Last Friday’s announcement of the death of Steven Bach, the former UA exec and author of “Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven’s Gate” (which was later retitled as “Final Cut: Art, Money and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate“) reminded me what a legendary Hollywood filmmaking book it was and is.
Bach’s passing also reminded me to re-watch the Michael Epstein‘s 2004 documentary based on the book.
The entire Epstein documentary, lasting 78 minutes, is on YouTube in eight parts. I missed the ’04 showings at the Toronto and New York film festivals and on the tube, and it’s not available on DVD — but its very easy to watch on YouTube, and anyone who’s never seen it is urged here and now and now to take the time.
I hated Heaven’s Gate when I first saw it 28 and a half years ago, and I couldn’t stay with it when I tried it a second time at home about six years ago. I therefore feel it’s still worth quoting N.Y. Times critic Vincent Canby when he noted that director Michael Cimino‘s approach to his subject in Heaven’s Gate “is so predictable that watching the film is like a forced, four-hour walking tour of one’s own living room…for all of the time and money that went into it, it’s jerry-built, a ship that slides straight to the bottom at its christening.”
I attended the second critics screening at the Cinema I on November 17th or 18th of 1980, and stood at the bottom of the down escalator as those who’d seen the afternoon show were leaving. I asked everyone I knew what they thought on a scale of 1 to 10. I’ll never forget the deflated, zombie-like expression on the face of journalist Dan Yakir as he muttered “zero.”
History long ago noted that renowned critic F.X. Feeney is primarily responsible for recasting Heaven’s Gate as a film deserving of revisionist respect. I never bought into this but Feeney’s efforts in this regard are a reminder of what a genuiinely caring and impassioned film critic can do when he/she puts his/her mind to it. Or at least was capable of doing in the old days.