For heaven's sake
December 2, 2012 11:54 AM   Subscribe

I wish that I liked this more--I like the story, and I like the idea of an artist fucking over a studio, and other flops like Ishtar I view as genuinely brilliant--but this film was so bloated and ego ridden that it failed to work.
posted by PinkMoose at 12:45 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

What amazes me is that anyone in Hollywood was willing to hire Cimino as a director again. But it happened five times.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:04 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not even that, but they make less and less money. The last one, which was a critical success and had major hollywood stars, made 33, 000 in its entirety.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:20 PM on December 2, 2012

Favorite detail: When Cimino decided a street set needed to be six feet wider, he didn't tear down one side and move it six feet back. He tore down both sides and moved them each three feet back.
posted by Egg Shen at 1:34 PM on December 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

It's really not a bad movie. Over long, yes. But, I think the pacing that gets a lot of criticism was really more a case of a 20th century audience reacting to the pace of the 1890's. The film is deliberately paced to the era. At least that's how it hits me.

I don't mind ego-driven films. Hell, most of the great films have more than a little ego driving them. Cimino simply comes along at the apex of the auteur/director-driven era and rode that wave. Unfortunately, this was the moment when the director-driven era was about to smash headlong into the coming of the corporate beancounter movies-by-the-numbers era. Had he had a competent producer as a partner, who could work the numbers in service to the vision and reign-in the excesses, he very well may have delivered a hit, rather than a trivia answer.

You should really take time to see it. Hollywood history is rife with epic disasters and flops, and you can definitely do without ever seeing them (Cleopatra, for instance. It's a horror) But Heaven's Gate is worth actually seeing. Especially if you can it in it's original release length.

And, if nothing else, there's all of that gorgeous Zsigmond photography.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:38 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's really not a bad movie. Over long, yes.

It's set up beautifully, with the three circular scenes -- the college dance at the start, the roller skate in the middle, and then the shootout at the end. And yes, the cinematography.

Heard one of the studio execs defend the path-to-excess once as basically, 'When it came time to approve Heaven's Gate, Cimino just won the Oscar for Deer Hunter -- you gonna tell me that that guy didn't have it?'

Big fan of the film. Which isn't to say it doesn't have its problems. But man -- Cimino had it, allright.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:53 PM on December 2, 2012

Here is the thing--I like Cleopatra, I like the spectacle, the gorgeousness of it, the aesthetic of it--and i like that it was a set of competing auteur visions. The problem with the 70s idea of the auteur is that it forgets that film is collective, even at it's most egotastic, it is not thousands of people sublimating under one person--and the auteur group of the 70s worked thru that kind of collective.

Cimino hiring someone who had never produced, or how he treated his actors, or the contempt he had for the genre. It's not like I can't handle crazy long ego led movies--I like Barry Lyndon, I think that Cleopatra has charm, Intoleance is one of my favourite movies, I have watched Solaris several times...But each of those took care of the animals, the actors, the writers, the costume designers, the editors, and even the studio. Cimino did none of these things.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:54 PM on December 2, 2012

posted by XMLicious at 2:04 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

As William Goldman famously observed, "Nobody knows anything."

The filming schedule was intended to last 138 days but grew to 160. Many cast members came down with [ailments] after spending hours [on set], including [actress]. In the end, she decided she would not work with [director] again unless she earned "a lot of money". Several others left and three stuntmen broke their bones, but the Screen Actors Guild decided, following an investigation, that nothing was inherently unsafe about the set. Additionally, [actor] said there was no point when he felt he was in danger during filming. [Director] believed in a passionate work ethic and never apologized for the way he ran his sets, although he acknowledged:

"I'm demanding, and I'm demanding on my crew. In terms of being kind of militaresque, I think there's an element of that in dealing with thousands of extras and big logistics and keeping people safe. I think you have to have a fairly strict methodology in dealing with a large number of people."

The costs of filming [movie] eventually began to mount, and finally reached [gigantic]. [Studio] executives panicked, and suggested an hour of specific cuts from the three-hour film. They argued the extended length would mean fewer showings, thus less money even though long epics are more likely to help directors win Oscars. [Director] refused, telling [studio], "You want to cut my movie? You're going to have to fire me! You want to fire me? You're going to have to kill me!" he said. The executives did not want to start over, because it would mean the loss of their entire investment, but they also initially rejected [director]'s offer of forfeiting his share of the profits as an empty gesture; they felt that profits would be unlikely.

posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:13 PM on December 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

I recently tried to watch this on Netflix Instant. I don't recommend it, at least not that way. Half an hour in I still had no idea who the characters were, their motivations, and least of all their names. I had some clue that the Harvard sequence set up an intellectual framework, but even allowing for some beautifully staged sequences of people in motion, there wasn't much to latch onto story-wise. Additionally, the print had the "red tint" that Cimino himself decried in restoration. Finally, I just couldn't hear half the dialog over ambient and diagetic noises. I felt as handicapped as my mother, who uses TV Ears. Perhaps on disc, with subtitles, but this is going to have to wait.
posted by dhartung at 2:28 PM on December 2, 2012

I'm just sorry Cimino never got to do his pet project, a film version of Ayn Rand's "Fountainhead". Objectivism/Libertarianism is overdue for a movie to wake its comatose followers and Cimino might have provided just enough misery to do it.
posted by surplus at 2:35 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Exactly the same experience as dhartung. I think we're about halfway through it - just couldn't hang in there any more.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:35 PM on December 2, 2012

Yeah, me too. Just now, coincidentally. Gave it a shot, but had to bail.
posted by Optamystic at 2:42 PM on December 2, 2012

I never knew he wanted to do the "Fountainhead" but it makes sense that Cimino would be emotionally drawn to material about a creative genius who refuses to compromise his vision.

But now I'd rather see his version of Footloose.
posted by RobotHero at 3:22 PM on December 2, 2012

Wik: Reviewing the shorter cut in the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert criticized the film's formal choices and its narrative inconsistencies and incredulities, concluding that Heaven's Gate was "[t]he most scandalous cinematic waste I have ever seen, and remember, I've seen Paint Your Wagon."
posted by ovvl at 4:09 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should add that Paint Your Wagon was the previous big budget studio Western mess, and that 'Wand'rin Star' is a deeply profound song. There's also Clint Eastwood singing 'I Talk to the Trees'.
posted by ovvl at 4:19 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

For those checking it out on Netflix: I love long, slow movies, but I find them very hard to watch at home. Somehow the ease with which a solitary viewer could stop the movie makes it hard to enter the kind of trance statement a slow film requires. If there's no revival theaters near you---as is the case for most of us--- I recommend inviting some friends over. The light social pressure on everyone to keep watching makes it easier to stick with the film. Also, if someone has a projector, that's genuinely helpful---most movies from before the 80s are paced with the idea that it takes your eye a certain amount of time to cross the frame, and if you can fit the whole image into your view at once, it'll always seem too slow.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 4:21 PM on December 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

The problem I had with the movie was the sound. Maybe it was my TV, or the DVD (VHS??) copy that I had, but about halfway into I realized I couldn't follow the story because whole conversations and whole scenes were inaudible. The scene I gave up on was one outdoors, in which two characters were talking and the wagons and crowds and ambient town noise in the background was leveled up to 11 and the actors were doing some kind of proto-mumblecore whispering. It was impossible to make out what they said.

It's a beautifully-shot film, and not at all the bore everyone says. I just couldn't hear it, literally. Now that I've replaced all my tools (HDTV, Bluray, etc) in the meantime, one day I should give it another try.
posted by zardoz at 4:32 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Criterion Corner reviews the recent re-release of the film by Criterion. This bit stood out to me:
From the fatuously overextended prologue to the interminable final battle, Cimino approaches every scene (at least in this cut) with the ethos that more is always better. But the truth of the matter is that information is not necessarily imparted by volume, and we don’t necessarily get a better feel for this world and its story by bullshitting in a house for 10 minutes when 3 would do.
I admire sprawling ambition a lot. I admire respect for the audience and economy just a bit more.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 4:35 PM on December 2, 2012

Oh yes, Heaven's Gate-- or should I call it Heavengate? It got an extensive write-up in the Medveds' The Hollywood Hall of Shame, and I was always fascinated and horrified by it. I was sure it would be just dire.

So I watched it about ten years ago, and while a beautiful film, it was just... boring. It didn't even get to Manos Hands of Fate risibility. There wasn't much there there. I don't even remember the plot, just the general idea of people murkily milling about. And the ambient noise. So... much... ambient noise...
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 4:41 PM on December 2, 2012

If you need to be roused from a HG stupor, Cimino's Year of the Dragon is enjoyably noisy trash with Mickey Rourke leaving no piece of scenery unchewed.
posted by Egg Shen at 5:58 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know which version it was, but I tried watching Heavens Gate a decade or so back and found it bluntly, awful. Pretty much the definition of pretentious. I gave up after about half an hour, because I've found it's true what they say -- you know whether you like a movie after about ten minutes. You may not like how it ends, but you're on board with the tone, the overall attitude. And it had done nothing to engage me. Nothing.

Cimino's Year of the Dragon is enjoyably noisy trash with Mickey Rourke leaving no piece of scenery unchewed.

I personally found it embarrassing. In fact, there's a line it where Rourke and his wife are having a marital meltdown. She tells him in absolutely sincerity, "We're not reading from the same sheet music anymore." I still use this line when I'm endeavoring to be insincere.
posted by philip-random at 6:09 PM on December 2, 2012

I really want to see both Year of the Dragon and The Sicilian (adapted from the Mario Puzo novel). Everything I've heard about the latter is pretty negative, but Tarantino has praised the action sequences in the former which piqued my interest.
posted by mediated self at 6:54 PM on December 2, 2012

The thing with Heaven's Gate is, the Deer Hunter isn't nearly the movie people think it is. I mean, it isn't nearly as good as people think it is, for sure, but I also mean that it isn't maybe about what they think it is about. That's the thing with Heaven's Gate.
posted by Chuckles at 8:04 PM on December 2, 2012

please expand, Chuckles ...

I suspect I agree with you
posted by philip-random at 8:06 PM on December 2, 2012

Now that I've finished watching, I think on balance that documentary did a fantastic job of expanding for me. It did neglect to point out how changes in Hollywood mirrored political changes in the USA in general, but otherwise it was an accurate, balanced and concise documentation of the debacle; right down to mentioning that negative reviews of Heaven's Gate were at least partially fuelled by a desire to take back positive reviews of the Deer Hunter.
posted by Chuckles at 9:12 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't know how they could go that whole documentary without once mentioning the fact that the magic of that rollerskating sequence was undercut somewhat by the release three months earlier of Xanadu, the lavish rollerdisco musical that itself was undercut by the death of disco the year before.

Xanadu, incidentally, cost $20 million. Comparing the quality of the two films--let alone the amount of effort that went into each--it's hard to argue that even with its flaws, Heaven's Gate is only twice as good as Xanadu. Of course, Xanadu did manage, albeit just barely, to claw its way into the black at the box office, so, hey, score one for crap.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:47 PM on December 2, 2012

I was lucky to catch the film at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley several years ago. As l'm no fan of long movies and it was getting late, I split with maybe 45 minutes to go but glad I saw what I did, many striking sequences -- coincidentally, just today I was thinking about. Like that roller skating -- a preposterous anochronism.
posted by Rash at 10:37 PM on December 2, 2012

Favorite detail: When Cimino decided a street set needed to be six feet wider, he didn't tear down one side and move it six feet back. He tore down both sides and moved them each three feet back.

I think it was Kristofferson who recounted a similar anecdote, along the lines of:

In the script, there is a scene where it notes that as the charcaters walk up the street, they pass a cockfight. When I arrived on set, they were on the third day of filming the cockfight ...

There's some magnificent scenes in the film, and some have argued that the full-length film is actually better. I think Ebert might be of this opinion, although his original review tears the film to pieces.
posted by outlier at 1:40 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Led Zeppelin Plagiarism Part 1
posted by telstar at 4:39 AM on December 3, 2012

....Telstar, I think you're in the wrong thread.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:09 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The movie is about the people watching it, when they saw it, and where.

I found it entrancing. Not the sort of movie I want to watch while sitting here at my desk. More like when I'm in the living room with a cup of frozen blueberries and my feet up on the hassock, sleeping cat pinned to my blanket and purring. I did notice a disturbing lack of machine-gun fights and car chases. All that can be remedied in the remake...oh, wait.
posted by mule98J at 9:49 AM on December 3, 2012

This documentary made a really strong impression on me when I was younger, but not for the reason you'd expect - as a teenager I was kind of a budding cinephile, and I made it my mission to watch the entire IMDb Top 250, and to absorb everything I could about the making of the movies - the choices behind every shot, every color, every casting choice, every lens. I wanted to know everything about the mechanics of making these movies.

Now, as you delve more and more deeply into these 'making of' stories, you quickly see the same narrative emerge over and over again: a brilliant but unappreciated director struggles mightily (and often alone) to make art in a commercial world, all while being nickel-and-dimed by short-sighted, money grubbing producers and executives. Pretty soon, you're absorbed in a world of Criterion Collection reviews and critics' commentary that is fully suspicious of every producer. You read every making of story with an unearned sense of world-weariness. You wonder how many films would be cast with non-actors if it weren't for the meddling of culturally illiterate producers ("Hey De Sica, I'll back your little movie, but only if it's got Cary Grant!"). You approach any stories about executives with the expectation that they'll argue for something tasteless ("it needs a short, gay robot!" "Back to the Future? Why not the Spaceman from Pluto?"). You fully expect that our catalogue of cinematic treasures would be much richer and larger, if only it weren't for meddling executives and acquiescent producers lying to Orson Welles or recutting the film behind Terry Gilliam's back. And to a certain extent, a lot of that is true: many of those stories have a basis in fact, and in a nascent art form there have been millions of tasteless choices. Or at least, that's what I thought.

Then I watched this documentary. Here were a group of producers who were fully aware of that narrative - had been raised on it in film school - and became producers specifically so they could subvert that paradigm. Listen carefully to everything the producers say in this film - they helped Cimino increase the number of days needed and the amount of money needed, repeatedly, because they thought they were engaged in helping the next great auteur make his masterpiece. They repeatedly compare him to Francis Ford Coppola, a man of far superior acumen to Cimino. And even when Cimino berates them, screams at them, or alienates them, they tolerate it as the emotional volatility of a gifted artist. Even Cimino's extreme choice of putting armed guards outside the cutting room - something I would resign over if I were producing the film - didn't push them off the project.

And what happened? An atrocious, unwatchable film, deadly slow and with some of the least-defined characters you've ever seen in a film; an amazing soundtrack and some of the most historically accurate production design maybe ever, neither of which help to convey the plot; and to cap off three hours of chuckling, mugging, smoking, drinking, roller-skating, and learning little of the characters or their needs, an hour long battle that resolves little, and in which reportedly hundreds of horses actually died. Not for profit, not for art, and not for the common good of all the people involved in making the film; for Michael Cimino.

It was a waste. And here's the kicker: "Heaven's Gate" is the most extreme example, but absolutely not the only one. The film industry was dominated at that time by young upstart producers trying to discover the next great director, and many directors (some of whom would mature and develop illustrious careers, some of whom would forever be held back by their failures) were given carte blanche by their producers in this period. And for that, we received a small number of enduring masterpieces (Apocalypse Now, Being There, Raging Bull, Manhattan, Days of Heaven) and a much, much larger number of expensive, deeply forgettable films (At Long Last Love, Sorcerer, Second-Hand Hearts, Cruising, 1941, The Osterman Weekend, New York, New York, Bad Timing) and 'interesting failures' (One From the Heart, The Serpent's Egg).

The truth is, great movies aren't made by great directors: they're made by compromise. Harvey Weinstein's 123 minute recut of Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso" is the best version. So is the original producers' cut of "Donnie Darko." Most of the producers' requirements for changing "Touch of Evil" actually improved the film, as Orson Welles himself admitted, and it was the constant give-and-take between George Lucas, Gary Kurtz, and Irvin Koerschner that resulted in the best of the Star Wars films, "The Empire Strikes Back." Film has always been, and will always be, the story of great relationships, not great individuals. Norman Jewison at his best was one third Hal Ashby; Martin Scorsese's darkness was also Michael Chapman's; Francis Ford Coppola's career without Walter Murch or Gordon Willis has not been much Coppola at all; and the directing careers of any number of this era's best craftsmen - Murch, Paul Schrader, Robert Towne, Vilmos Zsigmond - have forfeited the promise they once seemed to reveal.

And what of Orson Welles, that perfect example - the core of that very original auteur myth itself? Why did so many of his collaborators go on to great careers, while his floundered? Why was it Gregg Toland (who shared the film's final title card with Welles), and Herman Mankiewicz, and Robert Wise, and Bernard Herrmann, all went on to work on one amazing film after another, while Welles failed again and again? Why did Welles seem to become less successful as he grew older, more bitter and more controlling? Why is it that the most technologically cutting-edge film of Welles' career was his first? Could it be because many more experienced artists hijacked Welles' very open-ended directorial contract to experiment with ideas they had developed for a long time? Could it be that Welles never really understood what made "Citizen Kane" so great, and he continued to try again and again to match its much praised experimentation with even bolder, but less watchable experimentations (The Other Side of the Wind)? Could it be that Welles , a very egotistical man, constantly blamed his failures not on his own unwillingness to share ideas and compromise, but on megalomaniacal producers changing his films behind his back? History is an open book, and I leave it to you decide: and I hope films like "Final Cut" continue to be made, and continue to shine new light on the conversation.
posted by sidi hamet at 10:50 AM on December 3, 2012 [9 favorites]

Sidi, I'm down with the idea of film as a collaborative art, but if you're gonna dis Orson Welles' late films, then you're leading young cinephiles astray. I mean, I love Kane, but The Trial, Touch of Evil (the superior Welles-as-intepreted-by-Walter-Murch version, not the cute but inferior studio cut), and F For Fake are all much more mature and thoughtful films. though less technically innovative due to budget concerns.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:31 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Favorite detail: When Cimino decided a street set needed to be six feet wider, he didn't tear down one side and move it six feet back. He tore down both sides and moved them each three feet back.

Halliburton would like to hire him.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:36 PM on December 4, 2012

Just did a quick word search of this thread on "cocaine". It doesn't show up. Didn't show up in any of the linked vid either.

A friend of mine works location sound in the movie biz. He's a bit of an old timer, old enough to have worked with people who worked crew on Heaven's Gate. According to some of them, the great untold story of Heaven's Gate and how it went so absurdly off the rails can be found in the props budget. Apparently, it was absurdly high. Apparently that's where all the cocaine got "accounted". Apparently, there was no end of it on set -- marching powder for the troops.
posted by philip-random at 9:45 AM on December 5, 2012

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