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Lust For Life (1956)


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 November 2015 - 12:36 AM

I just watched this blu-ray of Vincente Minnelli's biopic about Vincent Van Gogh.  The transfer seems to be 2.55 : 1, which is what CInemaScope originally was in 1953 when they were using the smaller "CS" perfs and centering the image on the print, with thin magnetic sound stripes on each side.

 

The early CinemaScope lenses were rather soft except in bright sunshine stopped down, and the Anscochrome color negative used was also on the softer side.  

 

I had read that Minnelli disliked MGM's switch from 3-strip Technicolor to Anscochrome when he did Lucille Ball's "The Long, Long Trailer" in 1954, feeling that it made women's faces "dirty" (and probably didn't do justice to Ball's red hair) but by the summer of 1955, when Minnelli started shooting "Lust for Life", MGM was switching to Eastmancolor and now Minnelli preferred Anscochrome for that project.  From his biography:

 

"There was one fight we fortunately won. I'd noticed that Eastman

negatives, in which Metro's color pictures were then shot, didn't have
the subdued tones that would be needed in a film about Van Gogh. The
[Eastman] color process had been originally developed for Twentieth
Century Fox's production of The Robe in 1953, and the palette was
straight from the candy box, a brilliant mixture of blues, reds and
yellows that resembled neither life nor art... I insisted the picture be
shot in Ansco film. But that company, having conceded to the popular
taste that the best was the brightest, had stopped producing its line of
color negatives. We badgered, cajoled, wheedled and bullied, and Metro
finally saw it our way. The studio bought 300,000 feet of Ansco film,
the last remaining inventory, and persuaded Ansco to open a special
laboratory to process what we shot. It was to prove to be the most
important victory of the many battles John [Houseman, producer] and I
fought during the making of the picture."
 
Most of the movie was shot on location by Freddie Young, but some interiors in Hollywood were shot by Russell Harlan.  It's hard to know (unless obvious) which interiors were on location and which were done back at MGM, so it's hard to know which were shot by Young vs. Harlan.
 
The movie is beautifully designed, color-wise, as you'd expect from Minnelli at the top of his game.  It starts out in somber browns until Van Gogh gets to Arles.
 
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 November 2015 - 12:45 AM

The early scenes in Holland do recreate some early "brown" works like "The Potato Eaters", but as Van Gogh paints more, you start to see more recreations of his paintings.

 

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This night shot was lovely, I figure it must have been done at magic hour to get the overall blue reflection on the water:

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I suppose it could have been done back at one of MGM's tanks with blue-dyed water, with half-scale boats parked on the water's edge.

 

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I had read somewhere that Minnelli wasn't too happy about MGM's insistence that all of its big productions at the time be shot in CinemaScope, feeling in this case that the aspect ratio did not suit the shape of Van Gogh's canvases (in the case of "The Long, Long Trailer", CinemaScope was probably a blessing...)

 

I've seen a number of biopics on painters that are shot in 2.40 -- "Mr. Turner" is a recent example -- and one could argue that the wider aspect ratio helps present the "real" world from which the painter extracts his narrower compositional elements.  I think Minnelli's main objection was that the shots of the actual paintings either required a lot of side-matting to be shown in the movie, or had a lot of panning around within the borders of the canvas.

 

There is a promotional film on the production made by MGM on the disc and you can see Freddie Young wandering around many of the shots.  In this one, it was so hot on location that Young and his camera crew were shirtless, though Minnelli remained in his suit (Young turns back to say something to Minnelli in this moment):

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I was surprised to see that during dolly moves, often the dolly, even a wooden doorway type, had to carry the operator, focus puller, Freddie Young, and Vincent Minnelli. The dolly grip really earned his pay back then:

lustforlife13.jpg


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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 November 2015 - 12:54 AM

I wonder what the ASA of Anscochrome color negative was in 1955... some internet sites say it was 16 ASA daylight, just like the original Eastmancolor 5247 was in 1950, replaced in 1952 by 25 ASA tungsten-balanced 5248.  But in the promo films there are some night scenes lit with blue-ish arcs in the background and white tungstens in the foreground it seems, so maybe by 1955, Anscochrome had also switched to something similar to 5248 (or maybe not, which is one reason MGM dropped Ansco in favor of Eastmancolor).  One internet site says that Anscochrome went from 16 ASA to 32 ASA, but it doesn't say when.


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#4 Jay Young

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Posted 22 November 2015 - 07:38 AM

I was able to find that Anscochrome D/500 was available for scientific purposes in 1968 or there about.

In the 1955 Journal of SMPTE there was a 16mm reversal available for EI 32.

 

The 1952 Journal entry states Anscochrome Color Negative with an EI of 16 as you said.   I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that they could have shot at EI 32 on color negative.

After all, the SMPTE article says that the film could be pushed at least one stop with more grain, and that higher speeds were available but only usable for scientific research as too much grain shown.


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