Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980; Director’s Cut )
Heavily panned and historically maligned film that most infamously bankrupted United Artists, Heaven’s Gate, in conjunction with the financial disasters that were now-classic films such as Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) and its follow-up One from the Heart (1982), signaled what would be the end of New Hollywood — the thrillingly creative period of American filmmaking during which auteurs such as Friedkin, Coppola, Ashby, Kubrick, Altman, De Palma, Bogdanovich and co. rose to prominence and effectively ran the show, changing the name of the game for everyone.
In its sweeping, newly restored 216-minute long director’s cut, which premiered in Venice last year while also making it to the Criterion Collection more recently, Heaven’s Gate is, like many memorable films of the period, an incredible testament to the vision, ego and ambition of its creator. If ridiculously indulgent, disappointingly (and bloatedly) straightforward, as well as slightly naive in its themes and handling of a dark, violent and subversive West that begged to be further explored given the film’s whopping runtime, Heaven’s Gate - a messy love story as well as a fictional handling of the Johnson County War of 1892 - proves to be a completely engrossing and amazingly epic Western — so large and sweeping it cannot be anything but wholly memorable. Resting on gorgeous scenery, minute character development (or at least, incidental development due to gargantuan screentime) and an unbelievable cast of character actors involving everyone from Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Huppert, Mickey Rourke, Brad Dourif, Jeff Bridges, John Hurt, Christopher Walken to an uncredited (and unceremoniously fired) Willem Dafoe, Cimino’s ego explosion is perhaps more interesting for its place in film history than for the narrative it offers, but remains a journey well worth taking at least once.