Heaven’s Gate

I had a terrible time trying to sleep on Monday night.  I didn’t feel like dealing with a day of student problems.  I went through the morning lecture and headed for Trader Joe’s, where I bought lunch.  I bought an insulated lunch bag for future afternoons.  I discovered a message from my brother from a courtroom.  He was on jury duty.  I gave the afternoon class an exam.  When I got back home, I was tired.  I watched the DVD of Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate,” although I took my own intermission and fell asleep.  I watched the second half in the middle of the night.  The title of the movie became synonymous with disaster, but I don’t think it deserved the overwhelming negative response it received from critics back in November 1980.  I would say that Cimino spent way too much money on this story.  Construction crews supposedly were doing outrageous things, and an incredible amount of footage was shot for an initial five-hour cut.  This one was 216 minutes.  I think that the movie leaves you leaving like a cold observer, and the ending certainly feels drab and unsatisfying, especially after you’ve sat through more than three hours of this material.  On the other hand, it must be the greatest-looking film of Cimino’s career.  The cinematographer was Vilmos Zsigmond, and I don’t recall him doing work that was better than this.  He did work on Robert Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” which has slight similarities to this picture.  The shots of the train also brought to my mind “Days of Heaven.”  Perhaps Kris Kristofferson is too much of the strong, silent type.  He had a pretty strong presence on the screen, but I don’t find him a natural actor.  Perhaps Cimino could have found an actress who could have made a stronger impression with audiences than Isabelle Huppert, but I thought she did a pretty good job.  Some other actors considered for the big roles, like John Wayne and Sally Field, probably didn’t want to be in an anti-Western, which is what this is.  Two key actors, Christopher Walken and Jeff Bridges, had been in Cimino’s previous films, “The Deer Hunter” and “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” respectively.  John Hurt and Sam Waterston had big roles, and Mickey Rourke and Willem Dafoe had small roles.  I didn’t see Walken as very much competition for the affections of the leading woman.  There wasn’t much visible emotion coming from one side of the love triangle.  One similarity “Heaven’s Gate” has with “The Deer Hunter” is the ceremony celebrating life before the characters go off to war.  Many of the characters we encounter die before it’s all over, leaving us with a depressing feeling about what we’ve seen.  It also looks like several animals were harming in the making of this motion picture.  Two of the striking scenes in the film feature music and dancing.  There is the opening at Harvard in 1870, with the Blue Danube waltz, always bringing to my mind Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  Also, there’s the roller-skating rink scene.  It seemed that the extras had to learn a lot of different skills for this film.  There are numerous shots in the film that made you think of the expense of the production, and for just a few seconds of footage.  They had a train brought in, and they built a small town near the tracks.  Cimino certainly could have gotten to the point quicker.  I don’t see how the Harvard sequence needed to be that long.  I thought it was good to see Joseph Cotten in it, though.  During the 1970s, he was in a couple of Airport movies, plus “Soylent Green.”  It seemed like a long time since he was in “Citizen Kane,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” or “The Third Man.”  He died in 1994.  This movie was supposedly to be about the clash of economic classes.  The rich cattle men hire assassins to kill the European immigrants who have been stealing their cattle in order to survive.  I can’t entirely sympathize with the underdog in this case.  This was the second time I’d seen “Heaven’s Gate.”  I think I saw it on VHS years ago.  The movie is better than I remembered it in this Criterion Collection edition.  The booklet that it came with was informative, and I liked reading it.  I think there are a lot of moments that make “Heaven’s Gate” worth watching.  To me, it’s better than watching a night of sitcoms or most other network television programs.  All these years later, we don’t care about how much this movie cost, or Cimino’s excesses.  He went for broke and lost.  He wouldn’t make another movie until “Year of the Dragon.”  Mickey Rourke came back for that one.  He would also appear in the remake of “Desperate Hours.”  I haven’t seen any of Cimino’s films after “Year of the Dragon.”  Cimino wrote the screenplay to “Silent Running.”  A couple of his dream projects that have never been made include adaptations of “The Fountainhead” and “Crime and Punishment.”  He didn’t get to direct movies like “Footloose,” “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” and “Born on the Fourth of July.”  He wrote a novel called “Big Jane.”  If I find some free time this summer, I may sit down and read it.  Cimino’s last film was “The Sunchaser,” released in 1996.  Woody Harrelson was in it.  I wonder if Cimino has made very much money in the last 17 years.  Three of the people who died on April 24 include Daniel Defoe (1731), Bud Abbott (1974), and Pat Paulsen (1997).  According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for April 24, Ricky Nelson released his first record, “Teenager’s Romance” with “I’m Walkin’” on the B-side, in 1957.  In 1958, Dion and the Belmonts released their first single, “I Wonder Why” with “Teen Angel” on the B-side.  In 1961, Bob Dylan made his recording debut, getting paid $50 for playing harmonica on a Harry Belafonte album.

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