Whenever I find myself running behind on a major project, my thoughts turn to a certain passage from Easy Riders, Raging Bulls that discusses Michael Cimino’s utter disdain for logistical constraints. When infamous director started shooting Heaven’s Gate in the spring of 1979, he did so with orders to stay within a $10 million budget (c. $29.2 million today) and to wrap up principal photography in 10 weeks. But once Cimino was out by his lonesome in Montana, that plan went all to smithereens:
Cimino’s perfectionism knew no bounds, and it soon became clear that he was shooting at an exceedingly slow pace. While the budget visualized two script pages a day of a 133-page script, the actual rate was closer to five-eighths of a page. After the first twelve days, he was ten days and fifteen pages behind. He started losing ground at the rate of one a day for every day shot. He was building, tearing down, and rebuilding sets, as well as piling on extras by the cartload. Cimino was shooting ten, twenty, thirty takes of every shot and printing almost every one, ten thousand of feet of film a day (two hours plus of film), which cost $200,000 per day or about $1 million a week. By June 1, a month and a half into the shoot, Cimino had reached the $10 million mark, equal to the original budget. But there were still 108 pages to go.
Whether the finished product deserves mention in Microkhan’s Bad Movie Friday series is up for debate; there are some killer visuals in the movie, but the pacing is weirdly lethargic and the constant speechifying is absolutely annoying. One thing we can all agree on, though, is that Heaven’s Gate elicited one of the all-time greatest slams in the history of film criticism, from The New York Times‘ Vincent Canby:
”Heaven’s Gate,” which opens today at the Cinema One, fails so completely that you might suspect Mr. Cimino sold his soul to the Devil to obtain the success of ”The Deer Hunter,” and the Devil has just come around to collect.
The grandeur of vision of the Vietnam film has turned pretentious. The feeling for character has vanished and Mr. Cimino’s approach to his subject is so predictable that watching the film is like a forced, four-hour walking tour of one’s own living room.
Is Cimino at peace with his historic cinematic disaster and the fact that it basically turned his name to mud in Hollywood? Read this 2002 Vanity Fair profile and decide for yourself. The man claims to be at peace with his life, but there’s definitely a deep sadness burbling beneath his radically altered appearance.