Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 2004. Viewfinder Productions, Specialty Films. Screenplay by Michael Epstein, based on the book Final Cut: The Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven’s Gate by Steven Bach. Cinematography by Michael Chin. Produced by Michael Epstein, Rachael Horovitz, Caroline Suh. Music by Joel Goodman. Film Editing by Penny Hays.
In 1979, while Michael Cimino was picking up Academy Awards for The Deer Hunter, he announced his next project would be an epic western about the land conflicts between Americans and immigrants in Wyoming in the late 19th century. It was to be his masterpiece, a fantastic epic enriched by painstaking detail and a cast of thousands. United Artists approved a near $10 million dollar budget and production began, beginning the journey towards what is considered to be the biggest cinematic disaster in all film history. This fascinating documentary examines the story behind the most famous bomb of all time, a production whose director drove the price up to near $50 million dollars and fell behind schedule by months. The press reported accidents, financial waste and Cimino’s own tyranny as creative power during filming, and yet, unlike Cleopatra, which suffered the same problems fifteen years earlier, audience interest was not piqued to see Heaven’s Gate when it was finally released (nor on its re-edited second release). The film grossed a paltry $1.5 million and reportedly drove UA into bankruptcy, effectively ending Cimino’s career. In this account, Michael Epstein uses wittily acerbic narration (read by Willem Dafoe) to describe the experience of a film that, he believes, has been crucified unfairly and is much better than the public has been led to believe. In fact, it is even alleged that the film’s box office failure caused very little suffering to the financial powers behind it (particularly TransAmerica, who owned UA at the time), but was used as an excuse to end a decade of films being made by creatively autonomous directors. The seventies were over, and the eighties came along with movies that were packaged by moneymakers and not artists. This documentary is a perfect addendum to the also marvelous A Decade Under The Influence.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2004