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Heaven's Gate (the movie,not the cult)


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This is a shout out to all the closeted "Heaven's Gate" fans out there. One of the more infamous flops in movie history,one of the last epic westerns and,yes,a cult classic. I first saw the movie on TNT late one night. It was a scratchy,murky print,but it held my interest,mainly because I had heard its name mentioned as a disastrous attempt at an epic. I was impressed enough to buy the widescreen video and enjoy the Panavision presentation as it should be seen.

 

I will admit that it is a flawed movie,but the cinematography,costumes,scope,and the premise hint at what could have been if all elements of the film could have come together. Additionally,the soundtrack is a wonderful mix of ethnic European folk,western American elements,and lush arrangements. If anyone else would like to discuss this film further,let me hear from you.

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  • 15 years later...

It would have been fine, but I seem to recall that Cimino's contract gave him final cut and he abused the privilege. If the first third of the movie (which takes place on the East Coast) had been reduced to a smidgen, then maybe the endless, roaring battle scenes in Act III would have been tolerable. Or, they could have been reduced as well without harming anything.

The authority for exactly what transpired is Steven Bach, who was a vice-pres of production at the time for United Artists. I have his email address and corresponded with him briefly. He teaches film at Columbia U.

The real disaster of this film is not even that it brought down a studio; but that it spelled doom for American arthouse movies in general; in part because it also corresponded neatly in time with the bonanza that was "Raiders of the Lost Ark". From that point on, studio execs would never again devote big-budgets to anything but "adolescent fare". These two events signaled the demise of adult art-house movies in American theaters. Serious movie-making became reduced to a mere trickle.

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I would say Heaven's Gate didn't kill that kind of movie overnight. Over the next ten years, you had Out of AfricaAmadaeusDances with Wolves and The Last Emperor. But yeah, it was probably the beginning of the end. 

This will probably be at least my third time on these boards to tell this story, but hopefully enough time has elapsed that nobody remembers it. I was once at a little social gathering where a small crowd of people, none of whom I knew very well or at all, were all sneering at HG, and I offered, "Oh, I don't know. It actually has a lot of strong points," which caused utter befuddlement among the others. It emerged over the next few minutes that I was the only person in the conversation who'd actually SEEN them movie! Its reputation had preceded it.

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8 hours ago, sewhite2000 said:

I would say Heaven's Gate didn't kill that kind of movie overnight. Over the next ten years, you had Out of AfricaAmadaeusDances with Wolves and The Last Emperor. But yeah, it was probably the beginning of the end. 

This will probably be at least my third time on these boards to tell this story, but hopefully enough time has elapsed that nobody remembers it. I was once at a little social gathering where a small crowd of people, none of whom I knew very well or at all, were all sneering at HG, and I offered, "Oh, I don't know. It actually has a lot of strong points," which caused utter befuddlement among the others. It emerged over the next few minutes that I was the only person in the conversation who'd actually SEEN them movie! Its reputation had preceded it.

(Disclaimer:  Yes, I know it's fifteen years old, and was first posted two weeks after we caught Saddam Hussein, but, FWIW...)

It brought down UA, which is where most of the independent "Roadshow engagement" epics were still being made, and made producers think twice about letting Last Year's Oscar Flavor do whatever he wanted.

Has anyone seen it?  I tried once--I couldn't get past the waltzing.  Ohh, the never-ending rich-privileged Harvard waltzing...This is one of those movies that you watch the "Uncut Director's Cut" and realize WHY they cut it down for the theatrical release.

As for Michael Cimino's attempt to do a deconstructive "Real historical-revisionist western", that later became coin of the realm after Unforgiven, and think what he was aiming for was already done sometime between The Assassination of Jesse James and the Kevin Costner/Lawrence Kasdan Wyatt Earp...Oh, and Dances with Wolves.  It's not like Cimino ever gave us anything else worth looking up.

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Here was my first reaction in 2008 when i first saw it (I'll tone it down for the weinnes):

Talk about indulgence, holy blank, an f-ing full twenty minutes spent at Harvard W*T*F* was he (Cimino) thinking???????.  The march down the street, the sequence in the lecture hall, the friggin dance sequence, the climbing of the tree,  then the other indulgence of the stream of immigrants along the road with their two wheeled carts and if that wasn't enough, the indulgence at the "Heavens Gate" roller rink, and there you get a twofer too, the roller skating and another dance sequence.  He was out of control.

The final battle at the end took forever too, and then the capper to all this was... more than one ending fer blanksakes....

He killed the epic Western with BOREDOM!!!!, he single handedly killed it! No bout adout it.

Turned it from the mythological status that Ford and Leone had created and left us with, and turned the Western into a over indulgent friggin period piece costume drama, right before our very eyes!!!!!!!

On the plus side the cinematography was beautiful, this is now the third film that I've seen that featured Vilmos Zsigmond art. I liked it on McCabe and Mrs. Miller, I didn't think much of it in "The Hired Hand" but here it worked well. I especially liked the Wallace, Idaho (stood in for Casper WY) set with the actual Wallace Station. That is still there, and I was living about 150 miles North of Wallace when they were shooting this,  BTY.

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I don't know any of your ages, but if even the TCM crowd can't watch the movie because they find the opening sequence boring, there's zero hope of ever getting a millennial to watch it. I think of my two nieces, still preteens back then, who were seriously sure they were literally going to die of boredom during the long, dialogue-free opening sequence to Wall-E, something they'd never seen before in a movie ... and probably have never seen again since. 

Some great movies are about atmosphere more than a strong narrative drive. I get swept up in the spectacle and the amazing sense of time and place when I watch that opening bit of Heaven's Gate. People didn't seem to mind so much the wedding that takes up at least half an hour to open The Deer Hunter, which got showered with Oscars.

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12 minutes ago, sewhite2000 said:

Some great movies are about atmosphere more than a strong narrative drive. I get swept up in the spectacle and the amazing sense of time and place when I watch that opening bit of Heaven's Gate.

Unfortunately the opening spectacle, the amazing sense of time and place was the wrong one, and had nothing to do with a Western

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Well, that's kind of why I liked it, being so bonkers and out of place given what I was expecting going into it. It also established that the Kristofferson and Hurt characters had known each other long ago in a completely different lifetime. It worked for me!

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39 minutes ago, sewhite2000 said:

Some great movies are about atmosphere more than a strong narrative drive. I get swept up in the spectacle and the amazing sense of time and place when I watch that opening bit of Heaven's Gate. People didn't seem to mind so much the wedding that takes up at least half an hour to open The Deer Hunter, which got showered with Oscars.

Actually I did mind the endless wedding scene in The Deer Hunter. Apart from some excellent scenes featuring Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, and John Savage, there wasn't much that I liked in The Deer Hunter. It could easily and profitably have been shortened by 45 minutes.

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10 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

It would have been fine, but I seem to recall that Cimino's contract gave him final cut and he abused the privilege. If the first third of the movie (which takes place on the East Coast) had been reduced to a smidgen, then maybe the endless, roaring battle scenes in Act III would have been tolerable. Or, they could have been reduced as well without harming anything.

The authority for exactly what transpired is Steven Bach, who was a vice-pres of production at the time for United Artists. I have his email address and corresponded with him briefly. He teaches film at Columbia U.

The real disaster of this film is not even that it brought down a studio; but that it spelled doom for American arthouse movies in general; in part because it also corresponded neatly in time with the bonanza that was "Raiders of the Lost Ark". From that point on, studio execs would never again devote big-budgets to anything but "adolescent fare". These two events signaled the demise of adult art-house movies in American theaters. Serious movie-making became reduced to a mere trickle.

There were several other films in that early 80s period that  disappointed at the box office and helped end the American film movement of the 70s: True Confessions, Prince of the City, Whose Life Is It Anyway, Hammett,  Pennies from Heaven, Ragtime, One from the Heart, Five Days One Summer, The Right Stuff. In truth, many were actually exhilarating films, but it was just a bad time for them.

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True enough, CinemaInternational. I can't contradict you. If you wish to follow up on the sources for my remark: William Goldman goes out of his way to specifically name 'Raiders' for blame in his 'Adventures in the Screen Trade'. My condemnation of Cimino comes from Steven Bach's book, 'Final Cut'. Cheers! :)

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1 hour ago, CinemaInternational said:

There were several other films in that early 80s period that  disappointed at the box office and helped end the American film movement of the 70s: True Confessions, Prince of the City, Whose Life Is It Anyway, Hammett,  Pennies from Heaven, Ragtime, One from the Heart, Five Days One Summer, The Right Stuff. In truth, many were actually exhilarating films, but it was just a bad time for them.

I'm unsure why my extremely similar comments you can find above didn't draw ire from the Sergeant, but yeah, I think it's worth saying that the extra-long period piece didn't end overnight because of Heaven's Gate.

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16 hours ago, kingrat said:

Actually I did mind the endless wedding scene in The Deer Hunter. Apart from some excellent scenes featuring Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, and John Savage, there wasn't much that I liked in The Deer Hunter. It could easily and profitably have been shortened by 45 minutes.

In '77-'78, we had Coming Home and The Deer Hunter for Oscar pictures, as we were just then getting our delayed-reaction to dealing with the Vietnam-vet issue.  By the time we got through the we-love-our-vets Reagan 80's, Platoon came in at the end in '87, and wrapped up the whole "therapy session".

16 hours ago, CinemaInternational said:

There were several other films in that early 80s period that  disappointed at the box office and helped end the American film movement of the 70s: True Confessions, Prince of the City, Whose Life Is It Anyway, Hammett,  Pennies from Heaven, Ragtime, One from the Heart, Five Days One Summer, The Right Stuff. In truth, many were actually exhilarating films, but it was just a bad time for them.

Most of those named came from '81-'82, which wasn't the last days of the Big Artistic Oscar-Bait, but the infamous '81 "Most Depressing Christmas Ever" (Pennies From Heaven, Reds, Ragtime, Taps, Ghost Story) did basically close the door on Important 70's Movies in time for populist Big 80's Movies.  (And yes, "The Right Stuff" is still a great American movie, but reporters just wouldn't shut the **** up about Sen. John Glenn's danged election campaign, which was one real reason it scared Oscar voters out of Best Picture.)

One interesting theory is that Heaven's Gate may have part CAUSED our industry for "Entertainment news", and our fascination with box-office numbers:  Up to that point in '80-'81, movies opening wide on the same day was still a new invention, but it was around that historical cutoff line--when we were not only wondering whether E.T. would finally outgross Star Wars, but just how much self-indulgent Michael Cimino would karmically lose on his big expensive train set--that the 70's "Hollywood gossip" of Rona Barrett ("What does this reporter know about Dick & Liz's secret fling?") became the 80's Entertainment Tonight update of on-set production reports and box-office profits & losses.  We started to trust "glamorous Tinseltown stars" less and less, and concentrate more on where the industry was going and how much more properly "our" ticket money was being spent.

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1 hour ago, EricJ said:

In '77-'78, we had Coming Home and The Deer Hunter for Oscar pictures, as we were just then getting our delayed-reaction to dealing with the Vietnam-vet issue.  By the time we got through the we-love-our-vets Reagan 80's, Platoon came in at the end in '87, and wrapped up the whole "therapy session".

 

One interesting theory is that Heaven's Gate may have part CAUSED our industry for "Entertainment news", and our fascination with box-office numbers:  Up to that point in '80-'81, movies opening wide on the same day was still a new invention, but it was around that historical cutoff line--when we were not only wondering whether E.T. would finally outgross Star Wars, but just how much self-indulgent Michael Cimino would karmically lose on his big expensive train set--that the 70's "Hollywood gossip" of Rona Barrett ("What does this reporter know about Dick & Liz's secret fling?") became the 80's Entertainment Tonight update of on-set production reports and box-office profits & losses.  We started to trust "glamorous Tinseltown stars" less and less, and concentrate more on where the industry was going and how much more properly "our" ticket money was being spent.

Eric, that's exactly right about The Deer Hunter and Coming Home. There was a big market for a film that dealt with the Vietnam War and connected with the anti-war sentiment at home. Both films did that, and were rewarded both at the box office and at the Oscars. The shortcomings of both films seem apparent now: for Coming Home, the Jon Voigt story works, but the Bruce Dern story is shallow, not to mention the ending borrowed from A Star Is Born. For The Deer Hunter: Streep, Walken, and Savage on the plus side; Cimino's ego on the minus side.

It's certainly true that once upon a time, the average moviegoer knew and cared little or nothing about box office receipts, but now the opening weekend take is considered a major news story of great interest to the general public. I had never connected the change with Heaven's Gate, but there was certainly was a lot of interest in how much money it lost.

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On 12/12/2018 at 9:48 AM, Sgt_Markoff said:

It would have been fine, but I seem to recall that Cimino's contract gave him final cut and he abused the privilege. If the first third of the movie (which takes place on the East Coast) had been reduced to a smidgen, then maybe the endless, roaring battle scenes in Act III would have been tolerable. Or, they could have been reduced as well without harming anything.

The authority for exactly what transpired is Steven Bach, who was a vice-pres of production at the time for United Artists. I have his email address and corresponded with him briefly. He teaches film at Columbia U.

The real disaster of this film is not even that it brought down a studio; but that it spelled doom for American arthouse movies in general; in part because it also corresponded neatly in time with the bonanza that was "Raiders of the Lost Ark". From that point on, studio execs would never again devote big-budgets to anything but "adolescent fare". These two events signaled the demise of adult art-house movies in American theaters. Serious movie-making became reduced to a mere trickle.

So true. This is why Paddy Chayefsky couldn't get a job today in Hollywood. 

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In the 1970s, A-list pictures cost approx $10m to make; and arthouse movies cost approx $4m. You could get a lot of pictures made per year at that rate; a good varietal mix of adult stuff and kid stuff. I forget just how much Cimino went over budget. Something like $40m? It was staggering at the time and (as they say) 'changed the paradigm'. But it was one paradigm that changed for the worse.

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Cimino did come from the world of television commercials, admittedly; but apparently it made him a fanatic for detail. 'Deer Hunter' was a sensation, though. Blew people away. Critics and audiences left theaters shaking and in tears. Execs naturally assumed that he had more of the same ready to unfurl and roll forth. They didn't want to look foolish later, by passing on him.

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sewhite sez:

Quote

I'm unsure why my extremely similar comments you can find above didn't draw ire from the Sergeant, but yeah, I think it's worth saying that the extra-long period piece didn't end overnight because of Heaven's Gate. 

I haven't read the ensuing thread with consecutive scrutiny to the order of people's remarks, that's why. :)

Nonetheless, I still disagree with the idea that 'Gate' didn't have a devastating effect on the industry. If that's what you're saying, that is.

Because after all I'm not saying that an 'absolute levy' descended on Hollywood or that the effect was immediate or total. The business being as ramshackle as it is, there are few absolute maxims or rules. There's always going to be occasional fluke projects which seem to go against the new reckoning.  But in general, there was a new wisdom instituted by this disastrous movie.

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p.s. another well-respected film history which discusses why so many aspects of traditional Hollywood more-or-less died out with the end of the 1970s is this one: "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" by Peter Briskind

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1 minute ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

p.s. another well-respected film history which discusses why so many aspects of traditional Hollywood more-or-less died out with the end of the 1970s is this one: "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" by Peter Briskind

Fantastic book, but your analysis is a bit off: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls states that traditional Hollywood died in the 1960's, giving rise to the auteur-driven "New Hollywood" of the 1970's. Cimino's Heaven's Gate, along with a few others (Spielberg's 1941, the ultimately-successful-but-out-of-control Apocalypse Now), killed the New Hollywood era and the idea of giving directors carte blanche. Films became more producer and corporate/studio driven in the 1980's, and have never really changed since, despite the Indie Film boom of the 1990's, which itself was quickly cannibalized by the majors (check out Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures for this latter era).

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I don't agree that the analysis is off though; because of a tenet I've seen echoed in countless texts which addresses the Sixties. In brief, it states that even as old Hollywood stumbled out the door, many talents which had worked and trained under the studio system were still in the prime of their careers. They filled the gap while the new formula of LucBerg was still yet to dawn; (mid-to-late 70s). Arthur Penn, might be one example; Sam Peckinpah another? But not just directors.

Good reminder about Spielberg's 1941 there! :)

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