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.
|Invaders in custody from Johnson County, spring 1892|
|(l)Bridges,(r)Eastwood: THUNDERBOLT & LIGHTFOOT|
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.
|Director Michael Cimino|
|The infamous skating sequence|
|(l) Cimino and (r) Kristofferson on set|
|One of many 'extra'- heavy scenes|
|Journalist Les Gapay|
|Article that appeared in the L.A. Times|
|The injury- induced battle finale|
|The Cimino- created green grass battlefield|
|(l) Director of Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond|
|(l) Christopher Walken, (r) Cimino|
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…”
|Editing of HEAVEN'S GATE|
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.
|N.Y. Times critic Vincent Canby|
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|
|(l) Cimino 1980- (r) Cimino 2014|