Friday, 22 February 2013

Heavens Gate.

Its not often that the sheer brilliance of a movie makes you want weep with joy, please don’t let anyone tell you that Michael Cimino’s Heavens Gate (1980) is not a masterpiece, because they would be lying! 

This giant of cinematic history was much maligned on its release. Originally it was considered to be one of the biggest box office flops of all time, costing in the region of $44 million and allegedly earning less than $3 million dollars in return. It brought its studio, United Artist, to near collapse and destroyed the career of an award-winning director. United Artist had given Cimino a free hand after the success of 1978’s The Deer Hunter but never again allowed a director driven film production! Problems with budgetary overspends, originally in the region of $11.4 million, time overruns, the planned release was for December 1979 but did not open until November the following year, and bad press added to its problems.

Written and directed by Michael Cimino its gripping narrative is really another demonstration of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, a story about capitalism and greed and ethnic cleansing, showing the America system at its worse? The Wyoming Stock Growers association lead by Frank Canton is convinced the European immigrant settlers are looting their herds of cattle. Gaining the approval of the state, Canton and his fellow cattlemen draw up a death list with a 125 names of settlers from Johnston County who are accused of being thieves and anarchists.

The beautiful cinematography.........

The film boasts a well-known cast that includes Kris Kristofferson as Jim Averill an 1870 graduate of Harvard College who 20 years later finds himself the Marshall of Johnson County. A fair man who has no time for the cattleman’s association preferring the company of Ella Watson a Johnson County bordello madam who accepts cattle as payment for use of her prostitutes. Depicted, in her American feature film debut, by French superstar Isabelle Huppert. Watson also shares her affections with Nate Champion a friend of Averill and an enforcer for the stockmen who is portrayed in his normal laid back style by Christopher Walken. Also included in the cast are Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke, a very young looking John Hurt and Sam Waterston as the evil Frank Canton.

and the wonderful set pieces...........

The 2013 Glasgow Film Festival showed the restored version of the film, the 216-minute directors cut and not the massacred cut of 149 minutes. Released in 2012 and first shown at the 69th Venice Film Festival and subsequently at the New York Film Festival it now clearly demonstrates the stunning cinematography, the wonderfully choreographed set pieces and a sound that is incredible. The critics had finally woken up to the fact that it was “one of the few authentically innovative Hollywood films[1]” This “wounded monster” as David Thomson called it has found its rightful place up there among the great films of all time and finally been given the credit a film of this stature disserves.

make this one of the finest films your ever have the privilege of watching. 

[1] Robin Wood 1986.

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