Michael Cimino has passed away at the age of 77. He remains one of the most controversial and divisive directors to come out of the New Hollywood boom of the ’70s. He is considered to be the director to bring down the system which allowed Auteur led films to be made in the ’70s until the early ’80s. The film considered to be responsible for that is Heaven’s Gate which is an epic 3 hour + western which the response from critics remains pretty much in two wildly different camps an undeniable masterpiece or one of the worst films ever made. I’m firmly in the masterpiece camp. The film went wildly over budget and bankrupted the studio United Artists; even though in reality it was written off in the week of release.
Cimino won the best director oscar for The Deer Hunter it also received best picture. Partly the reason Heaven’s Gate received such an icy response was critics at the time believed they overpraised The Deer Hunter and wanted to give him his comeuppance. The Deer Hunter remains one of the better films to receive top honours at the Academy Awards.
Before he was considered an overnight sensation with The Deer Hunter he made his directorial debut with the fun buddy crime film Thunderbolt & Lightfoot. He also co-wrote scripts for Silent Running and Magnum Force before his directorial debut. After the “failure” of Heaven’s Gate he struggled to make films only making 4 more features till his death Year of the Dragon, The Sicilian, Desperate Hours and Sunchaser.
Cimino become interesting erratic over the years probably down to drug use and had some of the worst plastic surgery since Michael Jackson. He even was rumoured to be having a sex change at one point but that seems to have been false. Cimino rarely ever appeared publicly or give interviews. He did however make some rare public appearances for the re-release/recut of Heaven’s Gate in 2014/15. Cimino also has more unrealized projects than most directors including an adaptation of Crime & Punishment. However Heaven’s Gate remains one of the most stunning films I’ve ever seen and has seemingly been receiving it’s long overdue acclaim in recent years.
Cinema has lost one of the most single-minded talents to come out of the heyday of American filmmaking in ’70s. To celebrate his life’s work re-watch or watch for the first time Heaven’s Gate or The Deer Hunter.
Here is the excellent documentary on the making of Heaven’s Gate