Portrait of the Artist
A FORMIDABLE list of acknow- ledgements appears among the credits of Vincente Minelli's — -z biography of van Gogh, Lust for Life—to the galleries about the world that allowed the paintings to be used. There they are, justifying the colour film as I think I never saw it justified before, as much a part of the film as the actors, and each time appearing with the sort of pleasurable shock the cinema manages like nothing else. Again and again you are shown a scene—a field of blossom, a mass of flowers, the bedroom at Arles—and then the painting; but without any laboured making of critical points, for the whole thing fairly burns along at a speed and heat to leave you breathless. In fact, though, it is quite remarkably good art criticism, for, ragged and often vulgar though the film often is in detail, it manages to give an extraordinary sense of van Gogh's private vision, and a feeling that is impressively true of what the painter does, or tries to do, with the things under his nose, under all our noses—blossom, flowers, furniture, wind, sunshine, his own face.
Film treatment of the artist has on the whole been so appalling (music has perhaps fared worse than painting) that one approaches any new effort. gingerly. Lust for Life (an unfortunate because a catchpenny and misleading title to start off with) has its faults, the main one being the old, and unfortunately increasing one, of internation- ality, with British and American actors mixed— but only too distinguishably—up; and such a con- fusion of accent and behaviour and gesture as has your head spinning; and secondary ones being con- cerned mostly with the script, which is not so much banal as inadequate. But the direction—and this is the main thing—has the right sort of force.and passion about it, an obsessional and repetitive quality that is remarkably true to the spirit of van Gogh; forms and particularly colour are used in a way that manages to say a good deal,
not only about van Gogh's own painting, but abotit the meaning and purpose of painting in general. This is, in fact, the biography of an artist, not of a man who happened, in the intervals of falling in love, to paint (as films of the sort- generally suggest). The acting, tense and violent , as the direction, is mostly good. Pamela Brown as a laundress turned prostitute with whom van Gogh found a certain uneasy happiness, James Donald as his brother Theo, a good man and a miracle of patient understanding, Jeanette Sterke as the cousin he fell in love with, are all real people, rounded and individual. Anthony Quinn makes a grandiose but an unconvincing Gauguin. Kirk Douglas, bearded and almost sinisterly like the triangular-faced self-portraits, plays van Gogh with an explosive intelligence that, coming as it does after years of portraying dreary he- Men, is perhaps surprising; but without, I hope, sounding too sibylline I can say that I was not as surprised as I .might have been had I not, years ago in a rather small part in a rather bad film, seen that face, triangular and a little mad even then, acting everyone else's off the screen when- ever it appeared.
Doctor at Large is a good example of our British abundance of small comic talents and lack of large ones, the supporting actors in this mild medical jape (endless old friends—James Robertson Justice, Donald Sinden, Judith Furse, Mervyn Johns, Athene Seyler, Ernest Thesiger, George Relph, Guy Middleton, A. E. Matthews) all showing up as well as ever, while the main actors look merely unhappy and out of place. Director : Ralph Thomas.
Bigger guns (Eric Portman, Celia Johnson, Joyce Grenfell among them) have been trained on Priestley's cheerful old chestnut The Good Companions, which cannot survive the trans- formation into more modern dress than it was made for, and remains a period piece with a few references to television and some Hollywood- style numbers thrown in. The actors' charm gets away with a good deal, but you cannot help• feeling, every inch of the way, that when it comes to musicals Hollywood does so much better.
Director : J. Lee-Thompson. ISABEL QUIGLY