Review: Heaven’s Gate @ Chapter
Well one thing is certain. Hollywood has learned nothing from the past.
The Western genre is such a regimented and outdated format (in such a small era in US history as well). It’s very much a piece of stilted Americana. So it’s no surprise that The Lone Ranger earlier this year, was an absolute turkey at the box office. Not even Johnny Depp could save the film. But this isn’t the first time a Western has fallen foul of the dreaded audience figures.
There is a film so infamous and catastrophically disastrous that it is considered one of the worst films ever made. I am speaking of Heaven’s Gateâ€¦
Going into the cinema, even my ticket seemed unsure, with the film listed as ‘HEAVEN?S GATE’. This film is legendary on several counts, but it is only now that critics (and myself) are coming round to the idea that it is not a bad film at all, but rather a masterpiece. After wining a flurry of Oscars (including one for himself as Best Director) for his film The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino had the grandest of ambitious film projects to create the most remarkable of Westerns ever seen on the silver screen. He did achieve this but with the most laborious and costly demands seen at the time for a film.
Going millions upon millions of dollars (and then some) over budget, Cimino became a frantic megalomaniac and was hell-bent that the film would be finished any way possible and that he would definitely get final cut. Going behind seclude for months gave the film a price tag that would cause waves in LA, perhaps even still having an impact today (Hollywood seems to be doing fine though). This is the film that would sadly bankrupt and close down its company, United Artists.
The final output from the set in Wyoming is an eye-watering two hundred hours of film. Pity the Hollywood set that had to sit through the five-and-a-half hour version in postproduction. He is said at one point to have waited all day just for the right cloud to pass the sky for the shot. I’m detecting some OCD in the great director here. The other controversies the film is known for is the animal rights abuses. We blatantly see a real cockfight and much to my sadness, a horse was accidentally blown up with dynamite during one of the more grander scale set pieces. This film is the very reason why you see ‘No animals were harmed during the making of this film’ in the end credits of films for the past thirty years.
It’s because of Cimino and his action that I will do my utmost to be hasty with my choice of film still for the picture of this review. I’m sure you will understand.
Well, what do I think of Heaven’s Gate? This does happen to be a very good film and one of the best Westerns ever made. I can’t express a lot of favour for this genre, but if this film has done anything, it’s persuaded me to change my opinion (like all good art should). This was bordering on the very bloody but I will definitely watch more Westerns, thanks to this film. I was gripped and allowed time to take in the gorgeous scenery and set pieces. The hefty cast consisted of Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Hubbard, Christopher Walken (who's about as Eastern European as Chop Suey here in this role), a drunken and scene chewing John Hurt, Jeff Daniels and a young and oh-so-handsome Mickey Rourke. The score by David Mansfield as well was splendid and bountiful.
It’s not really based on any true events but rather a summation of the struggle of European immigrants in the early days of the USA. The film is in three parts: The first in Harvard University in Boston (I recognised it as Oxford, since that’s where it was filmed). Part Two is most of the film and in Wyoming and the brief Third Part on a boat near Rhode Island. It felt like it was going to be a gruelling four hours of film, with no intermission. But this was perhaps the best classic film I have seen all year.
This may be a disaster story on some levels, but it seems to be worth it to see the finished product as a remarkable film.
A must watch for film fans and lovers of curiosities.