…yes, all three of you, well your dream is about to come true.
And for those of you who have never had to compile a “Most Disappointing Films of All Time” list,* Heaven’s Gate was a highly anticipated Western epic by the Oscar-winning director of The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino, which, when finally released, became the running definition of the colossal bomb.
The film went massively over budget, finally costing $44 million (approximately, figures differ) in 1980 dollars, or $122 million today. It made $3 million during its original release and proved the complete undoing of United Artists. Critical reception ran from “an unqualified disaster” (NY Times) to “the most scandalous cinematic waste I have ever seen” (Roger Ebert).
The version of the film that premiered ran ran 219 minutes. It was quickly slashed to ribbons by the studio, to 149 minutes, which is the version most people who have seen it are familiar with.
Over the years, it has been re-rereleased and reappraised, and some of the harsher judgments have been balanced by more measured assessments. (There are some breathtakingly beautiful set pieces, all snark aside.)
Anyhoo, Heaven’s Gate became synonymous with “auteur” directors out of control, and film budgets started getting pared back shortly thereafter (Francis Ford Coppola’s post-Apocalypse One from the Heart didn’t help either).
Michael Cimino’s career never quite recovered. His Mickey Rourke detective flick Year of the Dragon was engaging and fun but didn’t do much box office. His adaptation of Mario Puzo’s The Sicilian, based on the life of Salvatore Giuliano, a real-life Sicilian Robin Hood, died a quick death. (The Italian telling of that tale, by Francesco Rosi, is far superior.) The casting of Christopher Lambert was one of the more curious choices…
Cimino refuses to give up on the film that will live in infamy, despite the toll it has taken on him. Speaking at the Venice Film Festival:
…Mr. Cimino, a trim 73-year-old wearing sunglasses, was in a jovial mood even as he spoke candidly about the psychic toll of a movie that went on to define his career for all the wrong reasons. It was the producer of “Heaven’s Gate,” Joann Carelli, who asked Mr. Cimino to be involved in the new restoration. He acknowledged that he was initially reluctant. “I’ve had enough rejection for 33 years,” he said. “I don’t need more. Being infamous is not fun. It becomes a weird kind of occupation in and of itself.”
And so a 216-minute cut of Heaven’s Gate, one that better reflects the original intention of the director, and that received a warm reception in Venice, will be made available on DVD from Criterion come November. (The original original 219-minute version had previously been made available on VHS and laserdisc. Pick your poison, I guess.)
And for those of you who forgot what Mickey Rourke looked like before he took up boxing:
*Most Disappointing Films of All Time (in alpha order and not to be confused with The Worst Films of All Times—these films you had reason to believe could be amazing)
Gangs of New York (although boasts one of the most stunning opening sequences in film history; Scorsese)
Godfather Part III (Coppola)
Heaven’s Gate (Cimino)
Hudson Hawk (Danny Aiello steals the film; Lehman)
Matrix Revolutions (Wachowski Bros.)
Star Trek (1980; Wise)
Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (Lucas)