Heaven’s Gate

Criterion Files

Sometimes the greater cinematic spectacle ends up not being the film itself, but the ability to watch the film crash and burn. And Hollywood history has arguably seen no greater spectacle of failure than Michael Cimino’s epic anti-western, Heaven’s Gate. Credited as the film that destroyed United Artists, the bloated-for-its-time production has come to represent for some the last hurrah for a New Hollywood whose challenging artistic visionaries eventually stumbled over their own escalating egos. But decades after the hype, damage, and demonization of the film faded away, audiences can finally see Heaven’s Gate’s depiction of the Johnson County War for what it really is: a gorgeously realized, largely misunderstood, admittedly far from perfect but heavily underrated film. The Criterion Collection’s addition of Heaven’s Gate is a significant step in complicating the story of the film’s overwhelmingly bad reputation. But unfortunately Criterion’s DVD and Blu-ray packages make for a strange release that doesn’t go far enough in recontextualizing a movie whose tattered history always threatens any potential appreciation of it.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Flashback to the spring of 1998 — yours truly is living in Philadelphia and desperately looking for another city to call my home. I am not ashamed to admit that I plan on basing a significant part of this decision on the quality of programming at movie theaters in each city. Austin is the clear favorite in this category. I fondly remember falling in love with the Alamo Drafthouse during SXSW 1998 (beer! food! movies!), but it is my virginal foray into the Paramount Theatre that remains emblazoned upon my mind. Despite earning a masters degree in cinema studies, I never had access to a repertory cinema before. Sure, I studied the history of cinema but I watched all of the films on television. Now, I am finally experiencing those films in the way that they were intended to be seen! It might be hard to believe, but up until that fateful summer, I had never seen a film released prior to 1975 on the big screen. Flashforward 14 years — I find myself at the Hideout Cafe sitting across the table from the Paramount’s film programmer, Jesse Trussell, on the eve of the official release of the 2012 Summer Classic Film series schedule.  Trussell hands a photocopy of the schedule to me. I scan it quickly. My jaw drops.

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Culture Warrior

As much as I admire the incomparable films made during the era, New Hollywood (the term referring to innovative, risk-taking films made funded by studios from the mid-60s to the mid-70s) is a title that I find a bit problematic. The words “New Hollywood” better characterize the era that came after what the moniker traditionally refers to. Think about it: if “Old” or “Classical” Hollywood refers to the time period that stretches roughly from 1930 to 1960 when the studios as an industry maintained such an organized and regimented domination over and erasure of any other potential conception over what a film playing in any normal movie theater could be, then if we refer to the time period from roughly 1977 to now “New Hollywood,” the term then appropriately signifies a new manifestation of the old: regimentation, predictability, and limitation of expression. Where Old Hollywood studios would produce dozens of films of the same genre, New Hollywood (as I’m appropriating the term) could acutely describe the studios’ comparably stratified output of sequels, remakes, etc. What we traditionally understand to be New Hollywood was not so much its own monolithic era in Hollywood’s legacy, but a brief, strange, and wonderful lapse between two modes of Hollywood filmmaking that have dominated the industry’s history.

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Culture Warrior

You hear the phrase “This movie could never be made today” quite often, and it’s typically a thinly veiled means by which a creative team allows themselves to administer loving pats on their own backs. But in the context of at a 35th anniversary exhibition of the restoration of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver with a justifiably disgruntled Paul Schrader in attendance, such a sentence rings profoundly and depressingly true. Like many of you, I’ve seen Taxi Driver many times before. For many, it’s a formative moment in becoming a cinephile. But I had never until last weekend seen the film outside of a private setting. And in a public screening, on the big screen, I’m happy to say the film still has the potential to shock and profoundly affect viewers so many decades on. For me personally it was the most disturbing of any time I’d ever seen the film, and I was appropriately uncomfortable despite anticipating the film’s every beat. Perhaps it was because I was sharing the film’s stakes with a crowd instead of by myself or with a small group of people, or perhaps the content comes across as so much more subversive when projected onto a giant screen, or perhaps it was because the aura of a room always feels different when the creative talent involved is in attendance. For whatever reason, I found the film to be more upsetting than in any other context of viewing. But one of the most appalling moments of Taxi […]

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Michael Cimino has gone over budget, beyond his schedule, and generally through hell for Heaven’s Gate. Now his cut is 5 and 1/2 hours long. Is artistic freedom really what Hollywood needs?

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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