Michael Cimino's Legacy is divisive



It took a little time for me to write something about Cimino's passing mostly because I got married just a couple of days ago, but there was no way I wouldn't comment on it.

Cimino was indeed a polarizing cinematic figure. "The Deer Hunter", 1978's scathing indictment of Vietnam via "Russian Roulette", won Best Picture and is widely regarded as a landmark movie of the 1970s. It also was one of the first films to directly confront the Vietnam war. I always thought the film itself was exceptional not necessarily because of Cimino's direction, but the story itself. A game of "Russian Roulette" is any movie is going to up the tension and grab a person's attention. Then again, there are some stylistic choices in the film that work wonders and are all Cimino's doing.

He followed that up with "Heaven's Gate" which was the infamous movie that forced United Artists – the studio formed as a refuge for artists by Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffiths, and Mary Pickford – to declare bankruptcy. Michael Cimino was the hottest director in Hollywood after "The Deer Hunter" cleaned up the Oscars in 1978. Then "Heaven’s Gate" happened – another epic, romantic western with an original cut that ran several hours – whose backstage stories are legendary and too many to list, though a crew member once joked that half of the film’s enormous $40 million went to cocaine for the cast.

One of the stories goes that Cimino changed the locks of the editing room so that studio execs wouldn’t interfere. His erratically insane behavior concluded with a 325 minute cut of the film (that’s almost five and a half hours) that Cimino said was a 15 minute cut away from the final version. Even though the 219 minute “Director’s Cut” of the film has garnered a cult following in recent years, the 149 minute cut that was finally released in 1981 garnered terrible reviews and destroyed United Artists.

Before "Heaven's Gate" Hollywood was on a roll  in the 1970s with producers granting unlimited artistic immunity to film directors and classic after classic being released from 1970-1979. When "Heaven's Gate" got released, and the horror stories came out, Hollywood would changed forever and refuse to ever trust filmmakers again with the final cut.

Cimino was a capable filmmaker that did what he could to follow his artistic muse, but in most cases it just didn't work. "The Year of the Dragon" is an exception and should definitely be checked out, ditto "The Deer Hunter", but I find Cimino's reputation will likely be that of a filmmaker that ended the maverick 70s. bankrupted an entire studio and could never match the brilliance of "The Deer Hunter" plus he only got weirder by the decade with abysmal plastic surgery procedures and bullying behavior on-set.
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