ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

MOVIE SUBJECTS OF THE PARANORMAL: THE CONJURING SERIES & THE WARRENS

The subjects of the paranormal, demonic possession and that of evil unknown have always been intriguing plotlines for filmmakers to take on throughout the years. Maybe it has to do with the fact that these particular topics have a tendency to conjure an unsettling feeling amongst some, or maybe it is the subject in itself: any one of these topics are almost commonly been looked upon as evil itself, causing a sense of discomfort or uneasiness. Case in point, what is it about the almost unsettling feeling we seek when attending a film based on evil or its manifestations? Is there a trigger within us that makes us more consciously- aware if a story is ‘fact- based’ than fiction and does it affect our acceptance or rejection of what we are viewing? The point being... do paranormal films, based on true events, affect us more personally than those of the fictitious kind? Finally, is there really a difference between horror genres to make a point worthy?


It could be grossly misconstrued that all horror subjects/ films/ stories are all the same, as if lumped into one large generic category: If it causes a sense of fear and it relinquishes a reaction of terror or ‘scare’, than it falls under the category of a horror film. ‘Slasher’ films, terror, creature/ alien and paranormal, demonic possession and that of evil unknown all ride under the big banner with the word “horror” plastered on its moniker. Period. As what has been the perceptions made by the general consensus or moral- majority groups, it is unfair to conveniently mash all of the themes under one title for all, since each theme brings its own lore that differentiates itself from the other. On the other hand, there are those that understand the mechanics and reasons to what makes any particular subject of terror more effective than another.

My topic focuses on the source materials entitled ‘demonic possession/ paranormal and evil manifestations’ and, be it hinted or obvious, the filmmakers use of these controversial topics’ portrayals (and embellishments) by Hollywood. I will be placing specific attention to certain films that have been fact- based, with such recent entries like THE CONJURING franchise and how it has presented itself as the modern submission of mainstream horror films.
A BRIEF TRIP DOWN POSSESSION LANE IN FILM- 101:
The subjects of terror, demonic possession and evil manifestations have been a mainstay in the filming community for almost as long as the existence of moving pictures itself. Over the years, the presentations have changed and have taken new shape with almost every generation to keep up with the times, so to speak. Regardless, the very idea of the unknown and the simplistically stripped- down ghost stories always manage to find its audiences huddled in the dark, preparing themselves for the unexpected. While on the lines of the discussion, there are those who may argue on the subject due to a variety of purposes. Such degrees can range from the continuity of the story line, demonic or possession interpretation on a religious or non-standpoint, the representation of fact versus fiction and so on and so forth…This is where I begin. Allow, then, a snapshot look at the earlier “fact- based” films that focused on the topic of manifestations and representations of evil.


In the period of one decade that was the 1970’s, Hollywood had unleashed two very profound ‘fact- based’ horror films: 1973’s THE EXORCIST and 1979’s THE AMITY VILLE HORROR. Not based on fact, but placing similar attention on the topic and subject, 1976’s fictitious telling of THE OMEN was also released. There is no doubt that the three films mentioned were a definitive leap forward into the world of terrorized film making, making a profound impact on society for its time, but coincidentally enough, all dealt with the same subject matter: demonic manifestation. These films alone ushered a more cerebral and psychological effect on the impact made than just merely seeing puppeteered monsters or aliens taking over the world, as were the general story line of the B- movie rave of the 1950’s and early 60’s.
Although a strong decade for horror films, the 1980’s advancements in special effects and experimental techniques in cinematography may have ‘crutched’ the more realistic approach that its predecessors took. That, nonetheless, still didn’t stop film makers from presenting a new wave of subject- related entries. The eerie performance of Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance, a man who (one might say) became the ‘host’ of an evil manifestation from existing residuals within an old Hotel resort makes 1980’s THE SHINING a stand-out and unforgettable presentation of equal parts unknown and evil manifestation- based behaviors.  
Possibly considered an unexpected occurrence, when bringing up the serious subject of related evil, possession and darkness; are the pop cultural acceptances that unsuspectedly rose out of the ashes of the fearsome films they came from. Examples would begin with the seemingly lifeless portrayal of the evil- driven Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s 1978 classic HALLOWEEN. The film, along with the character’s portrayal, might be considered the building- blocks to the human embodiment of evil and the set- up for ‘slasher’ genre. That being said, the genre of ‘slasher’ is defined as such, but also borrows from the genre of ‘possession/ evil manifestation because of the somewhat supernatural and indestructible force embodied. Another such example is the 80’s manifestation of Jason Voorhees, the relentless slasher from the FRIDAY THE 13th franchise.
Other examples definitely include the depiction by Robert Englund as the vile and evil Freddy Kruger in Wes Craven’s 1984 film A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and Doug Bradley’s dark and sinister cenobite known as “Pinhead” in 1987’s HELLRAISER directed by Clive Barker. Both would arguably fall under the category of examples of manifestations created by evil and its representation in its purist form; existing to serve evil and torture its captives. These two characters come from the same back story of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees as being evil- driven and an obvious embodiment of an evil manifestation. Even in its original text of being taken seriously, all might be used as examples of, ironically enough, finding an audience that not only accepts the wrong doings and the servitude of evil, but have embraced it, thus becoming pop icons in today’s society.
Examples can go on and on; however, the point has been duly made: the history of evil representation in film have been established and existed for decades. It is understood that these films or characters cannot be ignored as well. These films have become mainstays that everyone is familiar with, whether you are the avid horror fan or not. The basis of such films and the characters created within, cannot escape the lore of interacting and interweaving into the fabric of society and pop culture, thus our lives, no matter what your ideals, beliefs or interests are. In point- blank realty, the topics and films have become a part of the American and foreign institutional walk of life, per say.


POSSESSION AS A FILM TOPIC: FACT VERSUS EMBELISHMENT:
Let me make one thing perfectly clear before we continue: no one film has ever stayed true to complete factual- based storytelling in the history of filmmaking, unless it falls into the format of a documentary. Based on that statement, it can be agreed upon that even the most factually- based film couldn’t be told without some degree of Hollywood embellishment served along for good measure. With that established, the topic of evil manifestation, based on true events, can be further discussed.


Let’s begin with director William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST, for example. The film was based off of the book of the same name by author William Peter Blatty released in 1971. Blatty took inspiration for his best-selling novel when he came across the fact- based story that occurred in Cottage City, Maryland involving a 13 year old boy in 1949.

The true occounts, as it was: “Roland Doe”, the name given to protect his personal identity after said events, had reportedly been toying around with a Oujia board, in hopes to communicate with his recently deceased aunt. The two were very close and Roland’s aunt had been known to use a Oujia board of her own to communicate with spirits as well. In earlier documented events, it would seem as if his family was becoming increasingly aware of strange occurrences around the house. Disturbances such as noises, thumps, sounds of scratches on the walls and under the floor boards were, at first, ignored by the family and considered the probable cause of rodents. Things quickly escalated to more profound occurrences such as the sounds of marching feet and the mother’s reported discovery of walking into her Roland’s room and finding the bed and boy shaking violently. A conclusion came to light that these events were not the repercussions created by attempting to communication with the deceased aunt, but rather the works of another entity with evil intentions. Furniture; such as chandeliers, dressers and tables, began to move by themselves as well as the documented occurrence of ‘Roe’s’ father witnessing his son being violently ejected from a chair and hurled several feet away from where he had been sitting.
Additionally, changes in Roland’s behavior was becoming more increasingly disturbing as night fell. Marks, scratches and bruises would mysteriously appear on his body without any indication of either self- inflicted or inflicted injuries by another person.
Fr. Walter Halloran
After a couple of failed attempts to rid the evil entity embodying Roland, a cousin finally stepped up and contacted one of his professors from the St. Louis University, Raymond Bishop, who then spoke with an associate at the College Church, William Bowdern, for assistance. Both men were priests who traveled to Roland’s home only to personally witness flying objects, the shaking bed and Roland speaking in deep and raspy voices. After reporting his findings and submitting a request, Bowdern was given permission by an archbishop to perform an exorcism. Before the procedure could begin, two more priests were also called to assist, Walter Halloran and a Jesuit priest by the name of William Van Roo. Halloran mentioned that Roland displayed words, like “evil”, inscribed onto his body along with various other markings.
After an unknown period of time spent performing the exorcism, the priests felt that they had succeeded in ridding the evil that had possessed Roland. Because his true name and identity are considered unknown, the boy, only known by his alias, has been led to believe to be living a normal life to this day. He has never come out and spoken about any of his torments in public.
Actress Linda Blair: THE EXORCIST
Reviewing the synopsis of Roland Doe’s plight, one can see the similarities and differences between the true story and the one developed for the novel and the film. One extreme change befell that the sex of the possessed was changed from Roland being male to female actress Linda Blair’s portrayal of Regan MacNeil for the film version. Locations and time frames were also changed from late 1940’s-early 50’s Maryland and St. Louis to the film’s events occurring in 1973 Georgetown, Washington. Other details included name changes and more specifically, the details that led to and the actual performance of the exorcism itself. All in all, however, Blatty’s novel served as the basis for a very realistically- paced build up from Regan’s innocent introduction to the transition and evil manifestation her character presented within the film’s development to conclusion. The film succeeded in drawing its audience into a world of unexpected probabilities and developing a feeling of helplessness when over-powered by evil.
A more accurate telling is perhaps the novel- to- film adaptation of 1979’s THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. The story focused on the 28 days in December of 1975 that the Lutz’ lived in the foreboding home located in Long Island, New York. Previous events reported that the house had been “possessed” or inhabited by evil spirits, accounting for the incidents that occurred with previous homeowners, the De Feo’s. The now famous home served as the location of the 1974 murders committed by oldest son, Ronald De Feo, who used a rifle to murder his parents, two younger brothers and sister before the events that haunted the Lutz’.
As did THE EXORCIST before it, Hollywood took some liberties with what had been documented in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR novel written by Jay Anson, based on the stories told by George and Kathy Lutz. Published in September of 1977, the novel accounted the alleged events that occurred from the Lutz’ point of view, after the ill- fated move into the home. Due to the well- known status and popularity of both the novel and the 1979 film, my compared fact- based- versus- film embellishments will be kept brief. By my opinion, more reality- based background of the true incidents from THE EXORCIST needed more coverage.
Mug-shot of Ronald De Feo
Facts mentioned: Ronald De Feo did murder his family on November 13, 1974, claiming voices from within the house told him to commit the crimes. Almost a year later on December 18, 1975, newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz arrived with Kathy’s three children from a previous marriage, two boys and a girl, to live at the same home the De Feo murders occurred in, without their awareness. Incidents reported by the Lutz’ while inhabiting the house included unexplained cold spots from within the home, disconnected sounds including those of feet marching, an incident of a priest in the process of blessing the house was interrupted by a deep voice told him to “get out” and Missy Lutz, youngest of the three children speeking to an imaginary pig- like friend named “Jodie” which was believed to be an evil entity that had materialized itself in Missy’s presence several times.

George & Kathy Lutz
When reviewing the Amityville events portrayed in comparisons to the book and film, it would seem as if the true story and events that occurred to both the DeFeo and Lutz’ families, respectfully, are a little more widely known than the actual incidents that THE EXORCIST was based on.
An important tie- in and a great way to introduce the next chapter of the topic in hand is the connection of the aftermath of the Amityville incident and the paranormal investigating couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren.
February 1976. Nearly two months after the Lutz’ evacuated their home, leaving all their personal belongings behind from the hasty departure caused by the paranormal activities experienced from their ill- fated 28 day stay at the Amityville home, the Warrens were invited to join a small team of reporters and investigators… the Lutz’ were also invited and refused to re-enter the house.
Ed & Lorraine Warren
Ed Warren was a religious demonologist and Lorraine Warren, a trance medium. From the moment the Warrens walked into the abandoned Amityville house, it was understood that there was a presence that made both investigators very uncomfortable, reportedly feeling that something had attached itself and followed them home. Ed experienced more physical contact including feeling a powerful, inhumane presence. Lorraine, on the other hand, couldn’t shake images of the slain DeFeo family. Edward Warren passed away on August 23, 2006… Lorraine will be 90 years old on January 31, 2017 and has retired from the physical paranormal investigation business and now focuses her attentions as an occasional public speaker and making limited public appearances. On numerous interviews, Lorraine has stated that she would never return to the Amityville house ever again.
Thanks to numerous cable networks, the early 2000's rolled- out more public awareness of the world of ghost hauntings and paranormal investigating, bringing the Warren cases to light and expressing a huge interest to those followers. Hollywood still continues keeping up with the latest of trends, having made several films based on paranormal, ghost hauntings and evil manifestation- themed stories right into the new century. One true investigation that became an interesting story to make its way onto the big screen was titled as “The Perron Case,” also known as director James Wan’s 2013 film, THE CONJURING.
THE CONJURING: THE TRUE STORY OF THE PERRON FAMILY:
Roger and Carolyn Perron purchased a farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island in the winter of 1970. The Perrons’ felt the 200 acre land was the perfect location to raise their five daughters: Andrea, April, Christine, Cynthia and Nancy. They lived in that farmhouse for approximately ten years before moving out in June of 1980.
The Arnold Estate
The Arnold Estate, as it was known, had eight generations live and die on the estate’s property including the death of Mrs. John Arnold. At the age of 93, Mrs. Arnold had decided to hang herself from the rafters of the barn. More stories of suicides, caused by hangings or poisoning, also surfaced during research conducted of the property and its previous owners. The Perron family almost instantaneously became aware that there were additional ‘occupants’ from within the estate. It would seem as if actual sightings and spiritual interactions almost became commonplace with the Perrons. It was reported that some were considered friendly spirits; almost interacting with the family and becoming a part of their every day life, however, not all the spirits were nice.
Darker spirits on the estate caused number of unexplained physical disturbances including yanking the children’s’ legs and hair. Loud banging on the front door would occur as well other doors slamming on their own. One particular disembodied spirit would keep the family awake by continually crying out throughout the night, “Mama! Maaama!” 
Bathsheba Sherman
Despite the interactions experienced by the Perron family, there was one particular spirit, so evil, that no one will disclose what it did to them to this day. The spirit is believed to be that of Bathsheba Sherman, a woman who lived on the property in the early 19th century. Rumors from within town began to spread that Bathsheba might had been a practicing witch, experimenting with dark forces…there was never any hard evidence to confirm those allegations, however.
According to reports, it was after about four years of experiencing paranormal activities in the farm house, that the Perrons were urged to contact Ed and Lorraine Warren to intervene with an investigation. Instead of clearing the house, it seemed as if the Warrens might have actually made matters worse, only provoking to make things even more unbearable for the Perron family. One such incident that occurred was a séance conducted to try to ward off the evil entities. While this occurred, Carolyn was believed to had been temporarily possessed, beginning to speak in another language and using a voice never heard before. The forces of evil were far too strong that the Warrens left the Perrons, stating that this was the most significant and worst they had ever encountered.  in their 50 years of paranormal investigating.
Due to financial restraints and not having the opportunity to sell the farm house and move elsewhere, the Perron family endured an additional six years before finally moving out. It is said that other families that have moved into the old Arnold Estate have also experienced unusual activities and ghostly hauntings as well.
(l) Lorraine Warren & (r) Director James Wan
THE CONJURING was made into a major motion picture and released on July 19, 2013 with a budget of an estimated $20 million dollars. The film was very well received and went on to gross an approximate $138 million during its theatrical run. Due to the overwhelming success of the film and the interest in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s paranormal investigations, it wouldn't be long before the creative team would come together to illustrate another chapter in the true stories of the investigative couple.


THE CONJURING 2: THE TRUE STORY OF THE ENFIELD POLTERGEIST:


(l) Janet, Billy (c) Peggy, Johnny (r) Margaret
Ed and Lorraine Warren have been paranormal investigators throughout their lives together and had experienced every kind of supernatural occurrence imaginable. Many investigations also means that there were many stories to be told with an audience eagerly awaiting for the next story to unfold. The couple would find their next investigation, now taking them to England to what would be known as The Enfield Haunting or The Enfield Poltergeist.
The date is exact, beginning on the evening of August 30, 1977 in the small town of Enfield, a borough located in Northern London. The Hodgson family consisted of Peggy, a single mother caring for her four children; Margaret 12, Janet 11, Johnny 10 and Billy 7, separated from their father. Trying to keep the children disciplined, Peggy always made sure that everyone was in bed within a particular hour when she heard Janet complaining from their room upstairs that her and her brothers’ beds were shaking. Just as Peggy was yelling instructions to Janet to settle in, she heard a crash come from one of the bedrooms. Finally entering Janet’s bedroom, Peggy witnessed the chest of drawers move by themselves. She tried pushing them back but they were moving towards the direction of the door, overpowering her.

Vic Nottingham
After appealing with one of her neighbors, Vic Nottingham went to the house to investigate the activities for himself. He was reported to have heard knocking noises coming from the walls, on the ceiling and in the bedroom. Since the Nottinghams could do nothing, Peggy’s next step was to call the police for assistance. Officer Carolyn Heeps arrived to the scene and witnessed a chair move across the floor on its own. This account occurred in plain view in front of the Hodgson family. The officer inspected the chair for wires but couldn’t find a logical explanation for what had been witnessed by all.
Unclear of exact details, the Warrens were amongst many investigators who did in fact visit the Hodgson’s North London home in the summer of 1978. The events or involvements are sketchy, as many stories seem to have conflicts with how much the Warrens had to do with the clearing of the home in the end. Other investigators claim the Warrens were only at Enfield for one day before leaving back to the States.
Most of the accounts documented came from recording sessions conducted with Janet in the room. The audio tapes recorded Janet speaking in a deep, almost trance- like state. The raspy voice was believed to have been that of Bill Wilkins, a man who actually died in the living room of the house some years back. It was confirmed that Wilkins died in an armchair in the living room after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
After interviews had been conducted, it was concluded that the paranormal events began shortly after Janet and her sister Margaret played with a Ouija board.

THE CONJURING 2: THE FILM

When the original THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSCRE was released in 1972, it touted the inscription "based on a true story" that had filmgoers believing that the film documented events that occurred somewhere in the state of Texas, re-enacted by actors! As time passed, director Tobe Hooper admitted that the film was loosely based on the actual cases of Ed Gein, a notorious murderer and grave robber from the 1950's who would later be the inspiration to the creation of the Norman Bates character for PSYCHO. Gein lived in Wisconsin and no where near Texas. The example hopefully clarifies certain liberties that can be taken by Hollywood to help create a certain illusion.. in this case, the "based on a true story" being actual documented accounts of events that occurred and those involved.
(l) Patrick Wilson (r) Vera Farmiga as the Warrens
Having explored the example and reviewing the true incidents that occurred in Enfield, we can definitely understand the 'loosely' based theory that makes- up THE CONJURING 2. The story's premise and certain events are true, however, the film carries the inscription "the next true story from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren." Having done the research, it is understood that the reality of the Warrens' involvement with the Hodgson family may had only had been for the reported one day and not the extensive timeline presented in the film. This proves the theory that the inscription could carry some truth and gives Hollywood the advantage to embellish the storyline to excite the audience for another great adventure.

THE CONJURING 2 opened in theaters on July 10, 2016 with an estimated budget of $40 million dollars. It would gross an estimated $315 million worldwide. 
 FINAL THOUGHTS:
ANNABELLE: (l) movie & (r) real versions
There are stories to be told. Whether it is fashioned into a novel or a film, the fact is that the telling of a true story may not always be the truth. It may be considered human nature to embellish the truth to make it more exciting. Touching on the topics discussed, involving the paranormal, demonic possession and that of evil unknown, only makes the skeptic raise a doubting eyebrow even more when it is learned that the stories are blurred from reality. So, to some extent, do these phenomenons truly exist? The topics are debatable… but stories are out there nonetheless. Maybe it’s the human psyche that wants to believe in strange occurrences or disembodied hauntings and activities. Maybe we need to believe in spirits to help validate our own human existence. Maybe it is a realm that is frantically trying to communicate with the living… spirits that are desperately trying to make a connection to the living world they once coexisted in.

The individual perception will believe its own truth… you either believe or you do not. You can be skeptical, maybe requiring an act of proof. One thing that cannot be denied, however, is the fact that there are unexplained situations that happen every day. A silhouette caught from the corner of one’s eye, a sudden shiver of coldness in the room, a feeling of not being alone when the room is deathly quiet. Moments like these are sudden and quick… sometimes passed- off as a figment of the imagination. Keep a weathered eye open and a camera ready… because you never know if the sense of fiction maybe a sudden reality!

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Friday, November 27, 2015

HEAVEN'S GATE: 35 OBSESSIVE YEARS LATER

 
November 19th, 1980. Anticipation mounted for what would be the latest film from director Michael Cimino, who had only two years prior released the highly successful and Academy Award- winning THE DEER HUNTER. Funded and released through the already- then financially- crippled United Artists, the studio took a risky gamble and ponied- up an unheard $44 million dollars… far more than any major company would pay for a feature film’s production during that time. The stakes were high but UA believed in Cimino and his vision… surely it would be a great pay off, wouldn’t it? Within a matter of days from its release, UA pulled the film embarrassingly quickly from poor reviews and even poorer box office receipts. The failure of the film would go on to become a Hollywood urban legend of overly- negative proportions including the film becoming solely responsible for the destruction and bankruptcy of United Artists and the black- balling of Cimino as a director in Hollywood.

The legend of the harrowing experiences is never spoken of out loud… as though it might conjure some kind of hex or curse amongst Hollywood productions. It is the film that was never to have been mentioned again… but what did exactly happen? Over the years since, rumors had boiled- over to becoming accepting truths but actuality differs greatly from fabrication! What is fact and what is fiction? What went on behind- the- scenes? With a crucifix in one hand and a Criterion blu- ray copy in the other, I explore the myth and reality of the good, the bad and the ugly of Michael Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE on the verge of celebrating its 35 anniversary this year.
1978- 1979
Universal Studios surprised audiences and critics alike with a powerhouse film starring A-list actors Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep and Christopher Walken in a Vietnam- laced drama saga entitled THE DEER HUNTER. The film drew immense critical praise which bridged- over to gaining an impressive nine Academy Award nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken), Best Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Actor (Robert DeNiro),  Best Director (Michael Cimino) and Best Picture.

On Academy Awards’ night of April 1979, THE DEER HUNTER went on to win five Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture! Cimino became an over- night sensation with every studio clamoring to make his next feature film with him. Channeling the new star power bestowed upon, Cimino resurrected a script he had worked on back in his struggling days in 1971 entitled “The Johnson County War” and convinced United Artists to fund and release his latest venture. Needing a hit film fast, UA all too eagerly said yes, a re-write and a title change later and the project became HEAVEN’S GATE.
ORGINS
Invaders in custody from Johnson County, spring 1892
HEAVEN’S GATE is loosely based on the horrifically true incidents that occurred in Wyoming 1892 that became known as the Johnson County War.  The events circled around a band of privately hired gunmen who were brought in by a group of powerful cattlemen to ‘eradicate’ a number of poor immigrants who had worked for these businessmen.  The implicated “range pirates” were accused of stealing cattle to feed themselves and their families. The massacre would become a notorious piece of American history.
(l)Bridges,(r)Eastwood: THUNDERBOLT & LIGHTFOOT
Cimino became interested in the project when his focuses were that of a struggling screenwriter in the early 1970s’. He worked on and submitted a finalized script to studios, causing little if no interest due to the lack of A- list actors passing on the project and the script would eventually find itself shelved.

Having two directorial hits back- to- back with THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges in 1974 and 1979’s THE DEER HUNTER, Hollywood was ready to pay closer attention to Cimino.
(l)Griffin,(cnt)Pickford),(sit)Chaplin &(r)Fairbanks
From the beginning, United Artists was a unique film studio originally formed by a number of Hollywood’s classic performers including D.W. Griffin, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks for the purpose of allowing its filmmakers complete artistic freedom. UA would become the ideal studio to which Cimino could create the bleak Western drama backdrop he envisioned.

PRODUCTION AND THE OBSESSIVE VISION
United Artists agreed to offer a generous 11.6 million dollar budget with written expectations for a projected release date before Christmas of 1979 to meet eligibility for Academy Award consideration.   
Director Michael Cimino
In the midst of exchanging hands and contract finalizations, Cimino managed to create a complex list of agreements that would free him of potential problems. In the final documentations, the director stated that he would make every effort imaginable to complete production for the projected winter release, in exchange, UA would pay for any overages incurred to bring the production in on time and those costs would not be regarded as going over budget. Furthermore, Cimino would not be held responsible if the film didn’t meet the hopeful release date. In addition, the director required full artistic and financial control of the project. Before anyone knew what exactly transpired, the contracts were signed and the film was green- lit for a go.
The infamous skating sequence
As pre- production slowly got on its way, stories were coming into fruition regarding the perfectionistic eye of Cimino’s, which included a number of unusual practices and requests. Before a single frame of HEAVEN’S GATE was shot, the entire cast had to undergo a number of rather extensive training courses to keep the characters as authentic to the period. Some of these, as Jeff Bridges jokingly referred to as “Camp Cimino”, included horseback riding, the use of firearms and the practice of Yugoslavian accent coaching. One particular sequence required a number of cast members, including Kris Kristofferson, Jeff Bridges, Brad Douriff and Isabelle Huppert to dance on skates. It was estimated that most of the actors needed up to six weeks to perfect the abilities for the scene.
(l) Cimino and (r) Kristofferson on set
Full production began on April 1979. Cimino’s directorial approach and obsessive vision would quickly become all too familiar around the set for both cast and crew. One such behavioral result from the director would be his requisition for a minimum of 32 takes of certain shots. His eye for detail had all the actors deliver their lines in different emotional plights to best capture the acceptable scene. Some actors recognized the minimal take request placed by the director, which once led to a whopping 57 takes for one scene. One entire day was spent shooting just a particular scene with Kris Kristofferson, which involved him cracking a whip in a hotel room while intoxicated… it reportedly required over 50 takes alone.

The frightening reports coming back to United Artists were not good- in its first week of shooting; only one and a half minutes of film had been inventoried… the cost was an estimated $900,000. The film was not only racking up spending dollars, but had already begun to fall behind schedule- within its first six days of filming, the production was already five days behind its targeted date.
One of many 'extra'- heavy scenes
Stories would continue to come forth about the perfectionist attention placed upon during production. Cimino would spend many hours planning and creating every single shot. He went as far as to personally hand- select extras to fill the background of certain sequences. These choices were based off of looks, costuming, size, weight or other distinctive traits he felt suited the scene.  Even more time was spent than the average within the production- due to its scale. Cimino would spend hours selecting up to 50 extras for one scene alone. He was the painter and the extras were his paints to place on his cinematic canvas.
A crew member on the film recalled beginning work at 4 in the morning with a dawn shot. Filming would abruptly cease when clouds rolled into a scene and caused overcast while blocking out the sun. Cimino would halt shooting until the clouds would roll out of the scene. Hours would go by and the entire production was in a freeze… because of the clouds. The standard time for lunch would come and go as well. Cimino was allegedly quoted as replying, “Lunch? This is bigger than lunch” when a crew member finally asked when they could have their meal break.

July 1979. HEAVEN’S GATE had now gone over 200 percent from its estimated budget and the bosses at United Artists were losing their patience. Knowing what kind of repercussions the production would face if the studio fired Cimino, another option was clear in order to deliver a message- UA decided to fire producer Joann Corelli instead. The studio placed itself in the field of producer to regain a sense of control. The word went out to Cimino: stick to the budget and schedule for the remainder of the production or lose the right to final cut.
Journalist Les Gapay
Bad publicity during production is no stranger to Hollywood films and can, by its own reputation and fault, be the cause for a film to fail before it even opens in theaters. Anything ranging from an actor’s tantrum rant to a difficult director to production woes can be the downfall and become the right kind of feeding ground for the press. As one can only guess, Cimino demanded a closed set- meaning that the press was definitely shunned from a welcome or coverage to his very private production. That, however, didn’t stop a freelance journalist named Les Gapay from getting on the set as an extra in the film for two months. Gapay experienced the disaster and turmoil occurring on a daily basis from within. One reported story focused on the chaotic shooting of the final battle scene, where he mentioned that extras had been subjected to perform actions only professional stuntmen should do with an accounted 16 injuries that resulted from the aftermath.
Article that appeared in the L.A. Times
Gapsay wrote: “because of the mad rush, there are several injuries as the scene filmed over and over for several days. Some of the immigrants, mostly extras, are brushed by horses and knocked into the mud. One minor actor has both feet stepped on by horses. Several persons tumble out of lurching wagons.”

This was one of many stories Gapay wrote and sold to publications. HEAVEN’S GATE production suffered dearly from the leaked stories that soon, thereafter, became news. If rumors hadn’t been bad enough, actual published news reports would definitely do substantial damage. Before production was completed, the film would have to fight for its reputation and defeat pre- judged opinions.
The injury- induced battle finale 
The production continued to be plagued by the difficulties overseen by Cimino. The finale’s battle sequence, mentioned by Gapsay, was one of the largest set pieces that required dozens of horses, specially made wooden wagons, extras and explosions. A field chosen by Cimino was located nearly three hours from his base production camp. Cast and crew would load- up into vans at 3:30 in the morning, some actors even still clutching pillows to try to catch some more sleep. Once arriving to the set, the director would demand long hours of planning and filming of sequences while surrounded by dust, horses and gunfire.

United Artists’ execs David Field and Steven Bach took it upon themselves to visit the production- they arrived to the climactic battle sequence. Red flags went off once again… not only was it costing a fortune to rent the field from a local tribe of Native Americans, but it was also costing a fortune to irrigate.
The Cimino- created green grass battlefield
Cimino visualized his battlefield covered in lush, green grass. The land had to be cleared for rocks and an irrigation system was installed to grow the needed landscape… costing the production more money.

Bach was quoted as saying, “He’s talking about hundreds of people and horses and wagons and explosives. Who the hell is going to see grass?”
Cimino continually defended his choice by saying it was “part of the poetry of America.” In defense of Cimino’s postponement of lunches, for example, assistant editor Penelope Shaw summed up his creative eye by saying, “He thinks, there’s this beautiful cloud. That’ll be there for an eternity if I get it on film. Nobody will care about lunch 20 years from now, but they’ll be able to see that visual I created forever.”
1980: POST- PRODUCTION BEGINS:
(l) Director of Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond
Now a year behind its original schedule, cameras finally stopped rolling on production in 1980 as principal photography came to a close. Filming was supposed to have been over by June 1979 with a final cut submitted by September that year. Not only had Cimino gone greatly over budget and production time, but now his need for perfection would carry over to the editing room as he had to go through an unbelievable 1.3 million feet of film.
(l) Christopher Walken, (r) Cimino
The problem was now in hand- Cimino and his editing team would now have to review a staggering 220 hours of film in order to piece an appropriate cut to present United Artists with. As stated in his contract, Cimino had to present a cut of no more than three hours in length, preferably shorter.
A visually tired Cimino was quoted as saying, “it’s a little long” when he finally brought a work print to UA’s executives clocking in at an unbelievable five hours and 25 minutes! He then said,” I can lose maybe 15 minutes…”

Having viewed the incredibly lengthy cut, United Artists wanted to remain very clear about two things: one, they wanted a version short enough to be commercially visible, and two, they wanted the film ready for a Christmas 1980 release.
Editing of HEAVEN'S GATE
Cimino was equally eager about delivering the final cut he envisioned, so he would spend 18 hours days held up in the editing room. He went to great measures to ensure that his precious film would not fall into the premature viewing of the executives.
Assistant editor Penelope Shaw recalled that Cimino had bars put on the cutting room windows and had the locks changed so that no one could come in. One report even mentioned that Cimino had hired an armed guard to block the entrance.

By the fall of 1980, a cut of HEAVEN’S GATE emerged now clocking in at three hours 39 minutes in length. Although it was slimmer than its five hour predecessor, it still wasn’t the cut UA had anticipated. An executive decision was made… no more time could be spent with toying in the editing room and so UA went with the lengthier version they hadn’t anticipated. Time couldn’t afford not making its Christmas deadline to hopefully make Oscar consideration.

THE AFTERMATH OF THE RELEASE:
HEAVEN’S GATE was finally released on November 19, 1980 only to face the rather icy critics and their reviews.

N.Y. Times critic Vincent Canby
New York Times critic Vincent Canby’s review fatally wrote the phrase “unqualified disaster” which soon became the coined term used by other critics and television anchors in their summed up analysis of the film.
Canby’s review went on to further state that HEAVEN’S GATE “fails so completely that you might suspect that Mr. Cimino sold his soul to obtain the success of THE DEER HUNTER and the Devil has just come around to collect.”

As quickly as Michael Cimino became the overnight success story, so too quickly did his success became stripped away from him. His perfectionism was regarded as arrogance by reviewers. The allowance of artistic freedom also angered fellow filmmakers.
United Artists was faced with one last option: HEAVEN’S GATE was pulled from theaters after only one week from its release date and cancelled its wider release. 

As a final attempt to grasp some sort of recovery, Cimino openly wrote a letter that was published in trade papers promising a re- edit of the film with a new release of a tighter form. The newly- edited two hours and 29 minute cut was released in April 1981 with no change in audience interest.
Shortly thereafter, United Artists saw its investment corporation Transamerica sell UA to MGM with the results left echoing in the hallways as the singular example of poor management in Hollywood. No studio in its right mind would think about collaborating any future projects with Cimino.

It would take five years before Cimino would make his directorial comeback with 1985’s YEAR OF THE DRAGON with Mickey Rourke.

Cimino would now dive into the underground world of the Chinese mafia in New York Chinatown.

Mickey Rourke plays the decorated officer, Stanley White, who has been assigned to bring order to the Chinese community while keeping a watchful eye on Joey Tai (John Lone) who recently became the Chinese mafia leader of New York.

The film opened to mixed reviews and only grossed about $18.7 million from a budgeted $25 million. YEAR OF THE DRAGON was considered a box office failure.

(l) the restored version for Blu-ray (r) the sepia-tinted DVD release
Fast- forward to present date and HEAVEN’S GATE would, in time, finally find an appreciative audience. The film would even get a coveted restoration make- over by the Criterion Corporation, a video distribution company that specializes in “important classics and contemporary films.” The newly restored edition featured Cimino’s original 217 minute cut of the film using the original 35mm YCM color separation masters and scanning each separate element with a 2K resolution, digitally recombining them to reproduce the color of the original negative. The Criterion edition was released to the public in November 2012 in both DVD and blu-ray editions.
(l) Cimino 1980- (r) Cimino 2014
Director Michael Cimino, being the obsessive perfectionist he is, personally supervised the transfer. As a filmmaker obsessed with the personal project of his film, had now come full circle within 32 years to finally see his vision offered in a pristine and visually breath-taking edition he personally held himself solely responsible for and could be extremely proud of.
FINAL THOUGHTS
At- a- glance, it is abundantly obvious to now take the time to appreciate the broad spectrum of production time and funds spent on HEAVEN’S GATE. Every shot is gorgeous and well- executed. Every landscape painted perfectly and every scene teeming with beauty and detail. The film itself is not flawless by any means, but as someone who appreciates the art stemming from the visual artist, one can forgive the weaker moments for the overall splendor of the presentation.
Imagine what film makers could do with an unlimited resource of financial availabilities. What would most films look like if the creative team had the time they felt was necessary to truly create a masterpiece? What if budgets were not a consistent worry, but rather a generous financial gift to the director to fund the dream project in the imaginary’s eye?

Film making, for better or for worse, is a business; an industry that relies on putting out a product and expecting the invested product to create money on its returns. A shiny object that can be dangled, though briefly, in front of the audience to overt the attention span and shell- out the money to make it successful.
For everything that allegedly occurred on the set, the point is clear. No one can see through the eyes of the beholder, in this case the director. Cimino envisioned the great American movie… but couldn’t the same be said of other films that were also infamous for wild spending on production costs and extended film scheduling? Films like Elizabeth Taylor’s CLEOPATRA, director Francis Ford Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW, Martin Scorsese’s NEW YORK, NEW YORK or even Steven Spielberg’s 1941 are guilty of putting the visual before the studio as well. HEAVEN’S GATE may have marked the end of an era of producer- driven films.

It makes no excuse for the over- blotted budgets containing fabricated, computer- generated backdrops and characters we have been seeing in access since the new century kicked- in. Humanistic stories are a thing of the past or considered the needed material for independent films these days. The human spirit doesn’t even take a backseat anymore, as much as it now rides in the trunk of the compact, storytelling vehicle. 
Film is long- lasting and marks eras, trends and lifestyles of the timeline it captures. HEAVEN’S GATE, for better or worse, lives on and has risen from the ashes of its failed original release. Enjoy cinema for it is and support films… and watch movies. There is a difference!

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