Heaven's Gate


An epic fail restored to glory

It’s hard to shake off three decades of preconceptions, but Heaven’s Gate might be the ‘worst’ film ever made.

You’ve probably heard its toxic reputation. How Michael Cimino frittered away his post-Deer Hunter goodwill with an extravagant, exorbitant western, virtually bankrupted United Artists and effectively ended the golden age of American auteur cinema.

All pretty much true... but wow!

Restored on Blu-Ray to something like Cimino’s original intentions, it now looks like a magnificent monument to pre-CG filmmaking and the lost art of doing it for real. The results of the wild overspending are jaw-dropping, from ecstatic set-pieces involving waltzing students and roller-skating violinists to the remorseless finale.

The story is equally audacious: a novelistic account of racism and greed in an immigrant community in 1890 Wyoming. Full of texture and ambiguity, it strikes a downbeat note that turned off audiences.

Even the romance is a brittle love triangle between Kris Kristofferson’s sheriff, Isabelle Huppert’s brothel madam and Christopher Walken’s hired gun. Yet given the freedom to map it out, Cimino prefigures Deadwoodin extending the genre’s frontiers.

A misunderstood masterpiece then? It’s not perfect: even at 216 minutes some characters are half-formed.

Yet the complains have to do with commerce than art. While co-star Jeff Bridges and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond fight Cimino’s corner in new interviews, a gossipy Making Of shows UA execs still baffled and bruised by what happened.

Like the sign says outside the skating rink that gives the film its title, it’s “a moral and exhilarating experience”.

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