heaven's gate

 HEAVEN’S GATE: REVIEW – Michael Cimino once told me he made The Deer Hunter, then immediately began production on Heaven’s Gate after only a day or so in-between.

Once that was done, he’d been making films non-stop for three full years, but at the end of it he finally knew how to make film. He had become, he said, a film director. Problem was, no one would ever give him the artistic freedom to make one again.

Heaven’s Gate passed into legend as the film that sank United Artists, a behemoth production that after 6 days of shooting was 5 days behind schedule. Inaudible dialogue, a confusing plot and an epic Western released in 1980, it would come to epitomise the end of an era for big ego auteur excess and (it has to be said) some pretty high quality New Hollywood product. But the remastered, re-edited and reissued blu-ray and DVD, which I first got the opportunity to see at the Venice film festival, is a revelation. 

Kris Krisofferson plays Jim Averill, the Havard educated Marshal who finds himself in the middle of a violent dispute between the new immigrants from Europe hoping to settle and the cattle barons who see them as a pest and will use any means to be rid of them, including murder. Old friends and new loves are caught up in the violence as Averill tries to see justice done even while the law and the guns are on the wrong side. 

The cast is stellar: Christopher Walken, Sam Waterson, John Hurt, Isabelle Hupert, Jeff Bridges, Joseph Cotton and a young scene stealing Mickey Rourke. Cimino’s eye for a set piece is as  grandiose and anarchic as the West he seeks to portray. If there is confusion and noise here it is because the subject is in a state of becoming, torn by conflicting needs and loyalties. Cimino’s revisionist Western is the whisky drunk cousin to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, a dark and pessimistic view of American history. 

I won’t say it’s perfect, but as far as flawed masterpieces go, it’s one of the best.     

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