216 min ! 116 would have been plenty.
Would love to see this in a theater, on the big screen; even today’s big screen tvs cannot not possibly capture the energy and vitality of some the scenes. Cannot believe that I have neglected watching this film for so many years. The bad press, including well substantiated claims that animals were abused and killed during production had been a turn off. 38 years after its initial release, the film remains relevant, and contemporary in its look and feel.
It is well acted, the cinematography is magnificent, and the musical is score is startling in its originality and evocative quality.The movie is not without its flaws, but those are minor in comparison to its soaring achievements. Its greatest flaw is perhaps its demand on the viewers’ suspension of disbelief with regard to certain scenes and events; however, today’s audiences seem to be more practiced in such suspension, and more likely to forgive such excesses. Sophisticated viewers are also more patient with a pacing that does not pander to the belief that action and plot movement are paramount. The film allows the audience the luxury of reflection and immersion in scenes that seem to play out as they might in real time.
The controversy that has dogged this film has perhaps as much to do with America’s doubts about itself as with the film’s particular production issues of animal cruelty, nudity, directorial methods and financial excesses. There is fitting irony in the fact that a film that thematically criticizes the devaluation of human life by moneyed interests has itself been denigrated and butchered (key scenes were edited out of the first released version) by the moneyed interests of the film industry and those who serve it.
Technically, Heaven’s Gate continues to stand up, even though many of today’s film making tools were not in existence at the time of its production. In fact, many of the production problems, including animal cruelty and what some saw as excessive use of props and extras, simply would not necessarily have been an issue with today’s film production methods.
If there is any question about the film as a technical triumph, there can be no doubt about its poignant relevance in light of the political situation in America today. While it is a western with pastoral elements, and a celebration of American vitality and optimism, it is also a stark and violent critique of the American Dream, much in the spirit of The Great Gatsby, and of attitudes that perpetuate systemic intolerance to migrants, and violence to life, liberty and human potential.
Billy, played by John Hurt, deserves special mention here, as an entitled American (seemingly of British immigrant stock) and Harvard graduate who, though somewhat liberal, socially conscious and respectful of the law, SPOILER ALERT…seems to live out his life in a drunken fog, reduced from his glorious valedictorian days at Harvard, to a kind of heckling spectator to the horrifying events around him -- clown-like and inconsequential. His failure to act, to actively counter the immorality of his American compatriots, reflects the failure of so many of his privileged class and is especially relevant today.
Finally, I recommend the special features which include comments from the major players years after their involvement with the film.
This film is a true epic. The characters are compelling, but not overblown. Bringing out the dusty and desperate existence, Cimino's direction etches the people in this story as they are, with very little Hollywood gloss. Christopher Walken's entrance, for example, is presented very matter-of-factly, and the viewer can quickly understand what the fight is about. Sam Waterston, as the genuine antagonist, further offers a simplicity of pure greed and soullessness, rather than the more traditional mustache-twirling treachery. Yes, the battle scenes are brutal and long, but that's how violent confrontations often go. There is no glorification, and in fact Cimino instead accents the sloppy frustration of this kind of encounter. Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography is outstanding, and is the element that adds most substantially to the epic feel. David Mansfield's score could not be more appropriate and stirring, and given the fact that he was all of 22 at the time, and, aside from the barn dance scenes, plays all of the instruments with a breadth of sensitivity and passion, well.... it is surprising that he was not nominated for his great work here. This is another example of a film that was initially slammed, but in fact has weathered the test of time successfully.
Probably one of the most frustrating movie experiences I’ve ever encountered. On the one hand, you have these extraordinary and elaborately staged scenes such as a lavish 1870 Harvard graduation, massive influxes of immigrants to Wyoming, riotous confrontations of the immigrant landowners and the wealthy owners of large ranches, huge social gatherings at a roller skating rink, and finally the colossal Johnson County shootout. Cimino is clearly a brilliant artist who is somehow able to create such unique and visually stunning moments, but it is a brilliance that borders on artistic madness as the scenes become outrageously overdone as well as interminably long and repetitive, leaving the viewer screaming over and over “CUT”!!! In addition, Cimino in this film seems to have lost all sense of narrative, leaving the viewer with simply a collage of bloated visual images while one struggles to make some sense out of what little storyline is offered up. Even the roster of capable actors was not able to rise above such strictures. If I’d not read both the plot summary of the film (which takes great liberty with the historical facts) as well as an outline of the actual events of the Johnson County War of 1892, I would never have known what was going on. The lack of solid narrative is compounded with the fact that, despite being a Criterion Edition, there are no subtitles which created another struggle in attempting to understand a great percentage of the dialogue lost due to a poor soundtrack at many points in the film and numerous scenes containing extensive dialogue by the immigrants in foreign languages.
A monumental film with some badly prolonged parts.
Bad, needless introduction, before jumping ahead 20 years to the real story based on the Johnson County War in Wyoming and its aftermath in which the governor and President Benjamin Harrison were complicit.
Compelling recreation of bleak period conditions. Gripping horse and train scenes. Battle scenes excessive.
Strong, ironic conclusion.
Isabelle Huppert irresistible, as in other films of the time.
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