“Heaven’s Gate” is one of the most controversial films in its time and of its genre. The critics forecast its failure, while the film appeared to be a great success, the film is oftentimes referred to as a documentary, though in fact it is a hundred per cent fiction film, based on fictional events, related to a certain historical circumstance. The film was produced in 1980. It was directed by Michael Cimino. The film’s box office constituted a$3.5 Million, while its budget was twelve times as big. This western is based on the events of Johnson County war, but the conflict between European newcomers and the locals depicted by the picture is entirely fictional. As for the failure of the box office is explained, however, by a number of factors, which lay beyond the artistic performance or artistic value of the film. The budget was pushed significantly above its initial estimation by the director himself and the journalists have done their job relating cases of animal abuse to the production process. All this contributed to the film’s failure, and is directly associated with the name of the film director, whose career went abruptly down after this incedent.
As stated above, the film was shot based on the historical event, the war known as Johnson County war, which took place in Wyoming in 1892. The film is oftentimes thought of as a documentary since the majority of its main characters actually had their historical prototypes and in the majority of cases even had the same names. However the events depicted in the film have nothing to do with historic facts. The critics of the time were very much unfriendly in their feedbacks for the movie. Many of them called it a disaster, and a New York Times journalist even compared it to a “forced four hour walking tour of one’s own living room” (Canby, 1980). Only someone very lazy back then did not speak a bad word of the film and did not criticize the director. It is true, however, that the director managed to bring down his own career, put an end to the existence of the producing company and lost a significant of budget money. But what I do not understand in this entire story is whether or not this discussion is about art or money.
Much later began the critics to reevaluate the film. Many got to understand that there is something else hidden deep behind the entire mass hysteria, and this something is worthwhile seeing and considering. I personally agree with Wood (1986) in his opinion that this film was very unusual, non-typical for Hollywood production of that time. It stands out of the range, and this is what the director designed it to do. What he did not take into account, however, was the unpreparedness of general public, and this includes the critics, to comprehend the art. Certainly, the picture is a tad too long and for somebody who is not prepared to the joy of watching a longer picture it may appear to be somewhat boring. But there are things to be appreciated. The detailed report of the events described, the preciseness of the characters and the slow motion of the picture create the atmosphere of the XIX century. And I personally find this very enjoyable and worthwhile appreciation. Someone who is not prepared to watching longer films ought to pay their attention to cartoons of “Tom and Jerry” series, hopefully they won’t manage to get bored then. It is a very unusual and very thought provoking film, which ought to be seen with proper consideration and with the desire to see the art of it. Then does it produce its utmost effect.
- Canby, Vincent (November 19, 1980). “‘Heaven’s Gate,’ a Western by Cimino”. The New York Times.
- Wood, Robin (1986). Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan. New York: Columbia University Press.