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HEAVEN’S GATE: The Return of a Cursed Classic

Heaven's GateAfter directing five-time Academy Award winning film THE DEER HUNTER, Michael Cimino set out to direct an even more ambitious project based on an 1892 class land war in Johnson County, Wyoming. Despite the film’s arguably brilliant qualities, HEAVEN’S GATE quickly proved a financial disaster for United Artists, and the studio pulled Cimino’s film after only a week in theaters.

The film is credited for largely contributing to the fall of United Artists, as well as bringing the auteur culture of the 1970s to a startling halt. Critics almost unilaterally maligned HEAVEN’S GATE after its initial release in theaters, while press attacked heavy expenditures and community involvement surrounding the film’s production.

Film Maudit

Since its fateful debut, however, the film steadily garnered the attention and praise of critics, with some lumping this exceptional masterpiece into the category of film maudit, or “cursed film.” Reserved for films brutally repressed despite their evident genius, film maudit explains the extreme difficulty HEAVEN’S GATE endured since its inception.

A Man Devoted to His Craft

In a full-length feature article published by American Film, Cimino talks about his commitment to craft. “I think people can do an awful lot if they know someone is expecting their best,” he said. “When they know there is someone who every day expects them to be as good as they can be and better than they’ve ever been, somehow they find it within themselves to do it, however arduous and uncomfortable it may be.”

The article explores the nature of Cimino’s high demand for perfection, both from himself and his crew. The piece also goes into detail about factors that eventually brought HEAVEN’S GATE to its knees. You can read the original 1980 article here.


A Remastered Classic

Hastily re-released 70 minutes short, audiences never saw HEAVEN’S GATE in its original, intended length. With the advent of digital technology in film, more and more filmmakers are going back to their original work. Thanks to The Criterion Collection, the film is now available in a fully restored and never before seen version.

Along with the New York Film Festival, the 2012 Lone Star Film Festival was one of the first festivals to re-screen the restored HEAVEN’S GATE. We also screened other lost and revered classics, including ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, MIAMI CONNECTION, ORNETTE: MADE IN AMERICA, and DEAD MAN.

We will feature more re-screens at the 2013 Lone Star Film Festival. Until then, see Indiewire’s list of films lost to time and worth reconsidering.

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