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An inside look at the hectic production of Heaven's Gate, the media circus that turned it into a synonym for movie flop and how it added to the tectonic change that occurred in Hollywood film studios after it infamously flopped.
In Michael Cimino's bleak anti-western based on events in 1890s Wyoming, Sheriff James Averill attempts to protect immigrant farmers from wealthy cattle interests, and also clashes with a hired gun, Nathan Champion, over the woman they both love. Both men find themselves questioning their roles in the furious conflict between wealthy landowners and European immigrants attempting to build new lives on the American frontier, which culminates in a brutal pitched battle. Written by
Bernard Keane <BKeane2@email.dot.gov.au>
There really was a Johnson County War in Wyoming and James Averill, Nathan Champion and Ella Watson were actual historical figures. In the real war, however, the U.S. Army arrested the cattlemen for hiring the killers and did not threaten to arrest the homesteaders for defending themselves, as happens in the film. See more »
Despite how he was portrayed in the film, Nate Champion was never any type of enforcer. He was a small rancher who stood up against the tactic of claiming all unbranded cattle. He was killed when a posse of vigilantes attacked his homestead. A journal of his battle survived the attack. See more »
This is the movie that, pretty much, sounded the death knell for the auteur in Hollywood. At over 40 million bucks, Heaven's Gate is so poorly conceived and executed it would take a lifetime to break down every area of failure. What really galls me the most about it is that technically it's very bad, an unforgivable sin for the money that went into it. John Hurt's commencement speech at Harvard is inaudible, as is a conversation between Kris Kristofferson and Richard Masur at the train station. Some people seem to think Cimino intended this as a "style". He didn't. It's just bad sound recording. The characters are not particularly well-drawn, except for the four or five leads; in the climactic battle scene, it's difficult to tell who's the bad guys and who's the good guys. Even on that level, it's impossible to enjoy the movie. The casting of Isabelle Huppert as the town madam is a joke, her French accent renders the whole character a fraud. The acting is generally stiff, without any range or depth of feeling; even Christopher Walken is bad. John Hurt's character is the only one with any swagger or vitality (although Hurt, in his 40s, playing a fresh-faced Harvard grad with bags under his eyes is patently ridiculous).
I guess to say that it's overlong is overkill. The roller-skating sequence could have been easily cut, the cockfight scene is rapidly becoming a movie cliche, and the final scene on board the ocean liner is right out the Twilight Zone. Having Rod Serling appear before the camera at the end to explain what we just watched would have been the perfect finale. Actually, those scenes in and of themselves are not bad, but Cimino has not earned the right to include them, because what he's given us as the "meat" of the picture IS so incompetently bad. The editing is poor, especially in the grand battle climax. At one point, the same explosion with the same wagon wheel flying from the blast is used three different times. I wish could I say something- anything- nice about this movie: a great scene, a great performance, even one memorable line of dialogue, but I can't. It is all just one big unholy mess. About the only thing I did like was the cinematography and the Montana locations, which are stunning. Even Cimino couldn't screw that up. This is a long, boring, bad movie by all standards. And the people who say that it gets bashed only because of the cost overruns are just kidding themselves. 1/2 * out of 4
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