I read the Great Bend Tribune article “Museum celebrates women, black history” (March 16 issue). It is important to great to recognize these two groups and how we’ve come a long way in society in just my lifetime. On March 11, I went to a different art museum and attended a special showing of the classic film “Lust for Life” which starred the legendary actor Kirk Douglas portraying the noted Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, which was made in the year 1956, some 60 years ago. It is hard to believe that Mr. Douglas, who is still alive and will celebrate his 100th birthday later this year did such a magnificent portrayal of the artist van Gogh who died at age 37. In 1956, Mr Douglas would have been approximately just under 40 years old which was near perfect casting.
Many people have studied Vincent van Gogh in high school and college as I did. Being a native Kansan, I especially liked Mr. Van Gogh’s artistic painting called “Sunflowers.” I had seen the film many years ago, but the showing brought back memories and brought-out much more detail than I recalled by by earlier viewings of the film. By studying history, I knew that van Gogh who lived from 1853-1890 was an “impressionist artist.” He did “self portraits” as well as “still life” and “landscape art.” It was striking that he did some of his best work after being spurned by a woman he loved who rejected him. It is speculated that he had tinnitus as well as bi-polar disorder. He is known as the artist who took a razor and cut-off his own ear. It is also believed that he contracted syphilis and drank the original alcoholic drink Absinth (not the cheap imitation peddled now). That original drink (now banned in the USA and also by many other countries) has been known to cause psychedelic hallucinations and even murderous thoughts. He was close to his brother Theo van Gogh who was also known to have contracted syphilis; yet he died at the incredibly young age of 33 of paralytic dementia. Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo are both buried together side by side in a suburb of Paris, France.
Vincent van Gogh is remembered in the Art world as highly as Kirk Douglas is respected in the Theatrical World. I was glad the film “Lust for Life” was shown. It was clean, historical, and inspiring. I only wish more modern films could be have as much quality. I know today’s movie audiences love action, drama, suspense and even science-fiction. Yet, somehow I like films that are based on reality and especially of an age or era of time, whereby we can “learn” something from what we “view.” I realize that Hollywood box-offices must focus on generating revenues and cater to what they believe will be popular. However, I believe too many modern movies view women merely as sex-objects. Most of today’s movies are full of gratuitous nudity (even full frontal nudity of both sexes), with too much vulgarity and violence. Critics may defend such graphic scenes and dialogue as being of “our real world.” However, I believe our “real world” is meant to be elevated, not denigrated. I’d much rather see a film where I could take my girlfriend, my great-nieces or my great-nephews or my grandparents (if they were still alive) and not be embarrassed or feel the need to hold my hands over their eyes or ears.
The movie “Lust for Life” depicted a man (van Gogh) who was a creative genius, yet plagued by mental torment. In our current culture, we see so much “bad news” that we have almost accepted it like “the new normal.” I think the 60 year old film, teaches us that “art” is meant to enrich our lives and each of us...even if we aren’t an artist as such, grapples with day-to-day struggles. Our task is to make “Life worth living..and worth remembering” and that “men” and “women” can (and should) be celebrated for their achievements, not just because of their looks.
James A. Marples