Yesterday Michael Cimino passed away, and my heart is heavy for many reasons. When the American New Wave screeched to a halt in 1980, Cimino was the one who single-handedly took the blame: for the collapse of United Artists and for an enchanted decade in the history of filmmaking coming to an end.
Despite the fact, that many factors played into this happening, it was Cimino and HEAVEN’S GATE that were reviled, and the film was brutalized beyond words. The truth is, of course, that many other directors and producers played a part in what happened – and Cimino was by no means the only one who was guilty of extremely self-indulgent filmmaking at that point.
Be all that as it may, HEAVEN’S GATE remains an absolute masterpiece and it has never been celebrated sufficiently in my opinion. Cimino’s primary “sin” was trying to create a work of ART in an industry that had already started shifting to the ludicrously commercial tunnel vision that we are stuck with still.
It breaks my heart that no one ever truly stood up for this man – that no one ever came wholeheartedly to his defence – with the possible exception of Mickey Rourke whom no one took seriously. The majority just stood back – protecting their own hide when the New Hollywood imploded – and let Cimino be crucified in public.
The painful truth is that so did I. I know, I was just a young girl when it happened, but 36 years have passed, and it seems to me that apart from defending him in my teaching, I could have expressed to the world the horrific injustice I believe was done to this man. I can only deeply regret that I didn’t, and do my best to make up for it now. I take comfort in the fact that when a few weeks ago I presented my 2016 Top 10 lists of the greatest films ever made, I did include HEAVEN’S GATE. That has to count for something. Doesn’t it?
Kris Kristofferson plays a huge part in why HEAVEN’S GATE is such a magnum opus, so in conclusion I will quote from his homage to Peckinpah which expresses so clearly what I’m trying to say:
There’s no harder words to say over a friend
than ‘they done you so righteously wrong;
they stopped you from singing your song.’
Rest in peace, Michael Cimino.