fox gave it a restoration and that makes all the difference on the dvd.
     
  8. Mark B

    Mark B Supporting Actor

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    Only OKLAHOMA! in TODD-AO.
     
  9. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I've watched this dvd twice, the first time to take in again, this excellent biopic on dvd and the second time for Casper's commentary and to carefully view the video presentation. I have to agree with Roger that I think the dvd presentation does an excellent job of conveying Minnelli's visual conception of his film. For many years, I thought some of the scenes specific to when Van Gogh was having some mental breakdowns were filmed to purposely give us an image that was soft and somewhat out of focus.

    Also, I thought Douglas really deserved an AA for his performance, but as been stated already, he was unlucky to be nominated the same year that the "King and I" came out. As always, Dr. Casper's commentary was excellent and hopefully, Warner will continue to use him on future projects.





    Crawdaddy
     
  10. Simon Howson

    Simon Howson Screenwriter

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    (Vincente Minnelli, I Remember It Well, pp. 288 - 289)

    It doesn't seem that he wanted brighter colours, but actually muted tones. Which I agree is surprising, but it just shows that he had a very unique vision for the film.

    I agree that it is often risky taking a film maker's opinion at face value - especially when they are commenting on events that happened well into the past. However, it sounds like it was actually shot on Ansco stock, with Ansco printing. Possibly they just said the film was Metrocolor for marketing reasons, or it was a mistake, or since Ansco had nearly gone out of business it was pointless giving them the credit?

    Is it well known if/when Ansco went out of business? RAH? [​IMG]

    I really liked the look of the film, it seems to me the darkness that people have noted reflects an accurate video transfer, and assuming Minnelli 'remembered things well', was an intentional artistic choice.

    Also, it is a brilliantly made CinemaScope film! Minnelli was one of the best at using the format, even if he says he hated it! I don't just mean wide compositions, but the way he splits the frame into different sectors, and using actor movement, redirects the viewer's attention during long takes.

    I loved the film, it was another blind buy. But now I can't wait for Some Came Running, and Two Weeks In Another Town. Minnelli truly was a master film maker, for me he epitomises Hollywood classicism and professionalism. He could make musicals, melodramas, comedies or biopics. It didn't matter, he was a true master of his craft.
     
  11. Joe Caps

    Joe Caps Screenwriter

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    I would love to see all of Minnellis films on dvd.
    One often overlooked is the 1962 Four Norsemen of the Apocalypse. A much underated film. This was on laser from restored elements.
     
  12. Simon Howson

    Simon Howson Screenwriter

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    There is a lot of Minnelli available. The Broadway to Hollywood musicals box was a defacto Minnelli set - 3 out of the 5 films. Including The Band Wagon, a classic of the genre. But also there is a lot of hilarious stuff in Bells Are Ringing.

    Some Came Running is rumoured for sometime (mid?) this year.

    A remastered Bad & The Beautiful, paired with Two Weeks In Another Town would make another nice Minnelli set, especially considering Two Weeks is essentially sequel, showing the end of the studio era.

    The next two I'm going to get are Gigi and Designing Woman. The only Minnelli film that I haven't liked is On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. It still has the interesting uses of colour, but otherwise the direction (composition), and script I found boring.
     

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