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 Post subject: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Sun May 09, 2010 3:49 pm 
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Joined: Tue May 30, 2006 9:45 pm
Location: Portland, OR
Michael Cimino (Born 1939)


"In the movie The Sunchaser there is this line from a half-blood gangster : 'Be the beauty in front of me, be the beauty behind me, be her by me, be her above my head, be her under my feet, be her all around me'. This explains my idea of cinema, better than I can explain it myself."

~ Michael Cimino (from interview with Michel Ciment, 2005)


Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) MGM (R1 + R2 UK + R2 France)

The Deer Hunter (1978) Universal (R1) / Optimum (R2 UK + Blu-Ray) / Studio Canal (R2 France + Blu-Ray)

Heaven's Gate (1980) MGM (R1 + R2 UK) / MGM (R2 France) [144 Min Cut]

Year of the Dragon (1985) MGM (R1 + R2 UK + R2 France)

The Sicilian (1987) Lions Gate (R1) [Pan-and-Scan Director's Cut] / Momentum (R2 UK) [Widescreen Director's Cut] [OOP] / Studio Canal (R2 France) [Widescreen Director's Cut]

The Desperate Hours (1990) MGM (R1)

The Sunchaser (1996) Warner (R1) [Pan-and-Scan] / Seven7 (R2 France) [Widescreen]

"No Translation Needed" from Chacun son cinéma (2007) Studio Canal (R2 France)

Additional Screenwriting

Silent Running (Douglas Trumbull, 1972) Universal (R1) / Image (R1) / UCA (R2 UK) / Aventi (R2 France)

Magnum Force (Ted Post, 1973) Warner (R1 + R2 UK + R2 France + Blu-Ray)

The Rose (Mark Rydell, 1979) [Uncredited Early Draft] Fox (R1 + R2 UK + R2 France)

Forum Discussions

Michael Cimino

Web Resources

Film Reference Links and Article - Robin Wood

Books (by Cimino)

Cimino, Michael. Big Jane. Série noire. Paris: Gallimard, 2001.

Cimino, Michael, and Francesca Pollock. Conversations en miroir. Paris: Gallimard, 2003.

Books (about Cimino)

Bach, Steven, The Final Cut: Dream and Disaster in the Making of "Heaven's Gate, ". New York: W. Morrow, 1985, revised edition, 1999.

Bliss, Michael, Martin Scorsese and Michael Cimino. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1985.

Adair, Gilbert, Hollywood's Vietnam. London: Proteus, 1981, revised edition, 1989.

Selected Articles (Books)

Wood, Robin, "From Buddies to Lovers" + "Two Films by Michael Cimino” Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, New York, 1986. [The former discusses the homosexual subtext in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot; The latter is a close reading of both The Deer Hunter and Heaven's Gate.]

Andrews, Nigel, “Michael Cimino,” Talking Films: The Best of the Guardian Film Lectures, Ed. Andrew Britton, Fourth Estate, 1991.

Hickenlooper, George, "Michael Cimino: A Final Word," Reel Conversations, Carol Pub. Group, 1991.

Marchetti, Gina. "Ethnicity, the Cinema and Cultural Studies." Unspeakable Images: Ethnicity and the American Cinema. Ed. Lester D. Friedman. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. [Year of the Dragon is one of the two films under discussion]

Woolland, Brian. "Class Frontiers: The View through Heaven's Gate." The Book of Westerns. Ed. Ian Cameron and Douglas Pye. New York: Continuum, 1995

Marchetti, Gina. "Conclusion: The Postmodern Spectacle of Race and Romance in 'Year of the Dragon.'" Romance and the "Yellow Peril": Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Ben Lawton, "America Through Italian/American Eyes: Dream or Nightmare?," Ed. Anthony Julian Tamburi et al, From the Margins: Writing in Italian Americana, Purdue University, 2001. [Cimino is said Italian/American]

McGee, Patrick, "The Multitude at Heaven's Gate," From Shane to Kill Bill, Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Selected Articles (Online)

”Michael Cimino” ["Stalking the Deer Hunter"] Interview from “Film Directors on Directing, Volume 1989, Part 2”

”Michael Cimino’s Final Cut” - Steve Garbarino (Vanity Fair)

”Last Typhoon: Cimino Is Back” - Nancy Griffin (The New York Observer)

” Paris Heaven's Gate Master class” - 2005 Interview with Michel Ciment (Translated)

Selected Articles (Periodicals)

Carducci, Mark Patrick. "Stalking the Deer Hunter: An Interview with Michael Cimino." Millimeter Mar (1978)

Cimino, Michael. “Ordeal by Fire and Ice.” American Cinematographer Oct (1978)

Fox, Terry Curtis. "Stalking the Deer Hunter." Film Comment Mar (1979)

Pym, John. "A Bullet in the Head: Vietnam Remembered." Sight and Sound 48 Feb/Mar (1979)

Masson, Alain. “Comme un cerf en automne.” Positif 217 Apr (1979) [on The Deer Hunter]

Benayoun, Robert and Michel Ciment and Michael Henry. “Entretien avec Michael Cimino.” Positif 217 Apr (1979)

Pilger, John. “‘The Deer Hunter,’ le mensonge sur le Vietnam.” Jeune cinéma n118 Apr/May (1979)

Auster, Al and Leonard Quart. "Hollywood and Vietnam: Triumph of the Will." Cineaste 9 Fall (1979)

Pease, Nick. "The Deer Hunter and the Demythification of the American Hero." Literature/Film Quarterly 7 Winter (1979)

"Heaven's Gate Issue." American Cinematographer Oct (1980)

Assayas, Olivier. “L'Ayatollah Cimino.” Cahiers du cinéma n319 Jan (1981) [on Heaven’s Gate]

Kroll, Jack. "Heaven Can Wait." Film Comment 17 Jan 1981

Lardeau, Yann. “Le cercle brissé.” Cahiers du cinéma n326 Jul (1981) [on Heaven’s Gate]

Predal, Rene. “La porte du paradis.” Jeune cinéma n136 Jul/Aug (1981)

Ciment, Michel and Michael Henry. “Nouvel entretien avec Michael Cimino.” Positif n246 Sep (1981)

Eyquem, Olivier. “Deconfiture amere.” Positif n246 Sep (1981) [on The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate]

Henry, Michael. “le rêve perveti.” Positif n246 Sep (1981) [on The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate]

Pym, John. "Almost Anarchy: Afterthoughts on Heaven's Gate." Sight and Sound 51 Dec/Jan (1982)

Toubiana, Serge and Bill Krohn . “Entretien avec Michael Cimino”. Cahiers du cinéma n337 Jun (1982)

Burke, Frank. "In Defense of The Deer Hunter OR: The Knee Jerk is Quicker than the Eye." Literature Film Quarterly 11.1 (1983)

Francis, Don. "The Regeneration of America: Uses of Landscape in The Deer Hunter." Literature Film Quarterly 11.1 (1983)

Greene, Naomi. "Coppola, Cimino: The Operatics of History." Film Quarterly 38.2 Winter (1984)

Bach, Steven. "Once upon a Time in the West." American Film: a Journal of the Film and Television Arts 10 Jul/Aug 1985

Chevrie, Marc. "Le point de mire." Cahiers du cinéma n377 Nov (1985) [on Year of the Dragon]

Chevrie, Marc and Jean Narboni and Vincent Ostria. "The Right Place." Cahiers du cinéma n377 Nov (1985) [Interview]

Masson, Alain. “L’année du dragon.” Positif n297 Nov (1985)

Toubiana, Serge. “Il n'y a pas d'affaire Cimino”. Cahiers du cinéma n378 Dec (1985) [on Year of the Dragon]

Camy, Gérard. "L'année du dragon: un film ambigu." Jeune cinéma n171 Dec/Jan (1985-1986)

Viviani, Christian. "Entretien avec Michael Cimino." Jeune cinéma n171 Dec/Jan (1985-1986)

Pym, John. "After the Deluge." Sight and Sound 55 Dec/Jan (1985-1986) [on Year of the Dragon)

Wood, Robin. “Hero/Anti-Hero: The Dilemma of ‘Year of the Dragon.’” CineAction! n6 Summer/Fall (1986)

Krohn, Bill. "Le pacte avec le diable." Cahiers du cinéma n389 Nov (1986) [on The Sicilian]

Wood, Robin. “‘Heaven's Gate’ reopened.” Movie n31/32 Winter (1986)

Krohn, Bill. "L'oiseau noir." Cahiers du cinéma n391 Jan (1987) [on The Sicilian]

Katsahnias, Iannis. "La colère d'Achille." Cahiers du cinéma n401 Nov (1987) [on The Sicilian]

Katz, Pamela. "Gore Goes to War." American Film: a Journal of the Film and Television Arts 13 Nov (1987) [on Gore Vidal and The Sicilian]

Krohn, Bill. “Un album de famille”. Cahiers du cinéma n401 Nov (1987) [Interview]

Thirard, P.L. "Le Sicilien." Positif n322 Dec (1987)

Cimino, Michael. "Conquering Horse". Cahiers du cinéma n400 Oct Supplement (1987)

Stanbrook, Alexander. "Year of the Leopard." Sight & Sound 57 n4 (1988) [on The Sicilian]

Hess, John. "Matewan. The Sicilian: History, Politics, Style, and Genre." Jump Cut: a Review of Contemporary Media n33 Feb (1988) [Link]

Stanbrook, Alexander. "The Sicilian". Films and Filming n386 Feb (1988)

Jaubert, Jean-Claude. “Virlite et machismo dans le cinema de Michael Cimino.” Jeune cinéma Sep/Oct 1988

Katsahnias, Iannis. "Le temps retrouvé." Cahiers du cinéma n422 Jul (1989) [on Heaven's Gate]

Linroth, James. "From Natty to Cymbeline: Literary Figures and Allusions in Cimino's Heaven's Gate." Literature Film Quarterly 17.4 (1989)

Pym, John. "Michael Cimino." Sight & Sound 60 n1 (1990) [on The Desperate Hours]

Katsahnias, Iannis. "La maison et la monde." Cahiers du cinéma n439 Jan (1991) [on The Desperate Hours]

Krohn, Bill. "Rendez-vous avec les genres." Cahiers du cinéma n439 Jan (1991) [Includes discussion on The Desperate Hours]

Jousse, Thierry and Iannis Katsahnias. “Je n'irai jamais a Monument Valley”. Cahiers du cinéma n439 Jan (1991) [Interview]

Vachaud, Laurent. "Les inconnus dans la maison." Positif n359 Jan (1991) [on The Desperate Hours]

Pym, John. "Desperate Hours." Monthly Film Bulletin 58 Mar (1991)

Burke, Frank. “Reading Michael Cimino's ‘The Deer Hunter’: Interpretation as Melting Pot.” Literature/Film Quarterly 20 n3 (1992)

Stevens, Brad. “Not Just a Bandit: Michael Cimino's ‘The Sicilian.’” CineAction! n29 Fall (1992)

Jousse, Thierry. “Michael Cimino”. Cahiers du cinéma n462 Dec (1992)

Brown, Richard Maxwell. "Western Violence: Structure, Values, Myth." Western Historical Quarterly 24.1 (1993)

Cimino, Michael. “Ceux qui filment…” Cahiers du cinéma n477 Mar (1994)

Rauger, Jean-François. "L'Amérique ferme 'La Porte du paradis.'" Cahiers du cinéma 19 Hors serié Jan (1995) [on Heaven's Gate]

Camy, Gerard. "Sunchaser." Jeune cinéma n238 Summer (1996)

Troubiana, Serge. "Loin d'Hollywood." Cahiers du cinéma n503 Jun (1996) [on The Sunchaser]

Saada, Nicolas and Serge Troubiana. "Entretien avec Michael Cimino." Cahiers du cinéma n503 Jun (1996)

Cieutat, Michel. "Sunchaser." Positif n425/426 Jul/Aug (1996)

Ciment, Michel and Laurent Vachaud. "Un film optimiste et plein d'espoir." Positif n425/426 Jul/Aug (1996) [on The Sunchaser]

Feeney, F.X. "Between Heaven and Hell." People 46.20 (1996) [Interview]

Kemp, Philip. "The Sunchaser." Sight & Sound 7 Jan (1997)

Burns, Mickey. "'Heaven's Gate' Takes a Swing: Slamming the Capitalist Patriarchy." CineAction! n46 June (1998)

Frappat, Hélène. "Cimino : 'Toute forme d'écriture est dramatique.'" Cahiers du cinéma n561 Oct (2001) [Interview]

Shin Huey Chong, Sylvia. "Restaging the War: The Deer Hunter and the Primal Scene of Violence." Cinema Journal 44.2 (2005)

Last edited by Cold Bishop on Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:12 pm, edited 19 times in total.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Sun May 09, 2010 4:23 pm 
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Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm
Thanks for putting this together.
There was also a Cimino interview by Nigel Andrews in the book Talking Films.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Sun May 09, 2010 5:37 pm 
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Joined: Tue May 30, 2006 9:45 pm
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Added +New article listings for Cahiers du Cinema

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 12:50 am 
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Joined: Tue May 30, 2006 9:45 pm
Location: Portland, OR
The Cimino Research Dossier

One of the reasons I've been putting together these resources are for purely selfish reasons, creating a personal resource from which to do my own personal research on these filmmakers from. Since this entails in many instances tracking down, and often translating, non-easily accessible articles, I figure it may be a benefit to reproduce some of these here.

I understand there may be some copyright dilemma here, but I figure this being still a largely "private" forum, and the fact that these articles can always be gotten for free from an ILL system, therefore not taking money out of everyone pocket, I can be forgiven for reproducing them here. Seeing as a large amount of these articles are simply not available in English translations, I'd be doing something of a favor for those interested as well. Certainly, we have at least one librarian on here, so if any mods have serious concerns, feel free to remove them. But until then, let me begin.


I'll be beginning with articles concerning Heaven's Gate for several reasons: A) It's certainly my personal point of interest, seeing as I find it to be his best film, and one of the most extraordinary American films ever made, B) it's the divisive point among Cimino's critical reception, so it'll be nice to temper the violent reaction here in the States with some of the milder-to-positive reactions it received overseas C) it's also the film where I begin to find the largest amount of articles, my research tools being limited, keeping me from tracking down a large number of the articles concerning his two earlier films (especially Thunderbolt and Lightfoot).

This article is the first written by Cahiers du cinéma concerning the film. It's purely speculative, written before the film was released in France, and largely concerns itself with summarizing the scandal it caused at the time in the States. If you're familiar with the film's production, or have read Final Cut, it won't tell you anything new. If anything, it shows that the foreign press wasn't immune to the gossip-mongering which the film provoked, although it is to their credit that they were able to ultimately approach the film on its own terms, something which the U.S. critics were never able to do after the disastrous premier.

from Cahiers du cinéma n319 Jan (1981)
The Ayatollah Cimino
by Olivier Assayas

It is such that the crew of Heaven’s Gate nicknamed the director, whose professionalism and attention to detail was, before the Bérézina of the New York premier, on the point of becoming legendary. Torn to pieces by unanimous criticism, the $35 million western brought back to mind, with a renewed acuteness, the old problem about the omnipotence of the auteur of films. If the debacle carries in the United States the appearance of a national disaster, it is above all its wide-reaching repercussions that will be of interest to the observer.

Corollary to the admiration that film could have created, had it appealed to critics, the failure provoked a unanimous outcry against Cimino's methods, who, by general opinion, abused his rights and neglected his responsibilities. United Artists, who produced the film, is equally in the hot seat. One blames the company for having lost control of the film, leaving the reins in the hands of a filmmaker driving towards rampant megalomania. It stands that the situation is very delicate for them insofar as they have built their reputation on the freedom they have always given to directors. To shut-down Heaven’s Gate, one planned solution, or to take back the control of the film would signify a loss of a credibility acquired through many years. It is any case certain that Cimino benefited from a certain laxity on the part of the producers, who accepted their role without balking at conditions that only filmmakers of the stature of Stanley Kubrick can manage to impose. Thus, he never was obligated to show even a centimeter of edited footage to the executives of the company. As one could suspect from it, changes in upper-echelon management are presently underway at United Artists, all the more since tragedies never strike only once: Stardust Memories and Motel Hell were likewise failures; the sole ray of sunshine being Raging Bull which, by all evidence, is on its way to becoming a worldwide success.

From its origins, the project of Heaven’s Gate had been hit with many difficulties. Its first version, in 1971, entitled The Johnson County War, was one of the first screenplays written by Cimino. Refused down-the-line by every studio, the script interested Steve McQueen, but he refused to have Cimino as director. In 1975, Fox financed a rewrite with a more commercial point-of-view entitled Paydirt which didn’t suit its producers. The project was forgotten until the director, strong with newfound popularity from making The Deer Hunter, returned to see Fox with a new rewrite of the script. To his big surprise, being judged inadequate, it was once again rejected. Despite this, he went to Warner, who expressed interest but refused to cast Christopher Walken in one of the major roles. United Artists, finally, accepted the project completely. It is unfortunate since the criticisms aroused by the film stand as a measure of the stubbornness which the director and producers stand proof of, refusing against wind and tide to reconsider their positions.

One of the thornier points of the affair is the decision which was taken, while the film had already gone astronomically over budget, to shoot an epilogue and prologue in England. These two sequences, designed to lessen the Western aspect of the film, cost a measly five million dollars, and were, even within United Artists, the occasion for deadly controversies; all the more since, already at the time, those responsible, having previewed the film, had expressed major concerns about the film’s commercial future.

Now that Cimino has presented his cut, and that it has been the object of a unanimous rebuff, the final cut of the film is in the hands of producers. The version presented in New York ran 219 minutes; that which will be presumably distributed next February will be around 120-150 minutes. Up to now, the re-editing will have cost approximately one million dollars extra. And this, without a guarantee of success since, as we have already noted many times, people are not saying that Heaven’s Gate was a good film that suffered from being too long. The reproaches were, rather, the stating of flaws concerning the very source, the casting, and the dialogue. Those rare cases where a re-edit can be beneficial to a film are those where all the footage was included without prejudice. It’s hard to imagine Cimino, who would be inclined to defend the first version that he presented, making an about-face on those directorial choices which are precisely the source of the dispute.

The withdrawal of the film from commercial distribution, a unique event, will have several consequences, in particular preventing it from participating in the 1981 Oscar-race since the regulations are strict: eligible films must have been, before the end of the year, projected for more than one weeks time in the region of Los Angeles. Moreover, a number of theaters reserved for the film months prior found themselves without programming. Such as one theater in Los Angeles which remained closed until the release of Flash Gordon.

It is necessary to point out that if the violent reaction to the film by the critics caused a big stir, the reaction of the public was no less negative. We can judge this by the standing of reservations before the press published even a single article; the distributor had a receipt for $100,000 dollars three weeks before the public premiere. Apocalypse Now, which was equally considered a problematic film, but which also cost less, had within that time earned $300,000 dollars.

Last edited by Cold Bishop on Wed Aug 18, 2010 1:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 1:32 am 
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This follow-up article begins to critically asses the film, albeit it marginally, as Heaven's Gate is only one small part of its overview of the entire 1981 Cannes Film Festival. It discusses several films, and I included the bulk of the article for the simple fact that I translated it all.

The actual section which concerns Cimino's film are the opening paragraphs and the final section (Three Gambles by the Cinema). The former concerns the politics/business surrounding Heaven's Gate reception at Cannes. The latter gives a few critical words to Heaven's Gate (nothing too profound) alongside Wajda's Man of Iron and Zulawski's Possession.

The other films discussed: Scola's Passion d'amour, Ivory's Quartet, Hudson's Chariots of Fire, Mann's Thief, Loach's Looks and Smiles, Caviani's La pelle and Rafelson's The Postman Always Rings Twice.

I have underlined several terms/sentences where I have had problems translating. I've included notes for them on the bottom. If anyone has any suggestion on how to translate them - or notice any non-marked passages which are nonetheless incomprehensible - PM me and I'll fix them.

from Cahiers du cinéma n326 Jul (1981) [“L'Académie du cinéma”]
The Academy of Cinema
by Olivier Assayas

1981: The Rebalancing

Last year’s Festival hung heavily over Cannes 1981. The shadow of a festival which was by all counts exceptional – for the quality of its selection on one hand; for the outburst of conflict with independent American producers, on the other.

1980 gave us the back-to-back discoveries of The Big Red One, Kagemusha, Sauve qui peu (la vie), Mon Oncle d’Amérique and Loulou, which together remain in everyone’s memory as an incomparable model which however must be compared. Yet, it was inevitable that in retrospect, whatever the presented films may have been, ’81 would seem lifeless. The success of Los Angeles’s Filmex is also at the center of debates. That market of films, viewed as a war machine against Cannes, has largely served its purpose, the decline in deals on the Croisette being its direct consequence. You’d have many difficulties in denying this year was bad for the business. But the exact effect of this point-of-view is that, world-wide, Cannes is the victim. As the pulse of the cinema, it is certain that the Festival must reflect the climate of instability which accompanies the current rebalancing of the global movement of films. Just as it must give the first echo of the recent tendency in the American cinema towards excessively industrializing itself. Controlled more and more by lawyers and financiers, managed by multinationals, U.S. production is obsessed with the rationalization of this control, and with the elimination of any excess. And Cannes is, precisely, perceived as an excess. All the more since today, it proved that in summoning the serious bidders to the factory, you can very well do excellent business without paying a cent. In the same way that one day – effectively – you will sell and buy films by cassettes and telex, without even having to move.

And it is on this very altar – that of the union between extreme reasoning and good commercial sense – that Michael Cimino was sacrificed, the thoughtless archaism of his push against the grain having provoked an authentic trauma in America. They wanted, in some way, to make him an example for it, in the same way that this year they tested Cannes. It’s is therefore not an accident that Heaven’s Gate was in competition.

The Americans critics who sided with the industry waited for Europe to trip up: would they have the gall to snub the entire United States in salvaging Heaven’s Gate, coming to the rescue of Cimino? Up against that possibility, eleven U.S. critics joined together at Cannes to single out the film which, to them, was the best of the competition, so as to clearly distance themselves, and to make their aesthetic preferences heard. It was a clear demarcation: in fact, the film chosen was the insipid Chariots of Fire. In response, the zealots for Heaven’s Gate – I wasn’t entirely sold on the film – had the spotlight. The American critics of Cimino’s film, while attacking it, hoped to increase the debate, talking about dramaturgy, language, cinematography, and ethics. Yet you can’t help but think that these attitudes were nothing more than a smoke screen for something else as those standards suddenly disappeared so as to praise, in Chariots of Fire, a film completely lacking in writing, a real dramaturgic catastrophe, and a monument to unoriginality and boredom.

Beyond the opinion of some critics, it’s a good part for American business, comparing Cannes and Heaven’s Gate as two symbols of irrational waste, that they attentively watched everyone’s reaction. It was perceptible that Cannes’ coronation of Cimino’s film would have been, to their eyes, an intolerable alliance which could be seen as a declaration of war. In fact, it was Cimino, having accepted humiliation to the system, who arrived at Cannes, defeated. The promotion of his film was marked by such austerity that everyone could understand the message: they already spent enough, so it was useless to throw money at the windows of the Carlton to sell the unsellable. Heaven’s Gate immediately became a loser, Cimino stoically taking the blows until the very end, and walking away empty-handed. All for the better, the majors came like every year, while several independents were nonetheless left as observers. No receptions, no uproars, but the contracts were signed and deals were made where they always are, in the calm of offices. Taking into account the anticipated handicaps, American companies can give a Cannes a global good report. It is possible that this translates to the anticipated shifting of dates for Filmex, a way to eliminate competition between the two events. Thus avoiding that Cannes becomes, for a second year, a sort of second-hand market, filled with end-of-the-season sales.

Of course all of that was only peripheral to the actual Cannes Film Festival and to what occupies us. But it is nevertheless the background to the diplomatic-aesthetical alchemy which presides over the options in the official selection. Suffering from a slightly demoted status as an event, and with the difficult comparison with last year, this year’s choices are crystallized around a security in the vague notion of the auteur. A terribly bastardized notion since it has become synonymous with consensus and an absence of surprise, a cultural alibi. And from this point-of-view, it is striking to note at which point the inclusions become incredibly predictable; the moment a filmmaker establishes his credibility, he only has to demonstrate, good year or bad, a minimum level of talent to preserve it. Thus Scola, Rosi, Ivory, Saura and Makavejev; filmmakers whose names alone are the justification for their presence at Cannes. And Gilles Jacob may wish for a festival “of films which emerge (in a dramaturgical sense) from a career on the upswing”, but we see how badly that criteria can – accurately – apply itself to the directors I cited, who find themselves instead in the situation of having to make cinema very synchronous with its era and its determined sensibility, and having to brave all the struggle in the world if to find a new vein.

Towards a “European Quality”

In the selection of a prestigious festival, it is the word “prestige” which carries the most weight: the competition gives it generally as much weight as it wants. But these are two dialectical poles and it is inevitable that during periods of fluctuation – this year for example – the “want” gets the upperhand. You can sense for some time now a push towards respectability in film production, led by Gaumont. Are we heading towards a European quality? It is obvious that a certain academicism rears its head, with all its potential for absurdity, in a period when such an approach no longer has any historical meaning. But it’s necessary to notice that the two completely nostalgic films of the festival, Passion d’Amour and Quartet, don’t seem anachronistic, although they pertain, as much in substance as in form, to the fifties. You can’t not see in these examples a fundamental impermeability from the cinematic public towards the history of forms, and towards a simple diachronic understanding of art. We know, as audience ratings show, that the average television viewer is he who went to the cinema twenty-years ago; the popularity of the Western, which has never faltered on the small screen, being its most striking symptom. No surprise then that the ground covered by Ettore Scola and James Ivory is, today, almost totally occupied by dramatic television. It would have been interesting to return it to the cinema – the enterprise would then have had a justification – but neither of these two filmmakers had the real means for such a goal. Thus Scola’s film, which could have retained such qualities, is, by final accounts, a catastrophe. Let me explain myself: the filmmaker finds in his hands an admirable subject coming very near the dark side of the psychology of emotions, and he contents himself with observing it from afar, sticking to the anecdotal, and, by final estimate, avoiding his real subject. A Calvary officer loved and in love with a perfect woman is transferred to a sinister garrison where he finds himself confronted with a sort of Nemesis of the land, a monstrous being, a woman of absolute ugliness called Fosca. The latter becomes infatuated with him and gradually applies herself to terrorizing him until, consenting, he surrenders to her. Yet, this is how Scola presents his film: “Once again, I wanted to tell a story not about the privileged, but the humiliated: dropouts, immigrants, homosexuals or, as here, a women mortified because of her ugliness.” If this filmmaker was a bit more concerned with analyzing his characters instead of showing their beautiful souls, he would immediately understand, as any viewer of Passion does, the stupidity of his remark. While he knows to praise, verbally, the interior beauty of Fosca, there is nothing left on the screen but a female Nosferatu, expressing, above all, crises of hysteria. We could say that Scola doesn’t see that, in his triangle – because it is a triangle – the main character is that of the Calvary officer, who discovers, with horror, the pleasure he gets from making the beautiful woman he loves suffer, since he makes him suffer the humiliation of leaving her for her opposite; and by taking pleasure in the punishment he inflicts by pushing him always closer towards his relationship with Fosca. Yet Scola takes this complex, tormented character, discovering his own perversity, and makes him a military dimwit, denied of substance. He could have had something like Possession with Passion d’amour. But there is nothing here.

One could say the same thing for Quartet, if not for the fact that one would be hard-pressed to accuse James Ivory of misinterpretation, since he consistently avoids adopting a position – whatever it may be – in the treatment of his film. Nothing remains but a cinema of props, arranged in sequences which the film follows without pulling them together, written with a style that is purely old hat. Of course, there is a narrative which, once again, you can begin to sense, as if by accident, potentialities, notably through the character which Isabelle Adjani manages to breath life into, without Ivory every seizing the opportunity of doing something with her. It has been a strange career for this filmmaker, whose early Indian films suggested a personal trajectory, an original approach, and one which hasn’t stopped, these last few years, of imposing an excessive conformity on itself. It is certain that after The Europeans, Jane Austen in Manhattan, and now Quartet, Ivory is looking to position himself as the most Bostonian – in the purest sense of the term – filmmaker.

But this ambition is already devoid of importance. Ivory, who discovered too late the balance in his writing, is an outdated filmmaker; his enterprise, like that of Scola, is obsolete as well, above all by the point-of-view of the dominant system of production, of which two very significant examples were also presented at Cannes.

The Contemporary Form of Academicism

In fact, Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire and Michael Mann’s Thief are much more contemporary, and as a result, serve to promote ideas much more harmful than those of the two outdated films which I shortly lingered on. Hudson’s film was the first selected, some months prior; no doubt this gesture was meant to live down the complete absence of British films in competition last year. The director (it’s his first film), as it turns out, is a veteran of commercials and, like the sum and substance of filmmakers having that training, he has a detestable habit of considering cleanliness as a successful goal, and doesn’t know how to construct his film, glorifying the actions of two champion runners, except in the manner of an extended commercial. Hudson borrows his language from commercials, and in this he is at least contemporary; but this arsenal of images, characters, and surroundings is already so used up, so often recycled, that one lends it as much attention as to a crack in a living room ceiling. Behold a slick and colorless cinema.

To reach a comparable result, Michael Mann, with Thief, borrows from slightly different sources, since it’s the archetype of the recent urban thrillers of the sixties and seventies which he recycles, without even asking himself what sort of meaning it resonates with in this day and age. Another film which doesn’t even begin to hint at a personal approach, a film entirely prisoner to its system of production, and which gives the impression that its filmmaker applied himself to following the directions of a machine. This applies as much to its theme – a sympathetic jewel thief deciding to commit his last (and biggest) job – as to its form, created with a phobia of boredom in its viewer, and marked by the most traditional kind of set-pieces. Here the burglary is anticipated like a killing during a bullfight: how will he avoid it? This is how one will measure the film. Certainly, Thief is infinitely more pleasant to follow than Hugh Hudson’s film, since its attached to an immediately more attractive, more cinematic tradition, and because its directed by a more capable filmmaker. But the two works are joined by a similar abdication of personality on part of its auteur, hidden behind normalized forms; or as one could be more inclined to write – and it would be more fair – normative.

And it is among this brand of cinema that one can find the contemporary form of academicism. A cinema directed by a chain of interchangeable employees and which merits being christened industrial cinema.

…and the “Contemporary Cinema”

Now if the industry has a fear, it is that of the transformations of structure; which undoubtedly explains why, in the deluge of normality which comprised this year’s Cannes Film Festival, form turned out to be the big loser. To the extent that the jury itself was anxious to endorse its negation as sort of subject worthy of reflection, by giving the Young Cinema Award to the subjects of two films, whose qualities aren’t in question. Neige discovers its identity by renewing its ties to the richest popular tradition of French cinema. In Looks and Smiles, Ken Loach strives to once again emphasize the filiation between the emerging British cinema and that of the generation which emerged in the sixties, which he claims being part of, although his position is inherently more dogmatic.

Yet if Loach’s cinematic form is that of a rigorous naturalism, like Schlesinger or Reisz practiced with their debuts – they are both far removed from it now – his vision suffers at times from a comprehensively demonstrated will which recalls the dreary Deprisa, deprisa which Carlos Saura recently filmed in a similar manner. Loach’s talent reveals itself only when he approaches a character without a priori and knows to show them some affection, like the case of the portrayal of the young girl who occupies the last third of the film.

Two films which shouldn’t neglected, although they were quickly ignored at Cannes: Liliana Cavani’s La pelle and Bob Rafelson’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, which were in some ways victims of their auteur’s reputations. Cavani has been associated up till now with works which range from the revolting to the grotesque, and the tone of the predictions concerning her new film were clearly disfavorable. Clearly, the popularity Bob Rafelson has enjoyed among European critics, and which has never declined, has been waiting for his transition to a richer cinema. Yet every time, his films have done just the opposite as predicted, leaving a feeling of malaise in their wake.

La pelle surprised everyone, starting with me: it is a film not lacking in qualities. Radically foreign to everything which Liliana Cavani has filmed up until now, this adaptation of a pictaresque novel by Malaparte has qualities of humor, and of sensitivity, which nothing in this director’s career has suggested. The film is structured in vignettes which look to reconstruct, in a unanimiste manner, the climate of Naples as the first European town liberated by the Allies; some episodes are very successful, other less-so, some are failures, but if there is at least one striking success in La pelle which merits attention, it is Marcello Mastroianni. In fact, he portrays the very character of Curzio Malaparte with a complicated blend of cynicism, self-importance and the pathetic which is undoubtedly one of the screen’s most skillful portrayals of a novelist. It is also necessary to point out the technical control which emerges from the complex ensemble, and the direction of American comedians here is very precise, something which is rather rare in European cinema.

We will have the opportunity to return at greater length to The Postman Always Rings Twice during its release this coming September since we since we will publish an interview with Bob Rafelson conducted during his stay at Cannes. Undeniably, his film disappointed. Judged as being beneath what we have come to expect from this auteur, it was politely viewed and then swiftly forgotten. It’s undoubtedly the absence of motivation by the filmmaker towards his subject which is the most surprising from a filmmaker as personal as Rafelson. All the more since the very recent airing, on FR3, of Tay Garnett’s version, rather than clearing up our preconceptions of the remake, instead put the emphasis on the multiple points of convergence; some shots, the tempo of certain scene are in fact rigorously identical from one film to the other. And if some of Rafelson’s choices are very justified, like setting the story during the depression, the emphasis placed on the sensual relationship between the two protagonists or better the still, the open-ended conclusion which makes the film a love drama instead of legal drama, he nevertheless commits, in my opinion, an error in overemphasizing the Greek ancestry of the husband who is fatally the weakest character in the story, and who would be worth forgetting as much as possible; also the episode concerning Nicholson’s actions when his mistress goes away, and which Tay Garnett knew to avoid, destabilizes here, in the pointless details of its treatment, the entire final third of the film. It’s ultimately for its very subtle qualities of interpretation that Rafelson’s film has worth, the purity and elegance of its writing, and also by its suspense. It is true that by final estimate it’s undoubtedly his version which I prefer to Tay Garnett’s. But was the effort worth it?

Three Gambles by the Cinema

The exclusion of formal problems of debate in contemporary cinema is typical of certain strongly disseminated conceptions which hold the axiom that the cinematic form, its language and its syntax, has been fixed once and for all. It is in this context that, in my opinion, there were only three films projected at the Palais des Festival that managed to distinguish themselves from ordinary productions: Man of Iron, Heaven’s Gate, and of course, Possession. It is necessary to recognize, to their credit, that the jury managed to see the merits of two of these films by rewarding them. Thus Robert Chazal, as he wrote in France-Soir, said that without the screening of Wajda’s film, the jury would have been very embarrassed to have awarded a Palme that year, a remark which seems to me completely well-founded. These three films have much more in common than they seem to: first off, neither of them is a film which one would call a successful film. We could say that Possession, which strives to walk the tightrope, stays on the edge, while Heaven’s Gate topples over. But each one – and Man of Iron as well, for stronger reason – are films whose ambitions don’t seem able to have been contained by traditional cinematic forms. There is implicitly, in these three projects, the desire to go beyond approved limits, to touch the viewer more deeply than the dominant aesthetic allows. They attempt each time to film the unfilmable, to demand from the cinema, with an explorer’s faith, that which it presumably couldn’t give. These films become almost human, living entities which one senses are perpetually animated from within, suffering from not being able to break through the rectangular straightjacket of the screen, as complex and as crafty as the filmmakers who conceived them, and whose personalities inevitably emerge in each shot, since the gamble includes clashing head-on with the habits of the viewers. Neither of these films achieves the excessive ambitions that they aspire to, but it is certainly stimulating to follow their attempts.

Andrzej Wajda’s film certainly benefits from the extraordinary circumstances which allowed its realization. We’ve seen, at times, the filming of history in motion, but Man of Iron is more than that: it was birthed by the history in motion. Especially since its primary ideal viewer is not a movie-goer: it is Lech Walesa. Placed into the ideal position of a filmmaker who has been suddenly allowed to tackle completely virgin territory, to deal with a piece of his country’s social reality that has been hidden for years, the question that Wajda had to ask himself wasn’t what to say, since the bulk of his subject came rushing towards him even faster than he could have expected, but how? A sequel to Man of Marble that he had moreover claimed the workers of the Lenin Shipyard presented at first sight all the advantages. Once already Wajda had known to be directly synchronous with the political situation of the moment, skillfully mixing past and present, so as to find in the genealogy of things their most subtle reality – especially since, in that film, denouncing the errors of the past was the further extent to which the film could go. The film equally presented the benefits of ending during the establishment of a new system of relations between the characters which inevitably called for a continuation. One thus must not neglect either how flattering it is for a filmmaker to see his film overwhelmingly endorsed by reality. A sequel capitalizing on familiarity with Man of Marble, and permitted with not only going further in its narrative, in its denunciations, but also going a step further in the dialogue between the cinema and social reality.

The structure is identical between the two films: an investigator, through the research of a character’s past, is brought to encounter several individual having stood by the decisive moments of his life, which are reveled to coincide with the decisive moments of Polish history in the last fifteen years. Thus the fiction always has a very precise purpose, that of establishing the relationship between political reality and human reality, which has elsewhere always been slightly in favor of the former, it naturally being the limit of the system. The fundamental difference between the two projects is found in the character of the investigator: the first film described a State-run process crushing the individual; it was thus the opposition which one had to bring to light, via Krystyna Janda grappling with the establishment. This time it’s the inverse, the process is popular, it’s a mass movement which the State is trying to understand, the investigator is thus by force weak and corrupted. His abjection must in fact come from a subtle chemistry favoring the former term rather than the latter since, as the spectator will have to follow this individual the duration of the film, it is preferable that he be allowed – at minimum – an embryo of skepticism and a personal lack of partisanship. The challenge that lies in employing such a contradictory character is not entirely met, since his presence contributes at times to obscuring the issue and derails the true purpose of the film. The entire first part of the film, before the intervention of Krystyna Janda, suffers a lot from being centered on him.

The other difference between this film and that concerns, precisely, Krystyne Janda herself. She has calmed down, as it explicitly says. The Polish opposition no longer has to shake the plum tree, to search with full strength for the approach that will push the State out of its apathy; she has knowledge to defend, so she transforms into a Slavic version of our force tranquille.

Wajda’s approach itself is moreover significant since, conscious of his responsibilities – or rather the role that he must play – it attacks, in Poland, the system head-on, all while looking for support from the outside, in the same way that Lech Walesa increased his travels abroad or the Polish church worships Jean-Paul II. And Wajda has reached his goal since Cannes – which was aimed for from the outset – crowned him, making him the third national star in Poland after the aforementioned two. A Poland struggling against forces stronger than itself needs symbols, heroes, and from now on, Wajda is one of them. The Soviet reaction (negative) to his success there is like an officialization of this position. And it is for this reason, being both a film and a alibi for something greater, that Man of Iron is fascinating: it poses questions, most notably about the value of images: what are their impact? Symbolic or motivational? Do they spread genuine belief or are they pure spectacle? All the intuition of Wajda, all his talent, was used so as to know how to construct a dialectic between reality and its image, where the value of cinema is not denied, where the role of the film, either one, is not demagogically evaded. And the fiction maintains its convictions against wind and tide, even if the collision between the real and the metaphorical is sometimes rough, as during a scene on the Gdansk station platform, where the journalist (Krystyna Janda) and Birkut’s son fall into eachother’s arms.

A provocative film if ever there was one, Possession (see Pascal Bonitzer’s article) did not miss generating the scandal anticipated by its auteur, disrupting, with its bad manners, the dull consensus around the good intentions of an overwhelming majority of right-thinking auteurs. It is clear that the director of Possession is not a filmmaker of good will. Naturally, it would have been more profitable had the debate established itself around the sole film of the Official Selection which tackled, head-on, the problem of modern writing (Bertolluci’s film), but it wasn’t neither unpleasant, nor even possibly healthy, to see the radical divisions caused by that terrorist film. If I talk about modern writing, its not in regards to empty settings or even the blue light, but the approach which makes its director consider his historical situation and the global state of the medium; which would know, at least, what type of films one can no longer make and, for example, would not deny that graphic horror cinema is one of the last important frontiers concerning the cinematic form. Zulawski has his faults, and cunning isn’t the least of them, but no one can accuse him of lacking courage by emerging himself, body and soul, into a gamble as risky as this all-encompassing film, confusing, labyrinthine, excessive, which appears to want to embrace nothing less than all the multiple narrative and formal obsessions of contemporary cinema. Everything happens here without anything really succeeding, but it happens in a project that had to be immoderate from first sight. It is necessary to point out, in contrast, the mild difficulties that arose in awarding a prize to Isabelle Adjani’s extraordinary performance, since, for reasons which I imagine to be diplomatic, one associated Quartet with the sort of film, that without Possession, she would have always performed in.

Heaven’s Gate (the film) deserves better than Heaven’s Gate (the scandal), even if the two will undoubtedly remain synonymous ad aeternum. The U.S. cinema has, out of pride, wanted to be bigger than life; Cimino’s film wanted to be bigger than the cinema, and if only for that, it will enter resolutely into history, even if at the moment it is nothing more than a footnote. Although one still can’t determine the range of its consequences, Heaven’s Gate will have shaken, like an electroshock, a lethargic Hollywood cinema. Tackling the flaws of the film is only too obvious: the treatment of characters, confused, awkwardly distributed, is often absurd as if the dramaturgy lacked any good sense, although it would be necessary, to be completely absolute, to be able to view a version of the film closer to the original intentions of the director. But one clearly sees what caused an outcry: it is the fundamental abnormality of the film, long when it should be short, short when it should be long, self-indulgent in the most unexpected places, and bitter when it no long has anything at stake. Heaven’s Gate is certainly a failure, but a failure which resembles no other, by the measure that, to my knowledge, no other production of this stature has ever diverged to such an extent from the norms of Hollywood, which the United States conceives as an absolute.

And yet, there lies, in Cimino’s film as well as the two preceding films, a question directly posed to the cinema: what are its limits? And are they, when all’s said and done, aesthetic or financial? If these three films teach us anything, it’s that the response to this last question – which they are careful not to resolve – is much more complex and much more fundamental than it appears.

But what is clear in these film is that, leaving behind the ordinary cinema, Cimino, Wajda or Zulawski demonstrate that the self-perception of the cinema is today in constant movement, and this can only be done in films where the cinema and the auteur are at the center of its themes. Where the director knows to gamble, physically and as an artist, on a radical project. Also taking the risk of losing.

- O.A.
1. The Rebalancing: "le rééquilibrage". Reequilibrium may be more literal, but neither really work in English

2. comprehensively demonstrated will: "d'une volonté d'exhaustivité démonstratrice".

3. and also by its suspense.: "et aussi par ce qu'il fait attendre". A shot in the dark, I'll admit.

4. ...that he had moreover claimed the workers of the Lenin Shipyard presented at first sight all the advantages: "...que lui avaient d'ailleurs réclamée les ouvriers du chantier naval "Lénine" présentait de prime abord tous les avantages." I simply can't make heads-or-tails of this sentence structure enough to even make a guess of its meaning.

5. The film equally presented the benefits of ending during the establishment of a new system of relations between the characters which inevitably called for a continuation.: "Le film présentait également l'avantage de se terminer sur la mise en place d'un nouveau systéme de relations entre les personnages qui appelait fatalement un prolongement." I feel as if I caught the essentail meaning, but I still can't get the sentence to not sound akward.

6. empty settings or even the blue light: "...aux décors vide ou bien à la lumière bleue..." They must be french terms, because I have no idea what he's talking about here.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 2:26 am 
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Now we get to the actual criticism. Still only concerning the shorter version (it doesn't appear Cahiers ever reviewed the full version, despite sponsoring its French premiere).

from Cahiers du cinéma n326 Jul (1981) ["Le cercle brissé"]
The Broken Circle
by Yann Lardeau

The subject of a controversy which is only beginning, it is difficult to appreciate Heaven’s Gate for its true worth, if only because the short version, re-edited, is less seen for itself, as itself, than as a relic, the ruins of a longer, amputated original version that we strongly risk not seeing for a long time. Sp that the film is overlooked in two ways: in the refusal to see the proper coherence of this version; and in the impossible reconstruction of a seemingly similar longer version, stylistically, from its current reduction (cf. the well-documented articles of J.P. Coursodon in Cinéma 81, n266 and n270). The haste of the epilogue, the incongruity of its flash-back, in fact, running counter to the principles of the film's writing (it all occurs in the present), is understandable only by the necessity to finish a story, in spite of the lack of time, in which a major characteristic is the play on variations of duration (contraction or dilatation) more as an end than as a mode of signification, producing meaning.

Academic for some, inconsistent for others, these accusations remains to be seen. The “Heaven’s Gate Affair” suffices to refute the reproach of academicism. The contrast between the silent motivations of the principal characters and the nonchalant and pronounced presence of their representation is powerful enough in its effect to be considered an intention of the writing and an essential key to the mise en scène. It is true that the friendship that exists between James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) and Nate Champion (Christopher Walken) is barely described in the film, - as well as what urged them to choose what they became, - inversely to the state of their relationship with Elle Watson (Isabelle Huppert).

In Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen, hero of a journey up-river, was above all an unflinching witness of a war in which he participated fully; it was this physical integration which gave him the position to gaze at the war. In Heaven’s Gate, James Averill, Nate Champion and Ella are themselves also witnesses, yet they aren’t the same for the exact reason that they are disconnected in relation to the dominant forces of the film, the Wyoming Stock Owners Association and the Russian immigrants in search of farmable land. Oscillating, they are disconnected by their role as individuals in the face of those masses in conflict. They are disconnected by their history as well: their adopted environment is a rejection of their origin, and, if that decision corresponds to a choice, it is more passive than active. Nate Champion doesn’t participate in the Association’s hiring of mercenaries, and he splits from his bosses when they take action. James Averill, worried primarily with protecting the inhabitants of his county, retires to his room precisely when they take up arms. Above all, when Nate Champion chooses a side, siding with the rebels, he is murdered. It goes the same for Ella Watson, finding her clients from both sides, and shunned by one group as by the other. James Averill keeps his life because he doesn’t make a final decision: he flees from society in the luxury of an exile at sea, returned to his origins, perhaps, but on the principle of his disappearance from the view of society. Like a prostitute, like a mercenary, like an ordinary sheriff hostile to the conservatism of his class, Ella Watson, Nate Champion and James Averill are joined by the fact of their mutual social exclusion from their environment, from one or the other groups in conflict (men and women, peasants and cattle farmers). The three show a very strong degree of complicity since they seemingly chose their side, and a maximum distance since they don’t feel concerned for their chosen sides' interests, the stakes of this class conflict. This disconnect is found in their stylistic treatment: as a triangular relationship which goes against the circle, the dominant figure of the film, to which we will return, but also primarily by costumes; by décor; by a similar inexpressive, round face; a head of hair orientated towards blonde or white; a similar pale complexion; by very clear clothing; a care or distinction in grooming.

All three show an identical detachment – if the reasons differ – vis-à-vis their surrounding reality, their uniqueness evolving at a different rate. Literally: when immigrant or landowners move in-mass, on feet or by train, by cavalier troops, to conquer or barricade a horizon, open or close a perspective (the very one of history), in attack or in search of a center, these three, solitary among a grandiose nature, do nothing but cross this field of forces, like vanishing lines, passing through these large movements of civilization, through these point of perspectives which, from behind or from front, fill-up the surface of the screen and define the real stage of the film, the true site of the action, the true decors, the true protagonists of the Johnson County War. The refuges pile themselves onto railway car like livestock, while James Averill lies in a compartment for himself, all alone; Nate Champion overtakes a compact column of immigrant, a black and tired army of infrantymen from another war, of a needed revolution, from an unknown battlefield which they have already cursed. The line of cooks of October in front of the bakeries progressively collapse under the weight of waiting, of war, of hunger. This same mass of fatigue and misery lies, like a pile of rag and dirt, in the hallway of a new world hotel, where James Averill has a room reserved. This gap in representation also registers as variations in settings: Ella Watson, James Averill and Nate Champion fully occupy the screen to themselves, since only they enjoy their own space: a room of a hotel, a house with wallpaper, a brothel, while the plebs and the wealthy are only seen in spaces of traffic (trains, stations, roads, hallways), and of gatherings or public performances (assemblies, games and dances at “Heaven’s Gate” saloon, plotting in a lounge, camps). The habitations of others are never filmed in interior, but always in exterior, like an element of the landscape. Nate Champion kills Kovacs in front of his home; the town notables sit in their chairs, the headquarters of an ignominious battle; the condemned dance in the saloon like Irish laborers drink in the taverns of Manchester; they are all filmed as if one could, at the time, photograph them with motion pictures, like an immediate witness to the story of Johnson County.

In the structure of the scenes and the movements of camera, the circle formally dominates the film, starting at the prologue, as if all the subsequent circles, from the dance on roller-skates up to the final battle, are only repeating, each in their own way, the one contained in the first circle of dancing and brawling at Harvard, during the graduation of ceremony, where Billy Irvine (John Hurt) responds to Reverend Gordon Sutton (Joseph Cotten): “We disclaim all intention of making a change” (original version). “You’re no longer part of our circle”, declares Frank Canton when the Association decides on the massacre of citizens in Johnson County. These circles close a social class off in the manner of a caste, that of the stock-growers and that of the peasant, as well as that of the killers hired by the former to wipe out the latter. The closing of the circle is always twofold, repeated by circular movement or by architectural boundaries: the wagon at the beginning of the Harvard dance; the cavalry which surround the attacking forces; the furniture of the lounge where the stock-growers meet. As well, there exists in each class a person susceptible to opening the circle and from it, dissolving into a similar wandering as Nate Champion, James Averill or Ella Watson who, on the margins, have constructed their own circle; home, room and brothel: Billy Irvine who drowns out, with alcohol, the faults of his class; and John H. Bridges, the owner of “The Heaven’s Gate” saloon. The circle also has the function of representing each class with its representative-types, veritable secondary characters here, while at the same time being the true protagonists of the Johnson County War, below the love story, that of witnesses. Like the image of an established order, unchanging, the circle opposes itself to any other representation of classes, like armies or masses. Trains, cavalier troops, charges, long marches of pioneers; so many lines which cross and carve up territory in different ways; so many images of destruction, escape, collapse and conquest; of a promiscuity of groups which refutes the hierarchy and segregations of the castes. If the political aspect behind the stakes is as such present, in the reactionary ideology of the landowners and the anarchist ideas of the plebes, in the levying of the militia from amongst the unemployed of a building site, it is also because the conquest of the West has never been so closely linked, as if it was an outcome, with the industrial revolution and the great exodus which emptied the countrysides of the Old World. Even in Ford who, if filming in the mines of England or on his own Irish soil, always filmed the American West as if it was a greener pasture. This transcontinental vision of a minor episode in the history of America, the Johnson County War which, in all objectivity, involved the area of a single village and ended in two deaths, is incontestably epic, like a chanson de geste: it is far from edifying a positive representation of the history of the U.S.A., being that it shows all the traits of a Marxist fiction, and where the Widow Kovacs is the exact replica of a victim in the shoot-out in Battleship Potemkin. Without a doubt the point of view of the poor, the anarchist immigrants of Central Europe, is privileged over the reactionary and racist view of the major stock-growers, of a Capitalist America, white and clean, the last bastion of civilization: Billy Irvine compares the executions of the inhabitants of Johnson County to a massacre of Indians, and the absence of all representations of large cattle herds, in a film which deals with the political power of stock-growers, says a lot about the scale of its vision of mankind. The progressive dimension of the film lies not in a positive representation of these human herds in search of a land consecutive to a devaluation of the owners of Wyoming: it consists rather in the will to break the circularity of representations - which conceals and protects them in all confrontations – by vanishing lines who constantly cross them and make them move. The minorities, Nate Champion, James Averill and Ella Watson all compose this continuously shifting gaze of the film because they have reached, by their own account, the crossroads of the savage and the civilized: the passing of one caste, one race, through another, while, massively, such an encounter ends in the massacre of Johnson County. Nate Champion, while near death, writes down the conditions of his murder for posterity. James Averill watches from his window the uprising of the immigrants.

This formalism which was able to shock viewers is, however, classical to American literature. Refusing psychological motivations leads logically to refusing the linearity of narrative: as Billy Irvine's speech consists of a montage of other speeches by real pupils of Harvard of that era, so Heaven’s Gate is only a series of scenes observed by witnesses who ignore the bigger picture and its consequences. Each scene contains in itself its proper denouement. If a summarization can be made at the end, it is by filling the space between these testimonies, these photographic snapshots, in the manner of a historian working through archives, or a detective of hardboiled fiction, which is fine, since the voiceover by Kris Kristofferson and the final flash-back corresponds to a panic-stricken solution of compromise in the course of production.
1. in which a major characteristic is the play on variations of duration (contraction or dilatation) more as an end than as a mode of signification, producing meaning: "dont une caractéristique majeure est de jouer sur des variations de durée (contraction ou dilatation) davantage comme finalité que comme mode de signification, production de sens."

2. inversely to the state of their relationship: "à l'inverse des états de la relation de chacun avec Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert)."

3. vanishing lines: "points de fuite", lines that extend into a vanishing point. I can't think a English alternative.

4. The line of cooks of October in front of the bakeries: "La queue des cuisinières d'Octobre devant les boulangeries..." I'm assuming this is a reference to Eisenstein, whose film I only vaguely remember at this time.

5. You’re no longer part of our circle: I don't believe Canton actually says this in the longer version, although it may exist in the shorter one. Can anyone confirm or deny?

6. charges: "charges" I'm not sure this is the most accurate way to translate the term from the French.

7. human herds in search of a land consecutive to a devaluation of the owners of Wyoming: "...ces troupeaux humains en quête d'une terre consécutive à une dévalorisation des maîtres du Wyoming"

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:23 pm 
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Here's the first half of Cahier's first interview with Michael Cimino. I have divided the interview at the natural article break from the issue. I'll post the second half when I have the chance to revise it.

from Cahiers du cinéma n337 Jun (1982) [“Entretien avec Michael Cimino”]
Interview with Michael Cimino
by Bill Krohn

Michael Cimino was the major absence of our first “Made In U.S.A.” issue, published last April. He was, however, part of our list of American filmmakers to meet first (He was a “seeded player”, in the same way as many of the others). We weren’t able to meet then because he was absent from Los Angeles, somewhere in Montana, undergoing location-scouting (something which he especially likes, as his words here show, and which is an integral part of his cinematic vision: to rediscover the American cinematic landscape). His producer, Joan Carelli, had promised us his consent and the interview was scheduled after our publishing, with Bill Krohn, Cahiers’ correspondent in California. To elaborate on things, the interest with which we held Michael Cimino, going in to this meeting, was vague, without doubt not fully established in our minds. It was founded more out of a curiosity that lies in finding a filmmaker destroyed through a monumental failure, and victim of a cabal on part of American critics such as one has rarely seen in all the history of cinema, than in a passionate, genuine aesthetic or cinephilic interest. Of course, all-the same, Heaven’s Gate found here a response more than favorable. The viewing of the longer version confirms and amplifies this sentiment. If it remains then that Cahiers wasn’t familiarized with the films of Cimino, then it’s explained in part by the trouble provoked by The Deer Hunter during its release. We thought, naively and perversely, that the failure suffered by the filmmaker offered the occasion for a long and frank discussion with the press during which Cimino would risk speaking truthfully. The text of the interview carried out by Bill Krohn more than reached our expectations. More than that: here is one of the most passionate interviews ever published in Cahiers. Not only did we discover a true filmmaker, but we penetrated, at the closest and most deep spot, the interior of his vision of things, of his conception of cinematic work, and of his morals.

And if the pleasure you obtain from reading his remarks is as intense, it is without doubt that they raise definitively the problem which became ours when this interview wasn’t even yet a plan. In this period of mutation for the American cinema, Michael Cimino embodies a certain permanence of classical cinema, and of the morality which accompanies it, removed from all cinephilic regression and of all nostalgia.
- S.T. [Serge Troubiana]

Cahiers: How did you become a director?

Michael Cimino: I never learned film.

Cahiers: Do you watch films?

M. Cimino: I watch films in fits and starts: lots of films during a short period of time, then none for a long time; I don’t have the urge to watch films constantly. The only experiences which, in my opinion, I’ve truly picked up something, as concerns my cinematic work, is the rhythms of comedy. I studied theater during a certain number of years in New York, and I think that all my writing comes from that. If you demanded which influences I have been subjected to, I’ll say, among others, Ford, Minnelli and Degas, Kandinsky, Turner: moreso painters than filmmakers. I don’t know where my desire to make films comes from; I don’t have any idea about it. It seems to me that to make films is to pose questions rather than to be capable of giving the answers. It’s why interviews are so difficult: one doesn’t really have the answers, you pose questions, and it works only to thicken the mystery. I have never been capable of responding in a satisfactory way to the question of the origin of films: I don’t know where my films come from – the same; I don’t know why such-and-such American landscape can, at a certain point, become an obsession. Can one really know what, in Monument Valley, obsessed Ford? Of course, visually, it’s impressive, but why? For what reason does he return there? Why make so many films in the same place? I think he himself wouldn’t have an answer to that question. When you talks of obsession, of mystery, to questions, this appears horribly pretentious: yet it’s the sheer truth. So, you use a façade, you say: “I simply try to be like Ford, to tell an interesting story, about interesting people.” You require a defense of some kind.

Cahiers: You use the word “obsession”. Have you had in your life other elements that have taken the shape of an obsession?

M. Cimino: There is always that need to feel that you’re doing your possible best. On a certain level, this is what the creator feels, whether he is a maker of furniture or a maker of arms: it is the feeling of all who work with their hands. Even the details of a rifle, which are nothing but mechanical, if they are made carefully, with attention, become beautiful, satisfying. It is very gratifying to see something well-made, whatever it may be: it touches a nerve of feeling in everyone; it touches something in human nature. It makes one feel good, it gives a feeling of peace, in some way. It’s a thing which we all desire, which we all need; and everyone, in their own manner, uses this need, when one arranges their house, when one personalizes their car, their office, we all try, in some manner or other, even if we end up making mistakes.

Cahiers: How did you spend the Sixties?

M. Cimino: Vietnam was such a dominant fact over the milieu, up to the end of the sixties, that it would be difficult to find anyone that wasn’t affected by that war. When I recall it, I essentially feel a grand optimism and a grand anxiety, inextricably tied up in each other. It oscillated daily, and with a certain malaise between those two feelings. People seemed to set out in every direction, at once geographically and spiritually. I remember criss-crossing the country alone, in a car: I recall the sky, the night; I was stranded, one night, in some part of North Dakota, on a road flat as the eye could see; I got out, it was the dead of winter, it was terribly cold, everything was silent, and I walked. The sky looked unreal, incredibly unreal, and, I don’t know, I remember falling in love with that road, in someway falling in love with the “journey”, and I never stopped.

Cahiers: I ask the question because of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Jeff Bridges is amazing in that film. Lightfoot is probably the most complete character you’ve ever created, and he is the expression of that period.

M. Cimino: We all love to explore, discover things, new places. There lies in the act of exploring, hitting the road, the discovery of something about the true order of things. We all have bit of this sentiment in us; some use it, others don’t. I believe it is characteristic of Americans, and without doubt of the Western. I really love that character, but I love all my characters, like old friends. When I happen to re-watch my films, it’s as if I’m watching a film by friends; it never comes to mind that I’m watching the actors playing a role, I have the impression of watching a film from a vacation relating to an event which I participated in without seeing myself, although I sense my presence. It’s like the drawing of a moment in which one shared. I smile when I think of Jeff. In fact, he dominated the film a bit more than expected.

Cahiers: I was surprised that Clint Eastwood, who was not only the star of the film but also the producer, showed himself to be so generous toward another actor.

M. Cimino: Clint was well aware of what had happened, but he loved it so much that he could only watch it evolve, like on watches a natural element evolve, without wanting to interrupt it. In fact, if I remember well, the crew sent me a spokesperson to ask me to reconsider my idea of having him die at the end of the film; we were pretty much halfway through shooting… they told me: “We love him so much right now, could we save his life, please?”. Clint revealed himself to be very generous.

Cahiers: For starters, very few actors of that importance allow themselves to be led by a first-time director.

M. Cimino: “I don’t sell a screenplay unless I direct it myself”: it was my condition, and I was ready for it. But I think Clint was happy during the shooting, he seemed to take great pleasure at seeing the film and follow its stages. Before starting, I said to Jeff: “You have a job to fill. You must make Clint laugh in this film”; that’s exactly what he did!

Cahiers: It’s a film which shows that which many films of the era tried to show: the relationship between generations – which, at that moment, had became problematic.

M. Cimino: Of course, the characters of Eastwood and George Kennedy talk about their experience in Korea, and their attitude is in large part that of that generation; Jeff was a headache, for them. They don’t situate themselves in the current majority of American society, far from it; but Jeff was the bearer of change. Now that I reconsider it, it seems that Eastwood had a very brief moment of loving life, when he let himself go: for an instant, he gives himself to the illusion that he can be free, that he can regain that which he had before. That which we remember the most is the moments of freedom, of loving life. It is, in part, the subject of the film; it contains moments of that kind.

Cahiers: It has other aspects which are more “mainstream”; after all, it is a “genre” film. But it gives the impression of being a major film, not because of its budget, but because the range of its references. Foremost, simply because of the range of territory it covers, you truly have the impression of having seen the land, having experienced the places we pass through. In a sense, it is another film about people who search for America, or the idea of America.

M. Cimino: That pleases me; I wanted one to get a sense of America, I wanted one to experience the land, to see it, to feel it.

Cahiers: Where did you film?

M. Cimino: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was entirely shot in Montana, but in very different places; we traveled a lot, especially around the Great Falls; in the banks of the Dearborn and the Missouri; in the fields of wheat, east of Great Falls. The schoolhouse, with its single room, is an exact replica of a school found on the other side of the mountains, to the west. It was so pretty, where we built it, that we had trouble keeping the tourists away during shooting. It was at Wolfcreek, just outside of Helena. We filmed in a small town north of Great Falls, Fort Benton, which is the furthest west that one can go on the Missouri, where industrial equipment and goods arrive from St. Louis by steamboat. The old photographs of Fort Benton show hundreds of steamboats along the banks; one would think that Fort Benton would have became a metropolis. It is in this small town that Clint, sitting under a tree with Jeff, recounts his past. Fort Benton has a very rich history in the development of the West. It is there that they unloaded all the merchandise, to then pile them on the wagons which followed the path of the Oregon Trail, or scattered about in other directions. It was one of the regions where they exploited the goldmines, at Monarch Pass, to the east of Great Falls, the length of the Missouri, etc. It is a limitless open country. It is in large part the region of Charlie Russel: south of Great Falls, there is a bar where many of his paintings are found, from a certain era; and if you continue south of Great Falls, you’ll recognize many figures he represented in his paintings; the territory seems very familiar. I found the land east of the Great Divide very fascinating, because it is there that the Great Plains encounter the mountains. It is very steep; no hills you could climb on-foot, particularly above Interstate 2, north of Browning, which is a reserve for Blackfoot Indians. If one looks to the east, one can see practically to the Dakotas, and the mountains rise from all around. The east is dry and flat, and to the west, lies the Pacific. I found that it was a place of much contrast; the climate is completely different in the eastside and the west. What more could you ask for: some of the most beautiful mountains in the world, the rivers, the pines, the lakes, the plains; all that one could desire.

Cahiers: What brought you to this place besides what you had in mind before shooting?

M. Cimino: It surpassed my hopes in a number of ways. It revealed itself to be much more mysterious than I hoped it to be. I found it to be unreal: and each time that one glanced at the peaks in Glacier National Park, in every season, but especially in winter, when they are white, early in the morning, it is impossible not to feel a… an extraordinary contentment. In the presence of those mountains, all mountains in this case, - when one approaches them, one feels their spirit rise up, one begins to feel good; I don’t know from where this comes from, but it can’t be an accident that the Indian tribes of the Old World, who lived in the presence of tall mountains, made them, in some manner or other, gods. One must love a place to be able to show grand landscapes on the screen. Nobody showed and made one feel Monument Valley like Ford, although many tried. But him, he loved it, and if he was there and one could pose the question, “Why?”, I am certain that he couldn’t articulate a response, except to say that he deeply loved that place. When one loves a place, it shows in the images one makes.

Cahiers: There are other things, which are maybe tied up in that, like all the flags

M. Cimino: There are a lot of flags in all the films…

Cahiers: This is also an era where we saw the American flag on people, on car-bumpers, in places where it wasn’t intended, with slogans like “America, love it or leave it.”

M. Cimino: I could never do that; it’s too noble a symbol. I think that even at the end of Heaven’s Gate... it’s curious, despite the circumstances, despite the ending, one feels at the same time a certain nobility in that flag. It’s crazy, but its how it is; it transcends, in some way, that moment; I suppose it’s because it is an extraordinary symbol of hope; even at that moment, in Heaven’s Gate, it still seems to me like a symbol full of nobility, despite what happened, despite the genocide, as if even that couldn’t degrade it; it is still beautiful, the imagery is clear, brilliant, there’s no mistaking it. One can’t confuse that flag for any other. And to me, seeing that flag flapping in the wind, in that place, it’s a little magical.

Cahiers: Where did you film The Deer Hunter?

M. Cimino: There exists a real Clairton, in Pennsylvania, but we didn’t use it except for the name. The town, in the film, is one complied from seven or eight places, taken from several states. The church is in Cleveland, as well as the supermarket; the interior of Lenders’ house is in Steubenville, the exterior of Angela’s house is found in Follansbee, in Virginia; the bar, interior and exterior, is found in Mingo Junction (Ohio) the same as the exit to the steelworks, the parking lot. The interior of the steelworks is in Cleveland. It is therefore truly a composite place.

Cahiers: How did you go about creating a place when it doesn’t quite exist? Do you send people, do you look at photos?

M. Cimino: This place exists in your head, so you are in search of that you would like to find. I do most of the work myself, because I take pleasure from it. For The Deer Hunter, I was going to do one job prior to the others, but in the end, you say to yourself that you must do it all yourself. One learns a lot: one meets people that one would never have met otherwise, one gets to know the country better, also; that enriches the film, in some ways. The story of the two cops happened to a girl who worked for me looking for exteriors: she had helped at a wedding where two cops came, in the same circumstances; I immediately reused this anecdote, she was terrific. That wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t traveled endlessly. The majority of things, you find them completely by accident. I didn’t know that there was this marvelous church over there, I glimpsed it from afar, by accident, from the highway, and the hills are so beautiful! In fact, I found this church and that while starting Thunderbolt and Lightfoot on a really cloudy day, all of the sudden, the sky cleared up, and there it was! I believe that this research is an integral part of the film: the time spent watching people, talking to them, hitting the road, sleeping in those towns, walking down those streets. You notice things, some consciously, others involuntarily, that otherwise… It really approaches the work of an actor, you absorb a number of details; you notice a lot of things which, in a certain way, find their way back into the film.

Cahiers: Did you construct the important sets, for the American half?

M. Cimino: Yes, all the interior of the bar is a set.

Cahiers: Is it a reconstruction?

M. Cimino: No, it was from half-a-dozen details, pretty much, drawn from photographs essentially. The exterior existed, but the interior, nothing but plaster! So we entirely constructed the interior set, but it doesn’t show. We designed it down to the floorboards, nothing is real, it was constructed that way; the curve of the ceiling, the walls, the floor due to time were reconstructed. The trailer was entirely built according to photographs which I took, and the motel also, along with its sign. The door and the exterior of the steelworks were built.

Cahiers: So that’s what you do when you can’t find the place that you’re looking for.

M. Cimino: Sometimes you find the right place, but not the structure that you need. There, for example, everything was perfectly arranged, the railroad, the bar, etc., it couldn’t better, except that it didn’t have an entrance. So, we simply copied the entrance of another steelworks, which was found in another town, and we brought it there. The rest was perfect, the underground passage, etc., it was only missing the entrance, so we built it. We built a cabin in the mountains. We had it prefabricated in Pittsburgh, and delivered up to Washington. We assembled it, painted it, then removed it and put it in a truck, then transported it to the mountains.

Cahiers: Do you work a lot in the studio?

M. Cimino: No, I never film in a studio. We work around real existing places, and we modify them. You try to work, as much as you can, from what you find. For example, in Heaven’s Gate, we needed the train to run through the town, and there are very few cities, in the West, where you can find that combination. In that occasion, I had location scouts looking, and then I went, in my turn, to see if it would work. Surprisingly, very few towns like that actually exist! We had to get our train from Denver, Colorado, because such trains don’t exist. We worked as much as we could with what we found, and then we idealized them.

Cahiers: Why do you consider it so important to work on location?

M. Cimino: There is a current which flows when you film on location that you can’t get easily in a studio: you get off at night to go home, you don’t work on the weekends, it’s almost deskwork. Some like that; me, I like to feel far from home, that satisfies me; you get qualities from it, textures, which are doubly difficult to get in studio. And then, in studio, you don’t have real people, you have professional extras, which is completely different. In each of my films, we used a lot of locals and a small number of actors. The state of mind of people who live over there has never been truly shown in films. They brought an exceptional characteristic to the film. In the wedding scene, for example, in The Deer Hunter, these are the actual parishioners; it was very difficult to find that current, that life, from people who had the habits of an extra; you could obtain a perfectly satisfying result, but not the same result. Those people were really Russian-Americans, who actually spoke the language, actually danced those dances, who had spent all their lives in that community, had certain facial expressions. You couldn’t create that in professional extras.

Cahiers: Were you already familiar with that milieu and those people?

M. Cimino: No. I knew people like that, and I grew up with people from that milieu. I was a groomsman in a wedding similar to that one; I was very young, and in fact, my grandmother frequented a Polish church, one the Pope went to when he came to New York. It’s the Polish community that I know, not the Italian. I was therefore accustomed to these sounds, and I think that the music of Russian weddings is the most extraordinary that one can find. Of course, we could have reconstructed that church in Hollywood, New York or London, but it would be difficult to find the same people. This contact is an inestimable contribution for the actors.

Cahiers: Why did you want to make a film about Vietnam?

M. Cimino: One is always drawn to confronting the war when one has lived through that generation. People like Capra, Ford and Hawks dealt with WWII; the following generation, the Korean War; and us, we are grappling with the problem of Vietnam, it’s our point of reference. It’s an inevitable and natural consequence of our belonging to that generation.

Cahiers: It sounds like you’re talking about a form of therapy.

M. Cimino: One shouldn’t talk about films like its therapy. I don’t like that word. The principle subject of Ford, it seems to me, was the civil war and its consequences; that pervades his work. I think that the United States changed more profoundly during the Civil War, and after, than during WWII: there was certainly many more technological inventions during the World War, major material changes, but for that which concerns our mentality, the Civil War had a deeper impact. The Civil War and that of Vietnam resemble each other; both of them were concerned with the problems of race, which was never really central to WWII. Japan was certainly involved, but it wasn’t a war which distinctly opposed a different culture: it was principally the West against itself. In Vietnam, we found ourselves embroiled in the civil war of others. It is very interesting; the majority of profound changes that took place in our society came from our civil war, and a hundred years later, we were thrown into a foreign civil war. It was we who changed more than the Vietnamese. That conflict was a thousand years old, we didn’t change it, but our presence changed us a lot.

Cahiers: Which bridges the two events: it’s that our participation in Vietnam started a sort of civil war here, but this isn’t what you wanted to deal with. You focused on the people who went to fight in Vietnam, and on the effect of the war on them. In The Deer Hunter, you don’t mention the national division which the Vietnam War provoked.

M. Cimino: No, it was a fully deliberate choice. It is interesting to note that Heaven’s Gate starts just after the period of the Civil War: in fact, in the longer version – but this vanished from the shorter version – Joseph Cotton, at the end of his speech, uses these words: “When our hearts and minds…”; its taken from a speech which was made after the Civil War. They are very similar periods to one another, where we strived for reconciliation. In Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Lightfoot, after all, is killed by Kennedy, a soldier, and in his mind, he has this feeling of having participated in a war. I believe his last words are: “I feel like we’re heroes,” as if they came back from hell, which is the case. But, during the war, people of the type depicted in The Deer Hunter, were ignored by the media; in general, we belittled them, we treated them stupidly, like reactionaries, like fascists, it was unjust. I found, and I find in general, in that environment, a lot more intelligence and sensitivity regarding what happens in the world; and I find that in general, the people of Los Angeles and New York who wrote about the war navigate between these two cities, plus Paris and Saigon, and it is very rare that they reach these people, they don’t know them; they have narrow opinions about them, and don’t look further. After the war, and up till the end, these people showed themselves to be more capable than them in changing opinions that they professed beforehand; they had a bigger intellectual adaptability. A lot of people from New York are still fixed on the war; none of that which happened in these seven or eight years has changed their opinions. And of course, for a lot of people who write about the war, this became the center of their life. They don’t want to go beyond it; they’re hung up on that period, they’ve become reactionaries. That which isn’t at all like the case of that environment is what interests me: I found a lot more flexibility and honesty in those who went to the front. I found that they had more courage for adapting themselves to changes in their life, in their family, in the country, than the people who didn’t go but write about the war. That isn’t to say that there weren’t great journalist, people of great courage, for taking very difficult positions from the start of the war. A number of diplomats, Foreign Affairs officials, took the position very early, saying that it was a situation without an exit, and furthermore, wrong. Doing that, a lot of people ruined their careers. A lot of courageous people spoke up early on, and were buried, ignored. But in general, American journalists were wrong for pushing around the public, and they did not reach people on the subject of the war; I think they still feel guilty. The wait lasted until Walter Cronkite changed his mind: they waited for somebody to make the move for them, and when that was done by a visible figure like Walter Cronkite, they followed. This explains in part the anger of critics against The Deer Hunter, which in some ways encroached on their territory; I think that journalists felt that they were fooled by the administration, by McNamara, by Johnson, that they were had; they were, for too long, without any critical sense; I believe that still torments them and it was what mattered to them when they changed their positions. Nobody attached any importance to it.

Cahiers: What research into the war did you conduct for the film?

M. Cimino: Joann Carelli conducted a lot of research from private television channels, in New York. She and her assistant saw perhaps thousands of meters of film shot during the war. There was a great amount of material, because the films arrived daily, at the end of the war. She gathered a certain amount of documents which we kept in our library of newsreels – some had already been shown, but the majority were never broadcast on television. It was very important work, which took several months. I forgot how much we finally assembled, but it represented several hours of film.

Continued on page 100

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Cahiers: Where did you film?

M. Cimino: We filmed in Thailand, on the River Kwai, near the Burmese border; we wanted to film near the Cambodian border, but we couldn’t find a suitable river over there; they were all too shallow that year; so we went west, next to Burma. We lived and filmed over there during monsoon season. The rest was shot in Bangkok, and around Bangkok. Thailand was the best solution, because we also had to show Saigon - and in Bangkok, we used the streets, like Pathong, to represent an area of R&R; the architecture of Saigon is very close to that of Bangkok, the people really resemble each other.

Cahiers: Now that I know a little of how you work, I would say that it was a bold artistic move to depict, in the central scene of the film, events which never really took place: the Russian roulette… You had taken great care over the historical details of the war, and smack in the middle, you introduced purely imaginary events.

M. Cimino: This has already been so controversial that I’m tired of talking about it. A lot of people say that this really happened, and many say the opposite. Some journalists allege to have witnessed similar scenes; some people recounted seeing such games, but among women; some have sworn and still swear that it never happened. I find that all beside the point. What is important is that it’s very difficult to find the means to express, in a film, that dominant aspect of war: it’s what the majority of people could tell you; it’s the waiting. Each time there’s a firefight, it disappears; it’s extremely fast; but there is a terribly long period of waiting before; waiting for an event, waiting to be overtaken, waiting for a random shot. How do you show that type of tension, how do you make the spectator feel it? It’s a simple problem: how can I communicate to a public, in telling my story, what exactly this tension is? By making people wait five hours in a foxhole, with background sound of explosions? On the level of mise en scène, this isn’t very good… You have to find a means of communicating it, in a clear and vivid manner. Yet, contrary to what happened during WWII, the people of our generation were under the influence of Vietnam seven days a week, through this damned news. We were saturated with images of the war. Nothing like the people who, during WWII, saw the newsreels at the cinema each Saturday, so that each film made the war become an experience fresh and vivid. The contrary happened to us: our imagination was saturated, it had too much information. So we started to minimize it, ignore it. The problem was the following: how to communicate the tension, the experience of combat?

Cahiers: My favorite moment is when De Niro recreates the game of Russian roulette…

M. Cimino: What he tells Stanley is that he's killed; what he tries to do is teach Nick, in some way, to make sure it isn’t repeated. He tries to free Nick and the others from their romantic ideas, their illusions. There is a very short shot in that scene of a deer that he doesn’t shoot – you’ll notice that, when they argue, in the car, there is a nearly subliminal shot, only eight or nine frames, of a young deer; De Niro sees it take off like an arrow, none of the others see it; but he doesn’t fire on it; he could have done it, the shot was easy. If others had seen it, they would have all probably fired. But I think he’s not fully prepared for the events that happen. During the hunt, he talks about “one shot”; he attaches a lot of importance to it. In Vietnam, he doesn’t use a gun; he uses a flame-thrower and destroys a North Vietnamese soldier, in a way that would have been terrifying, unthinkable for him beforehand. He’s still the same person, but he has become conscience of a thing, in that war, which he wasn’t prepared for. We see a North Vietnamese soldier throw a grenade into a trench filled with women and children. It’s something shocking for a character like De Niro, and for us. Then you see De Niro kill him with the flame-thrower, not clean, not one shot… he shields their escape by emptying his cartridge… So he also changed a lot.

Cahiers: I understand that some criticized Meryl Streep’s character in this film.

M. Cimino: They criticized the fact she wasn’t very independent. It is interesting to notice at which point the articles about The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate reveal, for the majority of critics, a deep – how do you say – “petit bourgeois.” They wouldn’t recognize a real worker if he popped out of their toasters. That a girl like her, in a small town like that, where everyone knows everyone, where everyone knows what you do, where everyone talks about it, would leave her father’s to go live, in a trailer, with those two guys, and stay after only one of them returns! That shows that she is a character with a very strong will; one must be very strong to act thusly, in a community like that, where religion plays a very important role. A large part of those same critics couldn’t accept the roller-skating scene in Heaven’s Gate. It’s unimaginable; there were people who thought that this scene was made because skating became fashionable! They refused to accept the fact that this activity existed in that period, and that often cattle-drivers went out on the rink, got drunk, and began skating; there weren’t any women around so these guys were sometimes very tired, but they continued. It was a very popular activity. They couldn’t understand: “If these people were so poor and so oppressed, why were they allowed to dance?” But it’s what the poor could do better than anything else: they didn’t have the money needed for other entertainment. It’s still true today, the whole world over. In the favelas of Rio, in La Boca in Buenos Aires, what do the poor do on weekends? They dance, for god’s sake; it’s from them that dances come from, not the upper classes. I was astounded, appalled, to see that that kind of ignorant criticism could exist. You show them farmers in the new world: they demand to see them crawling, not having fun. You show them an oppressed class: they demand to see people oppressed every second of the film. It’s disconcerting.

Cahiers: Why do you think The Deer Hunter was a world-wide hit?

M. Cimino: I was surprised by the rest of the world’s reaction. Everywhere, the emotion of the audience was the same as here. I never dared dream of that success, mainly because the film dealt with Vietnam. Maybe it’s because it shows ordinary people, who, like other ordinary people, have a lot of courage in them, that particular kind of courage which galvanizes us; people without a doubt identified themselves with them, they identify themselves with those that resemble themselves; the fact that it’s about a different culture, the fact that it’s about Vietnam, wasn’t ultimately important; it was simply a war, about ordinary people faced with disaster, and reacting with a lot of courage. What happens to this small group, this small family – because this small group of friends forms a family – is shared by everyone. The tragedy of growing up, growing old, the tragedy of marriage, of war; every culture experiences that. This is what people identified with, and this has nothing to do with Vietnam.

Cahiers: What attracted you to the story of the Johnson County War for Heaven’s Gate?

M. Cimino: The history of the West, in general, is inspiring, it overflows with events; it’s a source of constant fascination. The episode of this small war, when I came across it, fascinated me, I really don’t know why. Maybe it was above-all else the death list, drafted in due form, sanctioned by the central and federal government. It’s what always interested me; knowing how one makes decisions which bring about the death of people. McNamara, Kissinger and the others; this group sits at a table and makes political decisions concerning Vietnam – more bombs or more troops? Their decision always entails the death of thousands of people. The decisions of war were made with the best reasons in the world, no doubt; lawful reasons like protecting the peace, protecting economic and political systems. I believe they are always made with those intentions, and calmly too! A group of men, sitting around a table, in a hotel suite, in the middle of eating breakfast or lunch, eating some choice food off of fine china, in a pleasant setting, calmly discussing how many people to kill…

Cahiers: I read what Asa Mercer wrote about the war; it’s a book (“Powder River Invasion”) which the French like to call very “committed”. It’s a book of reminisces, written to clear up the attitudes of certain people and find out who was on the right or wrong side. You often come across words like “the shame”… It’s a book which one is surprised to find in the history of the West.

M. Cimino: No, you find a lot of writing of that type. It’s not so exceptional in itself; but when you come across it, you’re amazed.

Cahiers: Some didn’t make note of it, but it seems to me that you were faithful, on a number of points, to the description of events given in the book. In fact, a number of details which the critics reproached you for came from the book.

M. Cimino: People used Heaven’s Gate to vent so many things, particularly the critics. Firstly, they rejected the material reality of the film. Yet our perception of the West is molded more by films than by the actual history of the West. The same people who we think of as very cultivated have the idea that the West was something like what films have shown us. What they have seen, or what they remember, is what they are accustomed to; bad, rushed movies, where there were never any extras in the background, the street were always empty, because it was simply cheaper to do so. I’ve listened to people tell me: “Why telegraph poles; did they even have electricity in that period?”; “Why are the streets so full of people; what are these people doing?” Have you ever seen a photograph from the era? Paradoxically, it’s one of the periods of American history which has the most photographic documentation. It coincides with the sudden blossoming of photography. The photographers captured everything in photos, and we had a very complete documentation of the era from looking only at photos. What they always show is an enthusiasm in these towns in development and construction; the stiffness of buildings, of people, of clothes; but the activity, the energy, the crowds which flocked to the major streets, the businesses; we have never shown that. We are used to seeing the sets from films, not real places. We are used to Old Tucson, which has been used maybe 150 times for 150 different films; it’s been thirty years of seeing the same town, without knowing it. My artistic director on Heaven’s Gate, who was also that of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, built, I believe, the original Old Tucson, and he worked on it again about thirty times, changing and remodeling it over the course of years. What they created, in fact, is a cinematic reality instead of a historic reality. People didn’t want to confront this idea, so they began by rejecting the material reality shown: the crowds, the businesses, the telegraph poles, the skates, people’s clothes, and the formalism in the nineteenth century manner of speaking. In the film, there isn’t a single building, a single interior design, that wasn’t inspired, in one way or another, by photographs from that era. Each element of the wardrobe, both the principals’ and the extras’ costumes, was designed in part by photographs, and yet all of that was completely rejected. Even the music was rejected; some think that the music of the West was born in the head of some god, as is; I wanted music which was as it was then; it was the beginning of what we know as modern Western music, but they still didn’t have it fully established; it was still close to its origins: for example, the skating music has Cajun feel to it; the rest of the music consists of Russian, Ukrainian, German and Polish folklore; “The Blue Danube” was a popular song in that era. But they threw all that aside.

Cahiers: Did you try to do as in The Deer Hunter, to show a reality which has been masked by its representations?

M. Cimino: Exactly. But The Deer Hunter was easier to accept, because it was contemporary, and it’s a reality which is still part of our visual baggage. Even to this day, we still recognize that small-town life very well. In Heaven’s Gate, it’s a question of going a hundred years backwards, and people can’t compare that period with what they have seen in other films; not with what they know, but what they’ve seen. Yet it was different from what they had seen up until then. This wasn’t the confirmation of something accepted, it was new. I’m talking about critics. When you read books on this period, on the war, even the clothes, the wardrobe, the hats of the mercenaries – there is a photograph of this group of mercenaries, with their names underneath, like a class photo; they are all wearing hats and they exactly resemble those in the film. The costumes, the ties are the same. The group in front is sitting, those behind them are kneeling, and the furthest group is standing. Even the death of Nate Champion: “Why did they shoot so many times?” – They found the real Nate Champion with 26 bullets in his body, and it’s precisely what we redid with Christopher Walken, and even that wasn’t accepted. The rejection was total, even had the film stuck exactly to the historical facts.

Cahiers: What alarmed me in the film, and which I later found in Mercers’ book, is that Champion died like a hero, guns by his side, just as you depicted, while writing his last testament.

M. Cimino: I used exactly what he put on paper.

Cahiers: You said somewhere that you weren’t so accurate concerning the war: that can maybe lend to the confusion.

M. Cimino: Yes and no. In other words, there were many elements which were very accurate. Likewise, for Vietnam, we worked in details for the hospital, the row of refugees on the road, the way which De Niro dressed, and the embassy sequence. We tried to be very accurate in what we did, in general; on the other hand, we took the liberty to use reality as we pleased, to not be left chained to the events down to the letter. But I don’t believe that we distorted reality enormously, whether in The Deer Hunter or Heaven’s Gate. I think that in spirit and tone they reflect a certain reality, a certain truth.

Cahiers: That also brings us back to what you said about places: how you find those that are suitable and how you idealize them. Could you maybe talk about the creation of towns: we have already spoken about Clairton; how did you choose a location for Sweetwater?

M. Cimino: I know the region; I often went there, and I always had, in the corner of my mind, the intention of using it one day. The problem was I wanted a town which appeared to be in the mountains, and not with mountains in the background; a place which looked stuck in the middle of mountains. We were stationed in Kalispell, to the west of the Divide, two good hours from this town. There was no discernible town; we needed extras for the roller-skating, which had to be based near a populated place. I traveled a lot in Montana, Washington State, Colorado, Idaho; we had driven 20,000 miles in Colorado alone, crossing the mountains, trying to find landscapes, prospects which had yet to be used. I wanted to show places which weren’t visually exhausted, which we haven’t seen. We are accustomed to landscapes from the southwest, towns like Old Tucson which we’ve already seen, against our will, in 200 films. We have seen and re-seen those places; I wanted to give people the impression that they were in the West for the first time; I thought that it would be exciting for them. These places had never been photographed, never been used; they radiate very strong vibrations. That took a lot of work, because a lot of those places are found in the National Park, and you have to respect the ecology: thus the exteriors of Sweetwater, the entire town is built on a raised three-feet platform, so as to protect the grass that is underneath; few people know that; in fact, it was better, because when the wagons crossed the town, they made a brilliant sound, which they don’t naturally produce; I put mikes in the dust, under the roads, and when they make their mass entrance at the end, one hears a marvelous sound. That’s the exterior scenes: we built the interior sets at Kalispell and in that region; which means we had shot the interior scenes month before those in exterior. We had decided that the lighting would be very directional, with the exception of the skating, which is in a tent; we had to get dark interiors, filled with smoke. So we had to determine, three months in advance, precisely where the sun would be. I don’t think it has any mistakes, I believe it’s completely accurate. In the bar scene, for example, where the light comes from the south, through the front door, when you see the exterior, the sun is at the right place; people didn’t pay it any attention, but it’s accurate. It was a method of searching for new exteriors, a new look, something different. The work was difficult, because the places were separated by 200 miles, but I don’t think you notice it, like you don’t notice that Clairton is composed of seven or eight towns. The same in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, you don’t know that it takes place in the same state, you feel as if you travel the entire Northwest. It’s the reality of the film which is important, I believe; the illusion was successful, in general. These places were found searching, in car or on foot, not in helicopter, on mountain trails, on dirt roads. You see fuck all from a helicopter. You get a feeling from arriving at a place, from discovering it; you perceive it differently, if you find it by accident; when someone tells you to go see such and such place, it never works, you must find it yourself. In general, when you follow your intuition, you find the place then you know that it’ll work; you find what you need, if you really need it, you find it; it’s a question of faith; that’s it, its waiting. We always had trouble returning the cars that we rented; the renters always thought that the odometers displayed incorrect numbers; we took a car for a week, and it showed 10,000 miles; they believed that the meter was broken.

Cahiers: Were you inspired by photos while building that town?

M. Cimino: In part, yes. The church appeared in a photo, all the tents of the town also, with their leather dressing; the bar, all of it, interior and exterior; the interior of the skating-rink also is a very typical building, a framework with a tent over it. The name 'Heaven’s Gate" is purely imaginary, however.

Cahiers: Is it pulled from Shakespeare?

M. Cimino: Yes.

Cahiers: The interior appears completely unreal, above all because it’s so big.

M. Cimino: Those are the exact dimensions of the wedding hall in The Deer Hunter, 40 by 100, and the same amount of people, 200, with the band at one end.

Cahiers: The representation of immigrants like a community, at the skating-rink or the bar, is parallel to the opening scene, at Harvard: they are communities with their rituals, their order and their own social divisions.

M. Cimino: Yes. They have already started becoming all that which Averill (Kris Kristofferson) has rejected. Its one reason for Averill’s disillusionment: he sees that transformation, that evolution; he sees it in those divisions which already mark the community; the merchants are separated from the others; already, they want to adapt themselves to something as horrible as the death-list. It’s the natural order of things, they group together and distinguish themselves from others in their own way; they don’t dance to Strauss, they dance to their own music. A carriage doesn’t circle around 800 magnificent dances gliding through the lawn of a college; it navigates a small, overwhelmed main street of a village bordering a lake, in the middle of mountains. Averill doesn’t take into account the importance of material thing for those people, for Ella (Isabelle Huppert) particularly. He doesn’t take into account the importance of the gift which he gives her himself, what it means, what if really represents. After all, he rejects the material aspect of his world; he’s certainly an idealist, and I think his gift is more a whim than anything else, and she takes it as something more meaningful. The aristocrats who are idealists are always disappointed when the people which they hope to help express an interest in material things; they expect in some way to find the reflection of their own idealism, and they encounter it very rarely.

Cahiers: I suppose that’s the outcome of the optimism which we see at the beginning of the film. You without doubt know the famous essay by Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”, which talks about the closing of the Frontier, one year after the Johnson County War. Did you want to show the end of something in the film?

M. Cimino: In a literal sense, it was the end of one century and the start of another: so, yes, it was the end of one thing and the beginning of another. The America of 1900 was certainly very different from the America of 1870: Newport, in particular, could not have existed before: it required a particular combination of forces to produce that display of extravagant opulence. Do you know Newport, in Rhode Island? It doesn’t look like anywhere else; rows and rows of extravagant mansions. It was the place in America which contained the most wealth, and they flaunted it with the grandest ostentation; and it happened over the span of fifteen years! So it was the end of an era and the beginning of another.

Cahiers: I think that your decision to add an epilogue and a prologue situated the event in history. Furthermore, Averill talks constantly about aging. Perhaps because Heaven’s Gate deals, above all, with passed times.

M. Cimino: Yes, it’s a film about passed time, and about a man who reflects on passed time, on his journey, on his past. Often, it seems to us barely possible to have lived through so much, and to still be alive, to have survived. How was I able to pass through such turmoil, so many events, meet so many people, so many things, which rush by in a frame of time which appears, to me, so short? How did I get there, how did I accomplish what I did, how and why did I survive? What is real in all that and what did I embellish? What part of my relationship with others was real, or were they more or less imaginary? Did my life really take place as I remember it; if it was different, what was it? It’s the type of question you ask yourself when you think on your past. It’s as if all the film consisted of flash-backs from his meditation at the end, on the boat. He’s someone who felt pressed to do what he believed was right; at the beginning of his life, he felt obligated to do what Reverend Gordon (Joseph Cotten) proposed: to act responsibly, work hard, have a useful life, conduct oneself according to the church, give his heart and mind to his country. In the end, he’s not sure of what he’s done; he poses a lot of questions about what he’s lived through; he is drawn anew towards what he is familiar with, he returns towards his class of origin; like Fitzgerald said, he retreats back into his money – I believe those are his words. It appears to him, at that moment, on the boat, that it was impossible that all that could have happened: the more he thinks about it, the more the mystery grows in his eyes. All those people are literally gone, in fact; it’s not like they were still alive; they have all gone; and that amplifies the impression of the unreality of that moment; it is impossible to go back, to see them, to speak to them, to ask them questions… I think that boats have always been a refuge; the people who sail, who fly planes, always say that they are freed from problems up there or on the sea: it’s a relief; the problems appear much less real.

Cahiers: You feel, in this passage, that this which they call reality is put into question. It’s what also happens in the roller-skating scene, which you play out in the mountains. You spend the entire scene with the dancers, then Averill sends Bridges to go bring the carriage, and you have a close-up of Ella. Her facial expression has something of worry or melancholy. Then you come back to the interior and all the dancers are gone, without you having seen them leave.

M. Cimino: It seems important: at a certain moment, the people disappear to her, she returns to her head with thoughts of what is going to occur between them, what their relationship is going to become. She is intelligent enough, visibly, to understand that they are from two completely separate worlds. Like I already said, she interprets his gift in a completely different manner than he does. Now that you gave her more, she expects more; her expectations increase with the gift. It’s in human nature; the more you give yourself, the more you desire, the more you need. But she isn’t sure of him; he isn’t someone who really expresses his feelings.

Cahiers: The relationship between Averill, Ella and Champion is often ambiguous or difficult to decipher…

M. Cimino: That was part of my intentions, to keep that ambiguity, to let the spectator draw their own conclusions: about whom she'll end with, what she’ll do; it isn’t precise. It’s like real relationships, not like fiction, where nothing is left to the imagination. In life, in all love triangles, whether between three men, two women and one woman, two women and one man, you’re never sure of the equation, because it always changes; you never can tell.

Cahiers: To take another example, you never see the friendship between Averill and Champion: you can infer it, on the part of a phrase: “Mr. Averill is lucky to have a friend like you”, but you never see that friendship in the picture. Their rivalry for Ella, and the political situation, has already spoiled that friendship; in a sense, it is left aside from the picture. Why did you leave something like that aside? You also said that you didn’t want the spectator to know everything about a character when they see them for the first time, but only when the film ends. Can you elaborate on that?

M. Cimino: I don’t know what I can add to the question… I wanted to say something important: there are often moments where I think… just in the pleasure of making the film; you feel a joy using the means of expression; the pleasure it gives you, the pleasure it can give to others; particularly in the musical sequences. You should not leave aside the pure pleasure of the form in-itself; it’s like driving a good car: there is also a joy in pure speed. You don’t have to lose sight of it when you talk about the work of somebody, or of films in general. It is rare that the cinema, as a means of expression, is used to make one feel joy. Film is also its form, and it explains in part the pleasure that one gets watching the films of Kubrick; the control which he exercises on formal elements is completely remarkable.

Cahiers: I asked in fact a question about form, and it has to do, without doubt, with what you said about speed.

M. Cimino: I don’t know what else you can say on the subject, but that film seems to end very quickly, because it isn’t encumbered by that which encumbers the majority of films. With certainty, the characters explain themselves, they explain one-another, they explain the meaning of the story; they say what they feel, what the others feel, what you should feel. To return to your question about Champion, it didn’t seem, to me, to have been an important element of the story: if I thought it was, I would have shown it.

In The Deer Hunter, you miss, by all evidence, the Vietnamese point-of-view; it isn’t the subject of the film, why talk about it? It’s a deliberate choice. This isn’t to say that it’s the right choice, but that you consider such-and-such aspect secondary in comparison to such-and-such other. Maybe I expect too much understanding, too many deductions from people; it’s possible.

Cahiers: You also put so many elements into the film that you can’t see them all from watching it once, or even twice. I’m talking about the details in the appearance of things and peoples, the faces, the costumes; it’s all like a foreign language, because you have never seen it before. Yet they’re very significant details; for example, you notice that one character is better dressed than another, even if it’s only an extra.

M. Cimino: I loathe the word extra; it’s horrible, because you use people as you define them. Extras – foreign to the scene. For example, the big street-scene in Kalispell, when Averill arrives by train; you see that enormous crowd, very clearly: everyone does not have the same rank; all different social level and classes are represented in that street. The people – the extras – are arranged with great detail. Each extra was carefully chosen, dressed and even redressed if it wasn’t right; we cut the hair off some of them. We classified them, by such sorts of groups one could find in a station – there are figures of immigrants, of merchants; we divided the people into squads, into sections; there is a procession of masons in the streets. All the society of a town is visible in the street. It isn’t a concept; the idea is that you must be able to look at any part of that immense screen and isolate from it any small piece according to your choice – you should maybe try, the next time you see it, taking a small telescope and scanning the screen with it, examining and isolating small parts. I think that, whatever part of the screen you choose, you won’t be disappointed: you will find equally swarming activity everywhere. Why do that? The majority of people will go see the film once, although, in cases where a film is successful, many people go see it two or three times; it’s true, even for Heaven’s Gate: many people returned two or three times to see it; they also rewatched The Deer Hunter many times. It’s because, especially for a period film, you don’t want to violate people; you don’t want them to say, suddenly: “Oh my god, there’s a bus!” for example. In many major films, films which were successes – I’m not saying which – you see the extras, in numerous scenes, without know what they say, but it’s clear. They’re counting sheep; when they should be singing, it’s obvious they don’t know the words; or else they are completely irrelevant to the shot. That weakens the film, even if the public isn’t directly conscious of it, they notice it; it forms a deposit in them, and people, I believe, respond to films from that strata deposited in them. You threaten the film; you also threaten the credibility of characters, by lack of judgment. If you pay great attention to the place you film, you must do the same for the people you film. The effectiveness of The Deer Hunter comes from you accepting the reality of that community of people, and their environment. You can look at any part of the screen during the wedding reception; you’ll see everyone participating, everyone taking part in that event. It was done very carefully, not out of self-indulgence, but to make the story more credible.

Cahiers: There is nothing but credibility – everything is obviously very important: even if people don’t see all the details in that street-scene, on first viewing…

M. Cimino: There is even a hanging; they hang a man in the middle of all that activity!

Cahiers: …what’s important is that the details are there to be read, if someone wants to see them. The film doesn’t create the portrait of a socially homogeneous world, but of a very differentiated world.

M. Cimino: Take the example of a hundred-piece orchestra: if one bow is slightly twisted, it is easy to tell which person doesn’t realize it, by all means. But the conductor will hear it. But why should he nit-pick? The public, 99% of the time, won’t hear a thing. Why is Balanchine endlessly done, not only by the soloists, but all the ballet? The public only watches the center of the stage. People don’t ask themselves questions about choreography, the direction, and the composers. If a director does it, he passes for a narcissist. The big battle scenes of Kurosawa are, in general, worked to the smallest detail. We shouldn’t have to talk about it; it’s simply part of our work. See what happens in the American auto-industry: the sales of Japanese cars are always rising, while American sales continue to decline: because the people have that which they perceive as a better product, better made. The lack of taste in good work can have disastrous results for a country, for all of society; it doesn’t simply concern fabricated products, but our entire system of values. It is important to value good work and the pride from working.

Cahiers: It seems to me that the majority of criticism directed at the film concern the way it was made and the deliberate choices you made. For example, the soundtrack, in certain scenes, isn’t conventional: it is particularly striking in the scene next to the train, with Cully and Averill, where you listen with difficulty to what they say, you miss dialogue. It is all the more striking as it’s a scene with very important exposition.

M. Cimino: My position was very simple: if you are next to a locomotive, among all those people, all that noise, you must strain your ears to listen, and you miss parts of what’s said to you. We’ve all seen scenes in movies in airports, in subways or on trains, where you don’t hear a single sound, nothing but the dialogue: it’s only a picture of two people in the act of speaking! All other forms of life are suspended; we abandon that which was in progress all around. I wanted people to listen more attentively, listen perhaps in the manner which the characters must listen: they’ll bend down, they’ll work a little bit so as to catch everything, perhaps they’ll read their lips; I expect a lot from people. The public has become lazy; maybe that was going too far, but there is also a great density in the soundtrack, numerous details. The sound was also recorded as carefully as the visuals. If there’s a market on one side of the screen, you hear the appropriate sounds, just as, if on the other side, other activities happen. The soundtrack is very rich. People aren’t perhaps used to that, they expect the dialogue to be emphasized: I believe this comes above all from television. That leads us to this representation of intense activity: when a scene includes a whole place, it includes many people, therefore many sounds, all sorts of peripheral sounds. When Averill walks down the street, for example, to go to the store, you can remove the sounds, it’s very easy, you erase it, and you pass directly to the soundtrack of the store. I wanted you to feel what it was like to walk down a street in that period: to follow those noisy wagons, to cross all that activity, what you felt, what you heard. People made so much dust; my god, was it dusty! That makes the streets dirty… when hundreds of wagons go around, they raise dust. And very often, we took the time to record the background sound. In the store, for example, we recorded numerous conversations, with the intention of inserting them into the soundtrack later. This isn’t general background noise; you hear people, in a corner, argue over the price of a knife, discuss the merits of a particular rifle… each of those people are engaged in a very specific activity and you hear them.

Cahiers: That is the second time that you’ve said: “Maybe I expect too much from the public.” But you have received letters on the subject: what do they say?

M. Cimino: All the letters I received told me that people understand the film perfectly. They essentially spoke of the critical reaction. I didn’t receive single letter saying: “I don’t understand”; the letters say the contrary, and they come from people of all ages and all walks of life; thoughts, well-written, some longer than twenty pages. Some people in New York took an airplane to come see the four-hour version; people moved in groups to go see it. It was very gratifying, in fact, to see that they didn’t believe what they read. Curiously, many cited Moby Dick, taking into account the initial reception that it had received. They all used the words “flowing” and “like a river.” Many said that they had seen the film two or three times and that they appreciated it more and more with each viewing. All wrote to me: “We hope that you aren’t discouraged.” Many knew that I worked on a modern version of The Fountainhead. They sent me quotes from The Fountainhead, from other novels about individualism. Nearly all said something on the subject.

Cahiers: Do you think people were offended by your political positions?

M. Cimino: I don’t see it as a political film. I don’t see The Deer Hunter as a political film. I really don’t like politics. They aren’t stories concerning politics, but stories about people, caught up in events, whatever its reasons may be. They reveal the event. Americans are very poor, on all levels, in that which concerns political statements. We don’t know how to make them, and when we do, we make them badly. We aren’t adapted to that.

Cahiers: They say you’re always trying something new, and your style evolved very quickly from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot to Heaven’s Gate. How do you see your current situation? For example, would you be interested in going back and making another “genre” film, where one finds what one expects, like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot still was; or will you make another film like The Deer Hunter?

M. Cimino: It will always be people who will interest me, I believe. It’s people who give you the urge to make movies, characters. You have an attraction to a character, if he’s interesting enough, that what’s important. I don’t see myself making a film because it’s from a certain genre, except a musical comedy; I would love to make a musical comedy, it provides a special pleasure which tempts me; I think it would take me to a state of pure joy which I dream about. I have already begun a story about Indians; in short, it’s a story of a boy who wasn’t entitled to his vision and because of it, he doesn’t have a name. To receive a name, he attains his vision, and when he has a name, he must earn it; it’s a story of the American plains, it takes place in the Dakotas and Montana. I have two other subjects on the West, on which I’ve been working for some time: they are all journeys in that genre. I hope to eventually make a film on the gangster Frank Costello.

Cahiers: Are you tempted to protect your rear-end, like Hitchcock said?

M. Cimino: We are all confronted with the reality of the film industry. You must have a sense of money to make films in our age. A failure doesn’t make your life easier. Hitchcock could make films to protect his behind, Ford also…

Cahiers: “Make one for them,” he would say.

M. Cimino: Even when Hitchcock made films for them, to protect his rear-end, they had something special. Making films isn’t easy; you always have spats, harassment: it’s an unpredictable profession. What’s important is that you and others continue to make films; up to the end, Hitchcock and Ford stayed true themselves, they worked late, like Huston right now, and it is amazing to see the energy that they retained after all the obstacles that they’ve overcome. When you think of what Cukor suffered, when he was fired from filming Gone With the Wind; he worked three years to prepare that film, he was consumed by it, he filmed several weeks, and then he’s replaced on a film which became the most well-known and most important of his era, it must have been a terrible blow! That shouldn’t have been as easy to experience as it looks in retrospect: not only did make it through that period, but he continued to make marvelous films. His parking spot is next to mine, at MGM, and as I said once in an interview, I believe it was at Cannes: Selznick is dead, Thalberg is dead, Louis B. Mayer as well, and the guy who’s my neighbor at MGM is named George Cukor, he was still making films at MGM! It was true; he was making Rich and Famous. It’s very hard work. When I arrived here for the first time, I think it was because I had to meet Clint, I was invited to a party, I think it was Clint who asked me to go. I didn’t know what it was; I though it was going to be some sort of screening, he had said there was going to be an awards ceremony. I wandered around all corners, looking to recognize people; it was a tribute to David Lean, and there were only filmmakers; Hitchcock was there, I believe, Capra also, Huston; all those who were alive were there. We saw twenty of minutes of film-clips from Lean, and, as I understood, Lean isn’t sensitive. I forgot who handed him the award; everyone stood up and I believe they gave him a ten-minute ovation, all standing: only filmmakers, no press, no television. It was an extraordinary moment, Lean cried. Seeing Hitchcock, Capra, Huston, Billy Wilder, Minnelli… he couldn’t find the words. Who were they applauding? Someone who had gone out there, as they had themselves: what a marvelous tribute! It was so sweet, so enthusiastic, so personal; it must have been a shock for him to see that bunch of old marksmen standing to applaud one of their own. They all know what it is to be booed.

(Interview conducted by Bill Krohn in Los Angeles, the 27th and 28th of April, 1982. Translated from the English by Francine Arakélian)
1. 200 miles: The interview gives the figure of "2,000 miles". Either Cimino is talking about different locations than those in Montana, or it has to be typo.

2. one year after the Johnson County War: The text refers to it as "the War of Johnson and Kennedy", which must have been a mistake on the translators part.

3. I have already begun a story about Indians...: for those interested, this is his long-planned adaptation of the Frederick Manfred novel, Conquering Horse. Recommended reading.

4. protect your rear-end: Anyone know the exact Hitchcock term? I was tempted to translate it as "protect your ass", but I don't know if it would be too strong an interpretation.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:42 pm 
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from Jeune cinéma n136 Jul/Aug (1981) [“La porte du paradis”]
Heaven’s Gate
by René Prédal

The film recounts a true episode of a battle which was fought in Wyoming at the end of the 19th century between cattle barons and the new wave of immigrant farmers. Into this historical context, Cimino places a completely mythic couple – the whore and the sheriff – constructed from the psychological archetypes of the Western whose classic improbabilities (for example, she survives the killings unscathed) the narrative then appropriates, all of it dressed with the details of unbridled romanticism, be it on an aesthetic level (the final carriage ride along the lake), or simply in the characters’ behavior (Nate writes his last words to Ella before dying in a gunfight which envelopes his home in flames). The film constantly plays on this blend of genres and perspectives; it defies realism and processes of identification, seeking instead reflection through the modern effects of “dramatic distance.” A number of very strong scenes are therefore immediately followed by their contradictions, and if the “professional killer” is first shown cold-bloodedly shooting a farmer dismembering a rustled cow, the same man lets a young cattle rustler, guilty of an identical crime, go free in the next scene. Frozen by an ice-cold winter, the order of the powerful rests entirely on the complete confusion between the two notions of cattle and money: Ella accepts one or the other for payment equally, and the deaths are fixed strictly per head: fifty dollars per corpse for the assassins.

The opposition between the two human groups are extremely flexible since they lie on a large number of factors: the stock-grower/farmer conflict is also that of the rich against the poor, the first settlers against the new wave, the Americans of old stock against “foreign” immigrants (Ella is French in the middle of a heterogeneous community dominated by Central Europeans) and the state of law against that of nature. Moreover, each side has its own “yellow-belly”: the mayor, representing the merchants, is ready to deliver the 150 condemned men and women to the Association, so as to assure the prosperity of his business; and, on the other side, Irwin drowns out his conscience in alcohol, denouncing his class while not daring to openly side with the people who Cimino coops up in dirty barracks, whose layered cots distinctly evoke the Nazi concentration camps. The care taken with the spectacular reenactments, animated with hundreds of extras (the surroundings of the Johnson County train station) doesn’t prevent the film from vigorously emphasizing the collusion of political and military power used directly at the service of the dominant class, represented here by the “club”, the “association” of stock-growers and their henchmen. It’s the Federal Army who robs the people of their victory by rescuing, at the last minute, the wealthy ringleaders from working-class justice; and, when the general drops his pants to moon the oppressed, as they go on the attack, a character remarks: “That man is a friend of the President.”

Firmly framed by a prologue set twenty year prior, and by an epilogue occurring roughly twenty years later, the central anecdote concerning 1891 finds itself not only defined by the psychological evolution of the main characters, but each of its episodes are transcended by mise en scène, skillfully weaving a web held by its connections with the film’s brilliant opening. Far from being a grandiose, but gratuitous set-piece, the opening at the 1870 Harvard graduation underlies all the resulting sequences, as if James Averill’s destiny had already been determined at age twenty. Of course, a university education creates, as a hero, a sheriff strongly different from those commonly seen à la John Wayne, but the prologue has many more functions than simply clarifying Averill’s behavior by evoking his bourgeois origins: symbolically, the waltz of ’70 is in fact repeated in Wyoming, during Ella’s birthday: first in the presence of all the town (…and on roller-skates, a curious idea based on Fellini more than the “frontier”), then – by the sudden intrusion of a dream-like atmosphere – with the couple alone on the rink, the very same one which will later be the stage for a spontaneous meeting of threatened people. Cinematographically, it is also the mise en place of movement – of crowds, of the camera – and of sound volume which gives the film its tone. But all that is only playful fantasizing at the beginning, while, later, the same elements take on tragic proportions among the real savagery of the West. Looking back clearly after the following events, the moralizing speech by the Reverend has a pathetic ring to it next to the racket (strongly contained elsewhere) by the students who listen to it before the excesses of their celebration. After the dance, the students form – in the manner of certain extras in Miklos Jancso’s film – two concentric circles turning in opposite directions. The same mise en scéne will be revisited in the scene when the poor attack the Association’s assassins, surrounding them in a ritual typical of “Indian films”. But “It's not like the Indians. You can't just kill them all,” as Irwin says before being hit. From this prologue as well, Averill is shown being late, running to catch up with his fellow students… just as he we will be late, in 1891, catching up with the working-class army who he will lead to a stolen victory. As such, everything is in place, and the history of the West at the end of the 19th century is already written, twenty years beforehand, in the heart of East Coast high society.

The circle completes itself in the final sequence in Newport, at the start of the 20th century. On a boat in the middle of the ocean (a distant echo of the lake in Johnson County), in a bold and heavy room of luxury (a type of place for gatherings), Averill is confronted only with memories (Ella’s death) and regrets (the young girl in a wedding gown). Dreaming of youth, he is beset by the ghosts of old age by having, in sum, wasted his life as an adult. He can’t think of anything that he has retained or built, lost off the shore of an ocean of passion and history, whose drift Cimino has masterfully controlled. As such, the cinema truly prevails once the film concludes and, like Fellini’s Casanova, the character finally raises the mask and reveals a life’s tragic emptiness.
1. dramatic distance: The term used is "distanciation spectaculaire".

2. drops his pants to moon the oppressed: This scene seems to only appear in the shorter edit.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:48 pm 
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These next three articles, all published in the same issue of Positif, will be the last three I will be posting on Heaven's Gate for the time being. Afterwards, I will hold off from digging up articles for his first two films. Instead, I will try to tackle Year of the Dragon, a film that, while not as loathed or infamous as Heaven's Gate, is in many ways even more critically devalued and ignored.

from Positif n246 Sep (1981) [“Le rêve perveti.”]
The Perverted Dream
by Michael Henry

With what arrogance, what audacity, does Michael Cimino continue to work, not so much against the times, as against the social current. At the hour when the guilty consciences of “bleeding heart” intellectuals was sprawled across movie screens, The Deer Hunter gave America several reasons to exorcise the nightmare of Vietnam, and to rediscover a faith in itself. Now, when they are clearing their consciences by embracing Reaganite certainty, here comes Heaven’s Gate, clashing with it head-on, forcing them to face a truth that has been systematically suppressed for a century. If Cimino must be reprimanded, as an idiotic press believes he should, one certainly could not accuse him of opportunism…

Yesterday, he was the first to dare keep enough of a distance from the tragedy of the war so as to offer us a spiritual odyssey which both transcended and sublimated that tragedy at the same time. He was also the first to ignore the political and ideological elements of the conflict, so as to better espouse his chosen point-of-view, that of small-town America. The war? His “blue-collars” would never dream of contesting it; it was perceived in terms of individual survival, like a rite of passage, an initiative step into the larger history of the community and, beyond it, of the entire nation. Today, by examining the sources of America violence, he is tackling a carefully concealed heritage. Far from dressing an open wound, he is reopening a forgotten one, laying bare a trauma even deeper than that of the Indian genocide: the “original fratricide”, the massacre of the poor by the rich.

This time, political power is directly accused: the stock-growers claim they have the support of Congress and the President; the stars-and-stripes, brandished by the blue-coats, ultimately arrives to cover-up the crimes of the aggressors, and thwart the immigrants’ victory over the land… “It's gettin' dangerous to be poor in this country,” sighs Jeff Bridges. To which Kris Kristofferson replies: “It always was!” One could articulate it better only by saying that the pioneers perverted their dream through the very means by which they obtained it. It’s as if America could only build itself and prosper at the expense of the very ideals on which it was founded. How does one become American? To this question, which obsesses him, Cimino responds: sometimes in disregard of rights, sometimes in disregard of morality. Is it necessary to add that he places himself, as in The Deer Hunter, on the side of the lifeblood of the masses, on the side of the humiliated and the wronged, the voiceless and those forgotten by history?

The individual experience, as we now know, only interests this filmmaker as far as it emerges from a national scale. The Deer Hunter put the ethical nature of its hero, Michael Vronsky, to the test. Attached to his “tribe”, but yearning for the solitude of nature, he is an individualist cultivating his separateness, but also a natural leader who galvanizes his companions, struggling to contain the violence dwelling within them, up to the point of renouncing the thrilling emotions of hunting; this “control freak” embodied the opposite representations of America. Like Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, King Vidor’s masterpiece which Cimino has long planned to remake, he preserves his integrity at the price of a permanent asceticism.

Conversely, as victims of their own ambivalence, stuck between two antagonistic worlds, the characters in Heaven’s Gate have no grasp on the ensuing events. Failing to control their destiny, they are overwhelmed by their own insurmountable contradictions: Nate, the illiterate mercenary, betrays his community by carrying out the Association’s dirty work; Averill, the son of a powerful family, betrays his class by siding with the poor. This commitment, which neither of the two can maintain to the very end, doesn’t come without contempt. Both contempt for themselves and contempt for their allies. They both come to the point where they take up arms against those they serve: after Ella’s rape, Nate shoots one of Canton’s lieutenants, while Averill welcomes a delegation of “collaborators” with the blows of a whip. The poet Irvine, the weakest of the three, doesn’t even have the courage of deserting his side: the powerless and tragic witness to the abuses of his class, he seems to extend a looking-glass to Averill, who in his turn, like mimicry, will ultimately attempt to forget these events with alcohol and reclusiveness. Arriving far too late, their respective awakenings-of-conscience will not change the course of events: Nate will be murdered by his employers, Averill deposed by the local government, and Irvine will be delivered from his torment in the course of bloodshed, of which he was nothing more than the spectator.

For the essentially physical communion offered by masculine camaraderie, The Deer Hunter substitutes, little-by-little, a spiritual communion with the values of a small society which still remains close to its ethnic origins. Michael, in particular, confronts one after the other, the ambiguous savagery of war and the primordial forces of nature, discovering at the end of his quest a painful regeneration. The acknowledgement of evil marks the loss of innocence, but as with the thwarted dreams of a wasted life, it was a lesson that needed learning, a heritage that had to be recognized. Beyond the sorrow, the mourning community imperceptibly rediscovers its deep roots. There is no irony in the “God Bless America” which the survivors sing – it is but an act of faith in the tangible reality which unites them. In Heaven’s Gate, that life-force retreats prematurely, unavoidably, starting at the end of the prologue. Hardly had the graduation celebration reached its peak that the fervor begins to wane. “Let our friendship be forever,” sings a chorus of Harvard’s golden youth, but already blows have been exchanged, bursts of violence which anticipate the frenzy of the confrontations to come. And above all, an unexpected, deeply-moving change of framing occurs, isolating Irvine, the jester, the soothsayer, who shouts, while laughing and crying: “It’s all over!” Long before Averill, who will need twenty more years to understand what his friends perceives at that moment, he senses that never more will his generation participate in such a journey, have such unity in the same calling – “the education of a nation.”

Their paths will diverge: some, like Averill, will carry out the migration of their contingency from the East towards the West, without finding the Promised Land there; others, precisely Irvine, will flee towards Paris, towards Europe, creating a New World which is nothing more than a caricature of the Old. From that point on, the future will only be built on lies and denials. “It’s all over!” prophesizes Irvine, and at that point, the story is immediately placed in the context of lost time and romantic disillusionment. The drifting of souls, the loss of vigor, the degradation of values, this is the register which Cimino adopts. In this romantic lament, friendship itself – and we know how precious this filmmaker holds it – will remain unformulated or inexpressible. Averill and Irvine will meet again, but on opposing sides. Nate and Averill will not be able to love each other, except through the women who they fight over: nothing more than a potential friendship which can only express itself when one party is unaware (“You’ve got style, Jim!” Nate tells Averill when he is black-out drunk) or gone (Averill gazes lengthily at Nate’s remains). Undoubtedly, the sheriff will outlive his companions, but only as a phantom, a living corpse, a wreck of a man abandoned, by the end of the century, to the posh shores of Newport. Still capable of remembering, perhaps, but not of testifying for the “great cause” which he believed he could serve in the West.

In The Deer Hunter, the view of the world expanded itself at each turn of the story, until it embraced, like a Pantheist Assumption, the harmony of the universe, such as it is revealed in Michael’s eyes when he gazes at the immaculate glaciers of the mountain. In Heaven’s Gate, to the contrary, John Hurt’s cry marks a clean break from the dynamic enthusiasm which the film’s overture promised. The Prairie dreamed of by Averill is already irreparably sullied. In three vignettes which are much like engravings, we are presented with the victims of Myth, the outcasts from Heaven: the black silhouettes of the destitute cling to the roof of a supply train, Hungarian immigrants wading through the mud, the blood and viscera of a Soutine painting, a convoy of the hungry-and-downtrodden escaping from the ghettos of Central Europe, and who look like an offense against the radiant beauty of nature… As a measure of the extent to which they shatter the illusion and waste their energy, the landscapes of the film never cease to shrink, as if the world itself was collapsing, until it’s ultimately reduced to the dimensions of a yacht-cabin, Averill’s final cell.

It is true that among these landscapes everything moves with a rigorous choreography. The motif of the circle commands the mise-en-scène of groups. The privileged figure of ritual, it appears in each episode of the film: at Harvard, where The Blue Danube carries three circles of dancer waltzing in opposite directions (each circle itself animated by the whirl of each couple) before two new circles, both exclusively masculine, form around the May Tree and its trophies; – at Sweetwater, where the motif reappears during the rare moments of euphoria: the mad ride on the Ella’s buggy, the cockfight in a smoke-filled backroom, the roller-skate dance in “Heaven’s Gate”; – during the final battle, lastly, which finds the killers encircled by wagons of immigrants, who are in their turn encircled by the Calvary… The complementary figure of the circle which closes off its movement, the arc of the circle is associated with immobility: it dominates arrangements of groups which are frozen in wait: parishioners posing for a photo, mercenaries waiting in ambush around Nate’s home, villagers holding a meeting to organize the resistance…

Many have noted – starting with Cimino – the references to paintings which appears throughout the composition and lighting of shots. But have they also emphasized the masterful novelistic structure, already visible in The Deer Hunter? Despite the vicissitudes of montage, this talent emerges at each and every turn of a narrative whose visual elements never ceases its escalating search for new metaphors. Between the dominant caste and the immigrant subordinates, a network is established, one of connections, antitheses, of internal rhythms, each more clever than the last: the parade at Cambridge is answered by the cortege of the destitute through the desert; the sumptuous order of the waltz by the joyous indiscipline of the violinist and the skaters; the choral singing of students, the Slav and Yiddish chants carried by the wind to the opposing camp; the conference of stock-growers in a plush club, the gathering of a people’s war tribunal; the faces of young girls in flowers illuminated by candles, those of Ella and prostitutes lit by the gas lamps of the brothel; the role-call of members of the Association which is composed only of very Anglo-Saxon names, the reading of the “death list” containing the family names of “foreigners” originating from all the countries in Europe… “To have and have not?” Two Americas, each as different as shadow and light, who in their fratricidal ballet, never cease from meeting and tearing each other apart. At heaven’s gate, nothing remains but the broken pieces of a shattered dream
1. but as with the thwarted dreams of a wasted life: "...mais des rêves brisés comme des vies gâchées..." My translation is the only way I can make the comparison make sense, but I'm still uncertain.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:59 pm 
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A negative review. While Eyquem specifically discounts the idea of a "longer" cut, reading the review, one wonders if seeing the longer version wouldn't change his minds, as many of his criticisms fall along those lines. The main scene of contention - Wolcott's mooning of the immigrants - isn't even in it. Then again, it also exhibits some of the petty arguments all too common to the American criticsn of the film.

from Positif n246 Sep (1981) [“Deconfiture amere”]
Bitter Defeat
by Olivier Eyquem

During a pause in the noisy massacre which concludes Heaven’s Gate, a portly general defies the immigrants and, dropping his pants, shows them his pale posterior. In a reverse shot, Kris Kristofferson, nobly disgusted, declares with a tired but virile voice: “And to think that that man is a friend of the President of the United States!” To this final phrase, in a film which spared neither the clichéd nor the formulaic, the spectator who still has the courage to respond could ask himself several essential questions. Examples: How can Cimino, after having successfully guided a project as sensitive as The Deer Hunter, be at that point, in Heaven’s Gate, incapable of sorting out what is essential and what is frivolous, of properly focusing his scenes? How, not having been able, despite his efforts, to illicit the slightest emotion or indignation, could he believe that such a trivial detail, accompanied by such a perfectly redundant comment, would generate the slightest reflection in the spectator, would help him to better understand the how’s-and-why’s of a complex situation, whose two preceding hours had given him nothing but unintelligible glimpses?

Perhaps one will retort that this is only suggested by a single detail, that the example itself is badly chosen? But Heaven’s Gate consists only of such details. One will protest that the original edit (which strongly risks becoming a mythical excuse for this film’s partisans) contained ineffable beauties. This would be to forget that Cimino, implicitly disowning that first version (all while assuring that the second was hardly different!), assumes completely responsibility for the 2h 31m version of the film, which must therefore be the only one taken into account, until the hypothetical third edit emerges, emphasizing the action scenes (which will be difficult) and, why not, a fourth one, until it ultimately arrives, charitably, to the dimensions of theatrical trailer (since there is, it is true, enough beautiful shots to make a suitable one).

But if we remained focused on this piece of work, trying to forget the esteem for which we hold the man behind The Deer Hunter, we are forced to admit that we are here confronted with a disaster of rare size and which, considered through the prism of “cost-versus-quality”, Heaven’s Gate constitutes a rare case in the history of cinema. Rarely has a mountain of money been created from such a molehill, rarely has a ‘B’ script been treated with such solemn self-importance, rarely has a filmmaker been so irreparably mistaken in all the relevant areas of his responsibilities.

There was, in the beginnings of Heaven’s Gate, but which presently is hardly discernible, a subject, superb material. There was the possibility of dealing with an event which was an integral part of the history of the United States, to show the conquest of land, the struggle between the classes, the ethnic confrontations, the rift between generations of immigrants, and the role of federal power in that struggle. There was the possibility of developing, in the foreground or background, one of those traditional, but solid stories of a love “triangle”, which reflect those tensions, illustrating the division between people of opposed allegiances, a recipe of which innumerable films of the thirties form an excellent part. There was ultimately the possibility, having the means of constructing it, of making an entire city come to life, of following a community in its daily oppression. But from all this, nothing was accomplished.

As much as The Deer Hunter clearly laid out, from its very first shots, the diverse social stratum of the town, weaving as the party went along a complex network of relationships and tensions; this is how much Heaven’s Gate is damaged by its lack of historical dimension. The film, from as much as anyone can grasp its purpose, appears to have been motivated – in part at least – by a revisionist intent. It situates itself in that long Western tradition which emerged with Broken Arrow, and which continued with Liberty Valance, Cheyenne Autumn, Little Big Man, etc., all films which show the underside of the American saga, and which unmask the “justifiable” violence which drove it. The cornerstone of this denunciation, the repressed history which the film attempts to excavate, is that amazing death list which would authorize the systematic murder of immigrants in the name of the Stock-Growers Association, and which will give birth to the Johnson County War. But this major scandal could not appear as such but at the price of a patient, reconstructive approach; the enormity of the measure could only be grasped if it was presented as the culmination of a series of confrontations and maneuvers allowing the two parties to come face to face, by showing the exact functioning of the Stock-Growers Association, its connections with the powerful, and not, as is the case here, by being presented like the basic beginnings of a oral-report, whereof the most intense moments are summarized in definitive stylistic expressions: “It’s getting’ dangerous to be poor in this country.” “They (the land barons) are not giving us any chance.” “Let’s unite.” Etc.

Even if he had to neglect, in such a striking manner, the collective dimension of the conflict, Cimino could have been able to develop his four protagonists. And yet, if you look past the level of community, towards that of the individual, you’ll notice the same errors of perspectives, the inexplicable deficiencies. The involvement of Jim Averill, and vice-versa, that of Nate Champion, held interest only as far as it was placed in contrast to their environment of origin, and if this contrast was followed throughout the film in a coherent manner. And yet it is an understatement to say the most basic logic is lacking here, and that nothing permits us to understand what exactly preceded Averill’s break with his class, no more than it allows us to understand the strained solidarity between Nate and the stock-growers (the third accomplice, Irvine, being defined like the traditional cynical drunk, and, therefore, immediately situated outside of history).

One can’t speak about ellipses and suggest that Cimino, by leaving these gaping holes in his narrative, was looking to stimulate the viewer’s imagination or to erase, as Altman does, the classical elements of film, the psychological motivation. Since the film, in reality, never ceases alternating between the vague and the concrete, from undefined characterizations to the cliché, from the undetermined to the over-determined. We expect a shadow play, a continual coming-and-going of reluctant actions, surrounded by a grand silence, and suddenly our old friends emerge: the Whore with a heart of gold, the Mercenary, the Righteous Man and the Drunk, and we sigh, thinking about all the “programmers” which played it straight, and we remember the Marie Windsors, the Robert Prestons, the Joel McCreas, and the Thomas Mitchells who, at least, knew how to make us believe in them… We get prepared to see a film where the characters, perversely miscast (but this can work sometimes), are only defined by their inadequacies, their refusal to participate in a history which is too chaotic and rowdy for their liking, and all of a sudden, very familiar situations reemerge: the sheriff which jumps to the rescue of a couple harassed by a mercenary, the prostitute who forgets her venality so as to buy a respectable life, the killer who makes a heroic exit in a hail of bullets…

Making a film means making choices and, between this vacuity and excess, Heaven’s Gate breathes with indecision. If five months of editing, with material which required fifteen to twenty takes per shot, culminates in this result, one can only conclude that Cimino never for a moment had an overall vision for his project, and that it would be quite wrong for U.A. to cry foul, since, the film having been wisely turned down for ten years, it has now has given them cause to reflect on the dangers of the politics of auteurs!

One example among many of this indecision, and a source of an immense waste: the sequence at the Casper train station. A lateral tracking shot, following the route of the stationmaster, reveals an immense set populated by dozens of extras. A “tableau” of a colossal scale appears to emerge, but it all abruptly retreats for an exchange of “exposition” (“What's goin' on here?”, asks Averill), while the extras are left to furnish the background of a semi-close-up as narrow as in any vulgar TV series. Then, as if stricken with remorse, Cimino rises up very high on his crane, allowing us to see the totality of set which we will not see again, a movement without a trace of functional justification, purely ostentatious, immediately breaking the shot to return to the tele-framing of Averill. The film overflows with these jolts, these false starts, and there is not a single scene which is developed, from end to end, in a coherent manner, or which adopts a steady tempo. Certain shots simply float by, bizarrely placed within a temporal crossfire: the zoom-in on Averill’s companion, which concludes the prologue; the dance in the deserted saloon; the panoramic view on the carriage which extends several minutes, torn from the irremediable rest; Ella’s face during the curious story told by the Trapper. Other shots, all as rare, reach the amplitude of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Deer Hunter and this talent, quasi-Mannian, of placing a character far away, centering the space of the landscape at the top, very large, and of brutally having them cross it (the emergence of the cavalier barring the stationmaster’s travel, and, later, that of the trapper), or beyond that, those which directly recall the Robert De Niro’s wandering in the fog in The Deer Hunter: the burst of smoke which envelopes John Hurt, and which makes him physically vanish before coming face to face with death.

These moments of real beauty are not enough to make us forget how badly this soufflé falls just as it begins to lift. Working from a worthless screenplay, Cimino undoubtedly fought hard, but nothing sustains any life on the screen, and from the opening long waltz on, with its contrived panoramas of too-well-organized couples, this euphoria the films strains for, this movement which it never maintains, all this makes one immediately fear for the worst, makes one anticipate the filler which pads out the bulk of the film. The film has a heavy insistence on rituals and games, marginal episodes which reduces the principal actors still more to the level of extras. Episodes of pure diversion, retained only so as to create a feeling that the film “is lively,” but which only make it appear more tedious, as in the final battle, which attempts, at the last minute, to make Heaven’s Gate pass for a film epic (since it is true, despite what Grierson thinks, that a director, when he dies, will more easily become a maker of second-rate epics than a photographer).

Since its beginnings, the American cinema has been motivated by a principle of clarity which admirably illustrates the formula: “to make a point,” meaning that each scene serves a precise function in the body of the narrative. To want to reconstruct a dead genre like the Western is to assume this clarity doubly. Cimino’s fundamental error is not having known what he wanted to say, and who he was speaking to; and then, the essentials being lacking, of having been fixated on simple details; of having relied on a body of B-scripts to fill-out the immense emptiness which was at the center of his film; of having chosen a quartet of performers completely out of their element; by attempting to compensate for its deficiencies with an increase in sobriety (cf., by contrast, the freewheeling performance by Geoffrey Lewis, and, to a lesser degree, the use of Sam Waterston): wanting to give the appearance of importance to that which, deprived of a historical dimension, was deep down nothing more than a story already told a thousand-times over.

Cimino owes us all a payback.

1. a continual coming-and-going of reluctant actions: "...à un chassé-croisé d'actions réticentes..." Another possible translation is "a continual coming-and-going of a reluctant sort," but neither makes much sense to me.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:09 pm 
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from Positif n246 Sep (1981) [“Nouvel entretien avec Michael Cimino”]
New Interview with Michael Cimino (on Heaven’s Gate)
by Michel Ciment and Michael Henry

- To the aggressive question of a journalist, who criticized you for taking liberties with history, you responded, during the press conference: “I am not a historian, I am a filmmaker.” As concerns us, we’re addressing this question to the filmmaker: what specifically about this event fascinated you? You thought about it for long time, since as you told us, it took you two years, having resumed work on it, integrating a screenplay from 1971 into the project, The Johnson County War

- I retorted with a certain bluntness because this journalist was American. Already, in the United States, The Deer Hunter had been the object of such polemics: they accused it of presenting a biased and distorted version of the Vietnam War. Yesterday, I was anxious to point out, once more, that my films are by no means historical exposés. I was only reminding them of my privilege as a filmmaker.

This being specified, everything that you see in Heaven’s Gate is authentic – the list drawn up by the stock-growers, the power of their association, the employment of fifty mercenaries, the amount of the bounty offered to them, the approval given to the operation by the Government and the President of the United States. We found a photo of those fifty mercenaries – it was the exact number and each name was captioned. We were scrupulously inspired by it. The Governor’s telegram which Sam Waterston reads is reproduced word by word. Just like the note written by Nate Champion before his death. Just like the majority of speeches given by the stock-growers against the immigrants. I used this documentary material a bit like Truman Capote in In Cold Blood. Of course, the witnesses are no longer alive, but there is a considerable archive from which you can sufficiently draw from.

For Americans, the shock was considerable. The majority ignore all their history. They either don’t know it, or don’t want to know it. Look at, for example, what we did to the Indians to rob them of their land. The cinema could sometimes allude to it, but on the condition that the victims remain an abstract entity. The Indians were never approached intimately enough to be considered as individuals, and the violence which was imposed on them is a symptom of that. Meaning that the first reaction aroused by Heaven’s Gate, where the Whites massacre other Whites, was one of total incredulity.

- Your immigrants are the Indians of Heaven’s Gate, but, as an aggravating circumstance, you changed the racial conflict to a social one…

- Of course. I don’t believe that I cheated. John Hurt says in the middle of battle: “There’s too many of them. It’s not like the Indians. You can’t just kill them all.” Could I be clearer?

- Was your first script more focused on the three protagonists, Averill, Nate and Ella?

- The script was altered very little. I adopted the inverse method of that from The Deer Hunter. To reduce the Vietnam War to reasonable dramatic proportions, I limited my point-of-view to the experiences of three individuals. This time, to the contrary, I widened my objective so that the subject is better perceived. The field widened to the extent that the visual material accumulated in the course of filming. When Averill crosses the main street in Casper, for example, the camera is not content following him; I wanted you to participate in all that which could happen in the town at that moment in time.

- What liberties did you take with the characters of Averill and Nate, who resemble the couple formed by Michael and Nick in The Deer Hunter?

- That of Nate’s was faithful enough to the historical reality. Averill’s was closer to fiction, although he was indeed a “marshal” in Wyoming, and had an affair with Ella. There were literally executed for accepting cattle stolen by the settlers as payment. In fact, she was hanged. It was the ending which I retained in an earlier draft, before taking another direction. All that information is available in newspapers – there were many more than today – or in the very comprehensive photographic archives which were handed down from that era. They had a habit of photographing everything! You can therefore get very precise idea of life in the West, only if you’re willing to go through the difficulty of doing the research. Ours lasted six months.

- You simultaneously attacked two of America’s foundational myth, that of immigration and that of colonization. You challenged both the myth of the West as a frontier in perpetual expansion, and that of America as a “melting pot”, by showing that social structures were already as rigid as in Europe. Isn’t this what the Americans can’t forgive you for?

- It was also true of The Deer Hunter, where the Lithuanian community had maintained, after three generations, its own ethnic characteristics. It is not an accident that our cinema has seldom dealt with immigration. Americans want to forget that part of their history: they therefore fabricated the myth of the West. People who were shocked to encounter Frenchwoman in Heaven’s Gate, would be also shocked, I am sure, of finding Chinese restaurants in every state of the West, even though we owe the construction of the railroads to the Chinese! Our national subconscious has repressed the question of origins: Where did we come from? How have we arrived here? The middle class, in particular, tries hard to forget its roots. For it is also a generational matter, as I realized while filming The Deer Hunter: the parents Americanized themselves at all cost, whereas the young attempt to establish a dialogue with their grandparents, and even rediscover their original language.

- What does the Western mean to you and your background?

- Ford, I’ve told you, was, with Minelli, the most important director for me. And yet he was born in Ireland. Something irresistible attracted him, as with me, towards the West. Bob Marshall, the man who established an immense game reserve in Montana, and therefore saved that region during the twenties and thirties, was a New-Yorker. It seems to be me that the chroniclers of the West, those who celebrated it in books and on the screen, came to it as the pioneers once did, with a deeper faith and love for it since they weren’t from it.

- Before Heaven’s Gate, there were other authenticity-conscious Westerns, such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Dirty Little Billy, or even Days of Heaven, which generated the same opposition.

- Wasn’t Ford himself treated with disdain? Some of his loveliest films were butchered by the press. The Western, I’m afraid, has always been considered as a minor genre.

- Ford and Hawks were rejected as insignificant filmmakers, devoted to popular entertainments. In your case, as with those films we cited, the rejection was of an ideological order: by emphasizing the class conflict, you show that the pioneers carried the prejudices and the injustices of the Old World with them, that they recreated the very system that they were trying to escape.

- This returns us to the misunderstanding of geographic and demographic realities. America’s vision has been molded by the cinema; they have seen and re-seen the same settings, the same landscapes, in hundreds of films. Their history of the West is the history of the Western; wooden houses, deserted roads, a solitary hero who arrives on horseback. This is not the West prosperous with business, with money, with overpopulation. Even Leadville, Colorado or Butte, Montana, to name a few, were towns buzzing with activity. Enriched with money or copper, they built large avenues, paved sidewalks, brick buildings, and even an opera. They strove to imitate New York! Yet, if you show them such an image, the public balks – and that’s before even considering the subject of the film. They reject that vision, then the characters, next the plot, and finally the entire film. When a well-known filmmaker told me, after a screening: “I was expecting a remake of Shane filmed by David Lean!,” it opened my eyes. I understood the expectations which I had disappointed.

- Before revealing the true nature of the West, you portray, in the prologue at Cambridge, the official America and the class who is going to run it. In other words, those who will monopolize the land, create the Stock-Growers Association and eliminate the new immigrants.

- Who lead America into the Vietnam War? Remember: the little geniuses of Harvard!

- John Hurt’s character seems to sense that his class is going to betray the ideals of America when he cries out: “It’s all over!” On the other hand, it will take Averill twenty years to understand it…

- I cut out, from the short version, the speech which John Hurt delivers after the Reverend. With a tone of mockery, he says the same thing, but nobody can comprehend it. It was necessary to retain that rejoinder that you cite so as to suggest this premonition. Averill understands it too late, it’s his tragedy. His sense of honor forces him to fight, but he knows the fight is lost beforehand. At the height of battle, he has maybe a glimmer of him, but he then evokes the Romans, which is to say a dead civilization… Cut off from his roots, he no longer belongs to either of the two camps and, finally, he sees his life plundered and ruined.

- Is this hopelessness what led you to treat Ella’s death as a flashback?

- Since the death is connected to Averill’s experience, it was necessary that it be presented from his point-of-view. The episode functions better if it remains subjective.

- Christopher Walken copies Hawthorne’s biography. Is this an homage to an author you hold close to your heart?

- It was a whim I allowed myself to have at the last moment, without thinking that anyone would pay it any attention. In this occurrence, I don’t have any precise reasons for justification.

- Heaven’s Gate introduces itself as an epic fresco. Yet, fifteen minutes into the film, you tell us: “It’s all over!” What follows therefore appears as if it was the inevitable disintegration of the ideals presented in the prologue. Ford had adopted this tone in The Last Hurrah and Two Rode Together, but isn’t such a loss of vital energy antithetical to the rules of the genre?

- That melancholy is very precisely the tone I was looking for. The great hopes conceived in this glorious journey are going to fade away, its vitality will exhaust itself, its energy will evaporate… The immigrants themselves are not idealized. They can be just as cruel as those who exploit them. There has already emerged a new class which is ready to collaborate, looking to imitate the stock-growers. Things come full circle. Moreover, ambiguity is always present: if the stock-growers have the law on their side, but not morality, then the immigrants are in the inverse situation.

- As with The Deer Hunter, the rare moments of euphoria are associated with music: the waltz scene with the wealthy and that, symmetrically, of the poor roller-skating.

- They made, in regards to the roller-skate scene, the same reproaches as with the orthodox wedding in The Deer Hunter: How can these miserable people find a moment for entertainment? How dare they laugh and dance? This betrays a typically bourgeois prejudice! As if dancing was not the sole entertainment of the poor! In My Darling Clementine, Ford doesn’t hesitate to show Henry Fonda dancing alone on the floorboards. The latest dances are not created at Harvard, but in the streets, in the ghettos, in the “favelas”, in the most miserable places. The critics, most of the time, did nothing but expose their own ignorance of reality. It is also true that the vitality of those that have nothing irritates those cynics who live in abundance. It shames them.

- Didn’t the so-called “underdeveloped” narrative contribute to the film’s rejection?

- I should have met the same difficulty with The Deer Hunter. The American public is accustomed to a character being developed by dialogue moreso than by behavior. They want to know everything right away; they expect a quick exposition that immediately informs them of the hero. It’s one of those traits of our national character: when you meet an American on a plane, he’ll tell you his life-story in the space of five minutes. For my part, I believe, to the contrary, that you should understand, or begin to understand, a character at the end of the film. Learn to know him as he evolves.

- Is it against a synthetic form of storytelling, which appears to prevail today in an America under the influence of television, that you plead for an organic form of development?

- Exactly. I was surprised, and disappointed, that our critics have not even been willing to formally analyze Heaven’s Gate. And yet, it is they who ritually lament the lack of experimentation in American cinema whenever they write one of their ten best-of-the year lists. They cite Australian cinema, or Cuban, to emphasize the absence of ambition in our filmmakers, but they are the first to level a blow towards a film that embarks on a new direction.

- The narrative structure of The Deer Hunter was outwardly more complex, but here, once again, you have weaved clever connections and symmetries between the episodes of the narrative.

- The story itself is nearly linear. But there are different levels on which the story plays out, overlapping in complex manners. It is not a question of an individual or a specific event. No, it’s a question of several characters and the country itself. And these characters, I wanted you to become familiar with them along the way, progressively getting to know their relationships and their feelings, and to continue thinking about them leaving the theater. When you leave, you should have a profound feeling, like at the end of The Deer Hunter, or, like here, begin to reflect on things which disturb you, and which you would rather ignore.

- At the end of The Deer Hunter, we’re left with the vision of a community rebuilding itself from amongst a shared pain. At the end of Heaven’s Gate, we’re left with the image of an isolated, broken man, without a future.

- But The Deer Hunter is, deep down, a continuation of Heaven’s Gate. The humor, the strength of desire, the vitality of immigrant, all that which Averill and his class are devoid of, will be rediscovered years later among the “blue-collars” of steel-mills, these workers who manufacture arms, of which they will be the first victims. Compare the wedding sequence in The Deer Hunter and that of the roller-rink in Heaven’s Gate: the theme is the same. It would be logical to pair the two films. If you were to program them together, their unity would become apparent.

- During the nighttime speech by Sam Waterston at the station, the soundtrack evokes that of The Deer Hunter: the whistling of steam, the roar of the smokestacks…

- And with good reason! I haven’t told anyone this, but I simply re-used all the sounds of the blast furnaces from The Deer Hunter!

- You eliminated bright colors from your pallet. How was this carried out?

- We were even given the trouble of making each of the costumes faded so that we could maintain an absolute control of the tones! We found our inspiration from photos of the era. I was very struck by the almost claustrophobic half-light which appeared to bathe the interiors. A half-light pierced only by the odd rare ray of sunlight. Here, the contrast with the panoramas is the more striking. I wanted the characters to be of a piece with this environment. As if they were modeled from the same clay.

- Which lens allowed you to constantly maintain such a clear depth of field?

- The 30 mm. Like The Deer Hunter. A very extraordinary lens. I used it just as well for wide shots as for extreme close-ups since it doesn’t cause any distortion at all. The background is always vivid. You never lose the sense of the surrounding space.

- It seems that certain characters were slightly sacrificed during the re-edit. Like John Hurt, for example. Or like Isabelle Huppert, who doesn’t exist autonomously, who is always seen through the eyes of two men.

- I understand your frustration, but this was how the film was conceived. Some scenes were shortened, but I did not cut out entire sequences concerning them, since I didn’t add additional material. I had so many characters that it was really necessary to get it over with them in one way or another! John Hurt’s death, I grant you, is rather abrupt! The proportions didn’t change, but I sacrificed details, peripheral notations which had puzzled the public. We modified three-hundred of our “set-ups”, which corresponds to the total number of “set-ups” in an ordinary film!

- Does this short version correspond to the need for organic development which you just evoked? Could you foresee a version of an intermediary length, let’s say three hours?

- I will need a certain amount of time before I can give a definitive answer. The work was so lengthy, so intense, that I find it difficult, at this stage, to decide. When the first copy was released in New York, we still hadn’t projected the film to the public. If it had remained on the bill, we would have in any case, in the course of exhibition, proceeded to make cuts and modifications. That was always our intention. What the definitive length would have been, I don’t know. Rushed by time and ignorant to the reaction of the public, we were inclined to keep the maximum amount of footage. When you begin to write a screenplay, you always have the tendency to overload the exposition, to stretch it out too much, through the lack of an overall vision. Later, you prune it, you tighten it, you polish it, you fix one part up more than the next. And, ultimately you keep more details in the in the end since you’re afraid that the public will miss things and not perceive your message. There are many things that I prefer about the short version, notably the construction of the final battle, which is more incisive and more refined because I finally had the necessary time for editing it.

- The main visual motif of the film, that which controls the lay-out of characters, is the circle. On several occasions, you split it up into twos, into threes, making the circles spin around each other in opposite directions.

- The circles inside of circles? It was a means of composing a very dynamic image. Take the battle scene: you can envision the traditional representation, which is to say a fixed position with assailants charging towards it, but that was limited to a single movement, very common, seen before. Or the waltz. It is common to show them in a ballroom so packed with dancers that you can’t follow its movement, but this is to misunderstand the particular quality of the waltz, which it uniquely has, its sensuality, its voluptuousness. In 1870, the Blue Danube must have been something revolutionary: for the first time, you embraced while dancing! It was necessary to translate that new experience, almost erotic, into visual terms. The entire piece lasts twelve minutes, I used the three most dynamic minutes, accelerating the tempo, and dividing it into two minute-and-a-half sections, since even professional dancers aren’t able to maintain that rhythm for three minutes.

- The circle expresses a ritual and, through that, a society, a culture, a world.

- Do you know the Indian conception of the universe, where life and death forms a perpetual circle? The camp is arranged in a circle, the tepee as well. And inside it one sleeps in a circle, around a central fire. I didn’t consciously think of it, but I believe that this notion feeds my work, whether I want it to or not.

- Two years ago, you spoke to us about an old project, Conquering Horse, which would have been filmed in the Sioux language. It seems that you are being carried by your “Indian” unconscious towards that representation, so foreign to the classic Western, which espouses the linear trajectory of a horseman riding from one point to another, in search of further ordeals.

- The Western translates our conception of life: you begin here, follow a completely straight line, and end there. The Indians don’t recognize that mathematic progression; they live in a spiritual continuum. Without a doubt, the project which you allude to found its way, without me being conscious, into Heaven’s Gate. Can’t that which you destined for one film slip it way into another? This proves, at least, you’re right, the steadfastness of the unconscious mind!

(Subject collected at Cannes, May 21 1981
and translated from English by
Michael HENRY).

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Sat Feb 19, 2011 8:56 am 
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Joined: Tue May 30, 2006 9:45 pm
Location: Portland, OR
from Jeune cinéma n171 Dec/Jan (1985-1986) ["L'année du dragon: un film ambigu"]
Year of the Dragon: An Ambiguous Film
by Gérard Camy

The first scene completely plunges us into the heart of the film. The celebration of the Chinese New Year (Dragon) is in full swing: dancers move in the street in a parade which blends actors and spectators, with packed restaurants, cries, fireworks and music. And then, in the middle of that colorful carnival, the Chinese gang war for the control of Chinatown continues underground, active and bloody. The second scene presents us with another ceremony, the funeral of one of the heads of the Chinese mafia, assassinated during the festival: a stately parade of families all dressed in white; the police supervise, but the racket continues racking up victims; detective White is there; the future “godfather” cries for the victim. The latter’s funeral will close the film. Between these two sequences, Michael Cimino allows us to follow an officer who dreams of erasing the shame of his country’s defeat in Vietnam. This war left an indelible tear in the country; he is frustrated and feels deceived by a society which sent him to fight, certain of its justifications, and which now appears to abandon him, demanding that he tone down his major principles. But Stanley White refuses, stubbornly and without exception. He launches himself body and soul, being such an upholder of the law, into an act of purification, a genuine crusade. He engages in a downward spiral (“I’m not afraid of dying, as long as I don’t die alone,” he says at one point) which brings him close to madness. But Cimino in fact insists: it is war that makes people blind, which turns people into obsessives and pushes them towards insane acts. Confusing vengeance and justice, smoldering with explosive racism, White is subject to desperate – but terribly poignant – fits of rage.

Stanley White is certainly in some ways a hero: his fighter’s quality, his smile, his rough but sweet voice – all this makes him an attractive character. Also, his fragility and his loneliness (like in the poignant scene in journalist Tracy Tzu’s apartment, where he confesses that he has no friends, knows nowhere to go) makes him a touching character. But his despair, his fierce determination, his refusal to change, despite the catastrophes he creates, limits this approach. It is only at the end (and for how long!?) that he can confess the noxiousness and uselessness of his actions. His adversary, Joey Tai (John Lone), searches for any means to take control of this Chinese mafia which is the heritage of thousand-years-old Triads which have spread over and seized control of the Chinese neighborhoods.

It is the dazzling ascension of this young Mandarin which Cimino follows. Joey Tai is a character of superior intelligence, refined elegance and great beauty. Far removed from the usual clichés, he has an American-like pragmatism and a great business savvy. The accusation of racism made by some does not hold for very long if one is willing to reflect a bit on the film.

Was The Godfather touted as a racist work vis-à-vis Italians or, along with it, the dozens of films about the police’s war against the mafia? It’s the Chinese mafia that Cimino discusses with us, and beyond that description, it’s above all the struggle of two men driven by the course of events, raised in two distinct societies but fueled by the same “grand” principles.

This story allows Cimino to tackle two problems which he holds close to his heart and which are intimately tied up: loneliness and immigration. White is of Polish origins; Tai is a naturalized Chinese-American. The long Thai scene allows one to better discern just how far, impeccable in his white suit, he appears to have moved away from his roots. And yet, in the middle of that jungle, surrounded by rebel soldiers, he will exceed with horror the actions of the General when it comes to time to close a drug contract.

This scene and that which follows is the truly pivotal moment of the film. Tai does not come to an agreement since the rebel General would prefer to deal with a rival. He then removes from a bag the severed head of the latter, and displays it to the eyes of all. Cut. Religious music plays to a shot of Christ crucified. The camera gently descends and reveals to us the coffin of Stanley’s wife. Barbarity versus Christianity, some would say. The denunciations of racism emerge from such an association. On one side, the primitive Chinese; on the other, a holy and civilized ceremony. But this would be to forget the funeral at the beginning; this would also be to forget all that which, in the name of his crusade, Stanley has already done, the ruins he leaves behind himself. This moment of the film is the real starting point for the fight to the death that the two protagonists will engage in. They are united by the same madness of their obsessions: power at any price for Tai, and the purificatory war for White. This personal war, fatal, will lead them all the way to a final duel on a railroad line, in a pale night lit by the headlights of a locomotive, which pierces the darkness with a hellish sound.

By presenting this racist detective, by having moments that try to make us like him, Michael Cimino plays dangerously with an ambiguity which made people denounce the film as racist. And yet his mise-en-scène is brilliant with a skillfully studied distance, destroying that misleading appearance, just as it’s done elsewhere by the arguments of Stanley’s detective friend, and the remarks of Tracy, the young Chinese journalist. The film is in fact an examination of a society which places a national consensus on the very unnatural values which Cimino attacks. The police and the mafia are close to coming to a modus vivendi, which Stanley refuses to accept. But Cimino, by showing the madness and violence which he unleashes, makes us understand that this radical solution is not at all a panacea, but simply the gut reactions of a lost man, anachronistic and marginalized.

Plus, Cimino describes America as a blend of people who at the same time are both proud of their foreign origins (Stanley, Tracy, the Chinese) and their American nationality. It’s this duality which makes America an explosive combination, and the star-spangled banner, emblematic of hope and pride (which appears throughout Cimino’s films), whether blowing in the wind or pinned to a wall, leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. The failure of the melting pot may be a reality, but throughout the course of the story, the film also reveals a confused, but intense, desire to coexist, to live together (or at least alongside eachother).

“This war-film shot at a time of peace”, as the director called it, displays a mise-en-scène perfectly in accordance with its subject: sinister lighting, sweating walls, glistening streets, brutally interrupted movements – all this perfectly recreates the mental and physical chaos of the characters.

Year of the Dragon is an important film in the American cinema of the last few years. It lays bare the ambiguities, the confusion and the contradictions of today, far from your average triumphant and recuperative Reaganian film.

1. "I’m not afraid of dying, as long as I don’t die alone": As far as I'm aware, this line doesn't appear in the movie. Perhaps a mistranslation? Or from the French dub?

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Sat Feb 19, 2011 8:59 am 
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from Jeune cinéma n171 Dec/Jan (1985-1986) ["Entretien avec Cimino"]
Interview with Cimino
by Gérard Camy and Christian Viviani

Where did the idea of the film come from?

I worked for many years on a Western about the role of the Chinese in the construction of the West, and particularly the railroads; the project failed partly because television knew little about the subject, also because we don’t have any Chinese-American actors of the stature that would have permitted us to finance the project. Dino tried for many year to produce a screenplay in Chinatown, but three early scripts left him unsatisfied; the book then appeared, he optioned the rights and contacted me; it didn’t interest me; after having tried in vain to adapt it to a screenplay, he returned to me and I accepted on certain conditions: that the book be nothing more than a point of departure, that I keep the freedom to tell the story my way and to change characters; and he accepted.

What is your feeling on the veterans of Vietnam?

Your questions is a bit vague, but if I understand it well, I could say that what characterizes them the most is the fact that they form a special group: they have very intimate experiences which they can only share amongst themselves. Their suffering, their experiences, their difficulty fitting back in. There has not been any reconciliation with society on a deep level. Despite the understanding and compassion towards them growing more and more, they always form an isolated group. Will this continue? I don’t know. Will they finally allow themselves to fully reassimilate into society; will they remain separate from others? We are soon going to see many stories which express this frustration, as well as dozens of great novels, just as great as those which appeared after Korea. It’s inevitable since it was a very spiritually, psychologically and economically intense experience.

What is the reaction of the Asian community towards your film?

It was excellent the majority of times; we spent two years making the film; I think that you’ll be in agreement about the richness of the subject, the richness of the performances, of the expression of the Chinese character; it’s a result which you can’t obtain without a very intimate collaboration. We had access to the communities of New York’s Chinatown, but also Toronto and Vancouver, where we filmed for two years. It’s not possible to make a film like this, with this type of specific detail, without being close to the people. It would not have been possible to create as rich a visual expression of their lives, allowing them to express themselves on the screen, without giving them a role in the collaboration. As for the public, the reaction was excellent on their part, especially with the Chinese youth; it’s the first time, apart from some musicals and comedies exported from Hong Kong, that they have seen themselves represented in such a vivid manner: the character of Joey for example is on an equal footing with the character of Stanley, his importance, his intelligence, his eloquence, his passion; the character is as essential to the story as Stanley. Joey is not an incidental character; he’s not there for local color, nor is Tracy Tzu. We have here an interracial love story. It’s also she who makes the most serious condemnations of Stanley. She tells him that he is racist, that he is obsessed by the loss of his wife: she’s a woman who finds courage in herself after terrible experiences. She rediscovers her Chinese roots. At the end, they reunite and Stanley recognizes his errors. He becomes conscious of his position, and realizes that he put himself there. He says: “You were right. I was wrong. Sorry.” The film was accused of racism, but they didn’t pay attention to what people say in the film. It’s a film which deals with racism, but it’s not a racist film. To deal with this sort of subject, you must inevitably reveal its tendencies. It’s the first time that we deal with the marginalization which the Chinese were subject to. On that subject, people know far too little. Americans discover with surprise that the Chinese were excluded from American citizenship up until 1943. They couldn’t bring their wives to America. Kwong’s speech to Stanley is applauded. For all these reasons, the Chinese loves the film. And the journalists’ negative reactions are perhaps a shield to conceal these unpleasant facts.

And your work with Mickey?

People forget that I worked with him on Heaven’s Gate. Something that I want to say is that casting was of the utmost necessity to this film; we wanted to reveal a word rarely shown. The experience of people who have been to Chinatown is limited to going to a restaurant. I didn’t want recognizable faces. And yet Chinese actors are bursting with talent; but they perform very often and you’re familiar with them. Those faces would have prevented the public from being confronted with a new world. We looked for both amateurs and professionals; the same for the cops. There are actors who specialize in that sort of role, but I didn’t want them. I told the casting director to eliminate everyone who regularly plays the role, and to choose new faces. For Mickey Rourke, I felt that Coppola had shown but a single aspect of what he was capable of. They were films that were quite limited in regards to his physical movement. I knew from having worked with him before, as young as he was, that he could, if he wanted to, have an amazing career. So he had a physical strength which he had never shown before and which made him a new character. It was thus that we had a 100% new cast; all of which contributed to the freshness of the enterprise.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:14 am 
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Rewatching The Deer Hunter recently I can't help but notice how thoroughly Heaven's Gate seems a reaction to it or rather the reception of it. Both films seem most interested in the traditions and celebrations of human behavior with large scenes absorbing every detail of certain events and the large psychological breaks that occur to men when those traditions aren't fulfilled to expectation. In the case of The Deer Hunter Cimino perhaps wrongly uses a great tragedy as a tool for fantasy to make explicit that psychology. That these friends stay together during the war is enough to show that intention let alone the glaring historical inaccuracies. Unfortunately as everyone knows this was taken as a call of jingoism or some sort of insane pro-Vietnam sentiment when in fact it seems to be attempting to be a very broad parable with no political or historical intention.

So what's a man suppose to do in a situation like this but react. So with Heaven's Gate Cimino does essentially the same thing exploring various types of masculine psychology and how they perform tradition and react to the breaking of it (with the roller skating scene mirroring the wedding from the former film). The difference here is instead of making a fantastic parable Cimino performs a 180 to give us a fictitious documentary. Likewise instead of attempting to use it's real world tragedy to make solid the abstract psychology of it's characters we have an overtly political statement that radically upends all commentary against the earlier film. The near psychotic attention to period detail is not a sign of hubris as often said on the film, but rather a genuine effort to take the criticisms of the past and improve upon his work which I feel like he did or something like that.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 2:09 am 
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Joined: Tue May 25, 2010 11:26 pm
knives wrote:
Rewatching The Deer Hunter recently I can't help but notice how thoroughly Heaven's Gate seems a reaction to it or rather the reception of it. Both films seem most interested in the traditions and celebrations of human behavior with large scenes absorbing every detail of certain events and the large psychological breaks that occur to men when those traditions aren't fulfilled to expectation. In the case of The Deer Hunter Cimino perhaps wrongly uses a great tragedy as a tool for fantasy to make explicit that psychology. That these friends stay together during the war is enough to show that intention let alone the glaring historical inaccuracies. Unfortunately as everyone knows this was taken as a call of jingoism or some sort of insane pro-Vietnam sentiment when in fact it seems to be attempting to be a very broad parable with no political or historical intention.

Is that the line on The Deer Hunter? The objection I have always heard was based more on the racism in the treatment of the Vietnamese, as they appear essentially inhuman. I think you can mitigate that claim to some degree, as I think the Vietnam Cimino was depicting is meant to be expressionistic- to depict how Vietnam felt, rather than reflect the reality of it- but that still seems problematic to me.

Which actually works well in your analysis of Heaven's Gate as a response to it, as Heaven's Gate tries very hard to humanize everyone in it, and present as solidly real a world as possible.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 2:13 am 
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Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm
Location: sd, ca
Yes, that's what I meant. Sorry for the poor wording.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 2:37 am 
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Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm
I think people have praised and criticized Deer Hunter for any number of things. For example, I remember Studs Terkel tearing into it not only for its dehumanizing representation of the Vietnamese but also for being an insulting portrayal of a group of blue-collar men that didn't ring the least bit true for him.
(I can understand this, but I also think the film has much to recommend it as well.)

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Sun Jun 24, 2012 6:19 am 
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Joined: Tue May 30, 2006 9:45 pm
Location: Portland, OR
After the brief mention in the Stroheim thread, I was going to post a list and summary of his various unfilmed projects. To my surprise, the Cimino Wiki has a pretty good overview. It's missing a few titles (Paradise Junction, Dogs of War, American Gangster, his Transcontinental Railroad and Portugese Conquest epics, the Fischerspooner video for "Emerge" (!), John Woo's Full Circle), and a few interesting tidbits (such as David Lean-favorite Robert Bolt writing his Michael Collins film), but it may be of interest for the two other people on here who cares about such things.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Sun Jun 24, 2012 8:52 pm 
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Joined: Thu Jul 19, 2007 12:04 pm
I don't think I'm the only one who would have liked to see Cimino do Footloose as a "musical-comedy inspired by The Grapes of Wrath"...

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2015 4:54 am 
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Joined: Wed Aug 14, 2013 12:56 pm
Location: England
Hollywood Reporter interview with Cimino, apparently the first since 2002 - best line: "I think Clint should be president"

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2015 3:28 am 
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Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 9:28 pm
Location: Rain City, USA
Altair wrote:

I can't help but feel that this interview was a missed opportunity to really delve into what Cimino has been up to professionally in the last 13 years. I'm far, far, far more interested in his unpublished novels and unproduced screenplays (that he says pile to the ceiling!) than I am in any kind of gossip about his surgeries (real and/or not real). I would love for him to make another movie but it seems like he's happy taking his time to do so - I half-expect a career resurgence similar to the one Terence Malick is having. I'm also curious If Cimino would ever consider to Kickstarter a project...

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2015 8:03 am 
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Joined: Wed Aug 14, 2013 12:56 pm
Location: England
Definitely, another Cimino film would be interesting, especially due to his wide-ranging interests: his choices have been quite unpredictable and distinctive. I wonder though if Cimino could get past his ego to go to Kickstarter...

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2015 10:35 am 
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Joined: Fri Feb 06, 2015 5:43 pm
vanity fair 'michael cimino's final cut'

from 2000.
when i read it several years ago, cimino came across like a nutcase, especially when talking about his truck and his birth date.

Last edited by copen on Fri Feb 27, 2015 11:58 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: Re: Michael Cimino
PostPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2015 11:19 am 
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Joined: Tue May 25, 2010 11:26 pm
Ugh, Jesus, regardless of whether Cimino is trans or not, that badgering gets really ugly. Funny to hear Rourke talking shit about his Iron Man 2 costar, though.

edit: "I tell him I have heard that many transsexuals regret it or simply go mad." seriously? Christ

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