Tribute screening to director Michael Cimino and DP Vilmos Zsigmond
Everyone knows this was a colossal box office bomb, the movie that simultaneously sank a studio (UA), a genre (the western), and put an end to the brief era when directors genuinely enjoyed power and credibility in Hollywood. What you may not know is that in its original, full-length splendor, Heaven’s Gate is within a hair’s breadth of the masterpiece Michael Cimino set out to make.
Kris Kristofferson is the Rhodes scholar who becomes a federal marshal in Wyoming just in time to see cattle barons seize the land from European settlers in what history records as the Johnson County War. It’s a story we see repeated again and again all over the world, the story of how a rich and powerful elite run roughshod over the rights of the poor - but rarely explicated with such force and fervor in a genuinely radical American epic.
Cimino had been much praised for the evocative, atmospheric opening hour of The Deer Hunter. He took those same strategies further here, immersing us in place and time as the plot sneaks in through the back door. This time, primed by stories of budgetary excess, the US critics berated him for it, and with such ferocity and vitriol that the film closed after just one week in a single theatre. It was subsequently re-released in a version over an hour shorter, but by then its reputation was sealed.
Reevaluated in North America only in the last few years, and still a film that is overshadowed by its original box office failure, Heaven’s Gate deserves to be seen on the big screen, where Cimino’s visual elan can truly be appreciated.
"Among the supreme achievements of Hollywood cinema." Robin Wood
"An unqualified disaster." Vincent Canby, New York Times
"A film of rare beauty and scope, a feast for the eyes and a harrowing, unflinching meditation on the cruelty of capitalism." Nathan Rabin, AV Club