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Heaven's Gate for and against


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TCM showed this once in it's entirety a few years ago... I think that I'm ready to see it again and hope TCM will air it a second time, soon.


The first time that I saw HEAVEN's GATE (the movie, not the cult) in a theater I felt it was a bit to long and somewhat disjointed. But I think that it was just me at the time as when I saw it a second time, after reading up on the actual events and characters of the Johnson County War, I found the movie to have a flavor of more fact than fiction, and viewed it as more of a docudrama depiction, and actually enjoyed it, the second time.

Then again, I found that to be the case with me and all of Michael Cimino's films. They all required a second and more viewing to appreciate.

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I like "Heaven's Gate."

TVO's "Saturday Night at the Movies" has aired it numerous times (program is repeated during season) and so I've seen it quite a number of times.

Lots going on in the film and so you probably need to see it a few times to appreciate it.


Blog by "Saturday Night at the Movies" host Thom Ernst about "Heaven's Gate" here:



Another "SNAM" blog about the late Steven Bach (United Artists boss who ok'd "Heaven's Gate") here:



Canadian connections to the film?


Character in movie of Ella Watson (played by Isabelle Huppert in film) is based on a real-life person who was born near Arran Lake (near Allenford) in Bruce County, Ontario, Canada (not far from my hometown):



Ronnie Hawkins is in the flick too (as Major Wolcott) and while he was born in Arkansas, "The Hawk" has called Canada home for many, many years now and still lives in Ontario:




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Heaven's Gate is the New Hollywood film I will return to more than any other. It is great and there's absolutely no need to qualify it.


Anyone who likes The Leopard, a reknowned masterpiece, should be able to appreciate Heaven's Gate without a single problem.


What went wrong with Heaven's Gate...


Genre: This can be classified as an "Epic" and a "Western." Historically those both will prompt major preconceptions in the audience, particularly an American audience. Compare Heaven's Gate to the kinds of epics that flank it in the preceding and following decades - Ben Hur, Gone With the Wind on one side, Titanic, Dances With Wolves on the other. The period's own Godfather films are absolutely straightforward and traditional next to Heaven's Gate. Heaven's Gate does not fit. It doesn't do anything the way those films do them and instead of accepting its choices, thinking and dealing with them, we'll take our preconceptions and the negative hype instead.


This is a western and while it follows a traditional storyline - basically homesteaders vs. ranchers - it is formally alien and substantially different in its presentation of the western genre, its thematic components, and its picture of people.


Heaven's Gate is an uncompromisingly uncommercial film, made in an intensely commercial climate, for an audience that wasn't prepared for anything like it.


Time: America elected Ronald Reagan just weeks before this film was released. The country was coming out of a major identity crisis and was entering a new "Feel Good Again" period. Now, here comes a film that sticks a finger not only in recent wounds but the country's past. In Germany, Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz, a similar national epic (also an aggressively unconventional one,) faced the same kind of derision from its public for the same reasons and like Heaven's Gate, it took an international audience to correctly see its glaringly obvious virtues. The difference is that Alexanderplatz could easily reassert itself in its proper critical milieu. This is practically impossible for Heaven's Gate - it will always be a big budget American studio picture here; most people will never have the chance or take the opportunity to know it in any other way.


The Release: Relatively few people got to see the 3 hour 40 minute version when it first came out. The press ruined it for everyone. It was cut severely afterward and given a general release. You can't cut a nearly 4 hour film to 2 & change and not lose something very important. So the critics and gossipers had their dogpile, an unkowning audience could take that and apply it to the version they saw and continue it (for 30 years.) It only had one chance, it had no chance.


Sensationalism: Humans love to wallow in trash and the excesses of this production gave the fools of the world the chance to engage in serious s*** flinging. These people wanted the film to fail and it's easy to make something like Heaven's Gate fail when most people have never experienced anything like it and would never experience anything like it due precisely to this kind of system.


The Critics: Shameful behavior even from people who should have known better. Richard Brody is right to point out the biases of the important mainstream critics of this period (Vincent Canby, who isn't much of a film critic, even became a theater critic late in his life.) Actually, even Roger Ebert only saw the short version of this film at the time, so you can just wipe that off the slate immediately. Most of the people in the last 30 years who have continued the tradition of trashing Heaven's Gate are rag hacks, not real film critics (and you have to wonder if they ever watched the film; a large number of these people probably have not.)


The Heaven's Gate debacle was a screw job that had nothing to do with the quality of the film. It was studio bulls***, press hacks, poor timing, and an audience that wasn't ready for it or unwilling to work with the film that did it in.

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I saw it when TCM broadcast as part of a salute to Joseph Cotten. And in my opinion that is the part they could have well left off the film. The first segment is around 40 minutes long and I don't think it adds anything to the film.


After that it is still long but I don't think it is the mess that it has been made out to be. One thing I do agree with one critic who thought it was so brown. It is almost devoid of any color. I realize that would be a decision be Cimino, though I'm not sure the point.


One thing I did like was the scene at the end. Kristofferson on his boat with the lady. It struck me that she was so lazy she couldn't bother to lean forward for him to light her cigarette. He goes on the deck of the boat and I get the sense he is just depressed and empty.


It's not exactly something I would be in a hurry to see again though.


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I never saw it all the way through. Just couldn't get into it. That doesn't mean it was a lousy film. Just not to my taste.



I have to admit, though, it was a very good looking movie(cinematography, sets, costume), and understand it DID get some recognition for THAT.



I imagine it was dogged by the "Cimino" factor, et al: Long production with miles of needless film that suffers from inept editing, if any editing at all. It's the same thing that kills interest today for Cimino's *The Deer Hunter* . This landmark film by Michael could actually benefit by careful editing. There's probably a good 45 minutes that can be excised from it and you's STILL have a good story and excellent film. Several scenes go on way past the moment they made their points, and uneeded extended scenes that neither add to, or augment the story. I don't know if the same thing is true for GATE as, stated earlier, I just couldn't find interest in the story.






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Sepiatone, I couldn't agree more about THE DEER HUNTER. Cut 45 minutes and it would be a much better film. To see the film again, I would watch the scenes with Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, and John Savage and fast forward through everything else. The great scene is the one where the uneducated Walken character tries to express to Streep the feelings about life he doesn't really have words for. There's nothing wrong with Robert DeNiro's performance, but the parts of the film featuring him are the predictable ones which run much too long. The Polish wedding is way too long as well.



I've never seen HEAVEN'S GATE. Because--sorry, Sepiatone--I usually hate the 70s cinematographers' obsession with sepia, I've always avoided it.



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Actually it was a Ukrainian wedding. The ceremony was Orthodox Christian and most Poles are Catholic.


I was filmed in St Theodosious Church in Cleveland Ohio. When I was planing my trip a few months ago I thought about going there. My plans changed.

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Some parts of "Heaven's Gate" are better than others, IMHO, but that depends on what you're interested in, I guess.


An example of something I like in the film is the "Roller Skating Dance" scene:



The guy on skates playing the violin is the film's music composer David Mansfield.


Also see the comments posted below the video to see how people either love or hate this movie...


As for "Deer Hunter," yes, stuff in film before Vietnam just as good as the warfare part of the film.

Good parts and bad parts. But good parrts are so good they make you forget about bad parts in film, IMHO...





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I've only seen it once. I remember it better than The Long Riders which came out the same year, and which I once saw on TCM, and which I cannot remember a single thing about. I do remember several scenes in Heaven's Gate such as the roller skating waiter, the victim who stumbles across the hired killers, and John Hurt wanderingly (drunkenly?) during a major shootout.

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I had tickets to see it on it's opening night at the old Plitt Theater in Century City. The film was pulled just after the NY Times and Vincent Canby's review.


I saw the original cut two weeks after that at a special screening. When the film was finally released I saw the recut.


At least the original cut made more sense.


I am of the generation who grew up in the late 1960 and early 1970s and spent a good portion of those years in movie theaters watching classic films (thank you the movie theater in the original MGM Grand hotel) and new releases. I love many of the films released back then.


But *Heaven's Gate* was a troubled film from the beginning. It has a beautiful soundtrack and has some beautiful cinematography but it also has a very muddled story and some of the sound design, especially on the big screen, was just a mess and the dialog almost undecipherable. It has characters but not necessarily characters that you care about. There are some good performances, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, Isabella Huppert but it also has too many mediocre performances.


But most of all, it has a story that didn't resonate with either critics or the audience. Watching it a few years ago on TCM for the first time in almost twenty five years, I was reminded that story is one of the most important essential ingredients in a great film and *Heaven's Gate* didn't have enough of the precious essential ingredients.


Did critics pile on? Sure. Did they have good reason to based on what was on the screen? Yeah, they did.


Did they go overboard? Yes, but as we know just from these boards, it's always easier to be negative than it is to be critical (in the true sense of the word) or supportive. And once a pile on begins, it's not easy to stop.


Did *Heaven's Gate* suffer because of the critical and audience response? Yeah.


Did it deserve that response?


Unfortunately, I think so.

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Heaven's Gate was the name of the building where the glorious town party and waltz between Kristofferson and Huppert takes place.


The film is about Manifest Destiny - at that time the west was spoken of as though it were the holy land. The film is about that idea and its legacy in the twentieth century.

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Certainly a film that many people have strong opinions about.


And I'm old enough to remember the fuss when it was first released. But I was too young to see it then at the theatre when it first came out.


I've seen it numerous times since then, however, I think from TVO's program "Saturday Night at the Movies." The host, film critic Thom Ernst, wrote about one airing of the film on "SNAM"

here: http://snam.tvo.org/blog/saturday-night-movies/rethinking-heaven-and-rambo-has-kid


This episode was repeated the same season and then aired again in other years, I think.

Anyway, I've seen the film a few times through this program.

It also included interviews with many people involved with the film. I remember the late Steven Bach being interviewed about it, for example. But those interviews aren't available on the Internet, that I can find. Some notable film critics too, I seem to remember, where part of the interviews portion of the program.


Anyway, everybody has different opinions about what makes a great film.

Best to air it and then let viewers decide.



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So is naming a movie after a building in the movie that nobody has heard of smart marketing? I think it was originally titled something that it was based on loosely, the Johnson County War.


I actually like this movie and wish they would show it again, but as far as marketing a movie goes there is nothing in this movie that oozes Heaven's Gate to me.

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I know I saw the movie when it was first released. I could surely find the date, time and place if I searched my journals of the year.


The movie made so little impression on me that I do not remember a single thing about it and formed no lasting opinion.


It is possible that it would all come back to me if I began to watch it again.


I am not interested in watching it as few movies have left no impression on me either good or bad and so it is a hole in my life and I have no desire to waste more time on such a non-entity.

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In his blog post cited in another thread comment of mine below, "SNAM"'s 'Thom Ernst talks about how a modern audience may feel differently about "Heaven's Gate" by giving the film a fresh look unbiased by sour critics and media reports at the time of its original release.

So it would be interesting to air it and then hear what people think who've never seen it or heard of it before.


To explain what I mean, maybe this will help?

I haven't set foot in a movie theatre for at least 20 years.

But I do read reviews of current films, by film critics I admire, and I generally go by their opinions on a film. Without having seen it myself.

In that sense, I am biased about a film without ever having seen it, and that bias prevents me from going to see the movie and possibly finding out the critics are wrong about it, or missed something.

On the other hand, other people don't want to know anything about a film before going to see it.

They don't read reviews, they don't want to Google anything about the movie, they don't want to know anything about the plot, etc., so they will see the film having an open mind (obviously to pay to see a film you already have some likes and dislikes about the actors in it, director, etc., so you can't have a completely open mind) and no prior bias.


Anyway, maybe it should be aired on TCM and then we can hear from viewers who've never seen it before or heard much or anything about it, then discuss the movie?












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WOW. You've never been to a theater in 20 years??? I hate the boorish behavior, but I still go (mostly to matinees as they are cheaper). I dont like to read reviews either as they spoil too much of the plot, sometimes ruining it! I try to see what the consensus is, but my going to see something is based on many factors: cast, storyline, director, critical consensus etc. I used to try to see everything, but as I've gotten older, I dont care how lauded a film is, if I'm not interested in the story, I dont go.......

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*"Anyway, maybe it should be aired on TCM and then we can hear from viewers who've never seen it before or heard much or anything about it, then discuss the movie?"* - RMeingast


If you look at the February / "31 Days of Oscar" thread started by 'calvinnme', you'll see that *Heaven's Gate* is the final film being shown during the event - *overnight on March 3rd, 2013*. It caps a day set aside to honor United Artists Studios.

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> {quote:title=Hibi wrote:}{quote}WOW. You've never been to a theater in 20 years???



Well, it doesn't help much that I'm a bona fide recluse (can you say "Rosebud")... ;)

I'm also a notorious cheapskate and figure films will eventually be aired on TV for free (well, you have to pay for cable TV) anyway...


Yes, have seen many fine films on TV all my life since childhood. Have had access to many excellent TV channels that air both modern and classic films such as TVO's "Saturday Night at the Movies" - this program is affiliated with York University in that Film Studies students can take a course that deals with the films aired on this program:


Other great stations include French-language TFO's "Cineclub," CBC's French-language CBLFT channel, and some other local TV stations that sometimes surprisingly air rare classic films.

For example, a local Kitchener/Waterloo TV station aired the 1959 Bernhard Wicki film "The Bridge" (Die Brücke): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_Br%C3%BCcke_%28film%29

many years ago and it was the first time I'd seen that award-winning and Oscar nominated film.

I didn't see it again, maybe 30 years in between, until it was aired on TVO's "SNAM" a few years ago.

So, basically, I've always got my fill from that. Never really went to movie theatres to see films.

Once went to try and see "The Deer Hunter" at the local movie theatre, but was turned away because I was only like 12 years old or something and the movie was rated Restricted.

To heck with that. I caught it on TV eventually anyway...


Also I belonged to a local film club and was, I think, the only teenager who belonged to it. All the others were adults. Films were run in the basement auditorium of the local library.

Think the club was started by the local art gallery and that was located right next door to the library.

Anyway, I remember seeing "A Clockwork Orange" there, for example, and Ken Russell's

film "Tommy" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_%28film%29) and many others.

Funny thing was that most of those films had the restricted rating but I saw them anyway as a member of the film club. If I'd tried to see them at the local theatre, I would've been turned away as too young...


> {quote:title=Hibi wrote:}{quote}. I used to try to see everything, but as I've gotten older, I dont care how lauded a film is, if I'm not interested in the story, I dont go.......


Everybody different Hibi... I know what you mean 'tho...

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