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Laramie Movie Scope:
Heaven's Gate

Was Cimino unjustly crucified for this?

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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Heaven’s Gate – Yet another movie about Wyoming filmed elsewhere (this time in Montana). Writer/director Michael Cimino’s 1980 epic (3 hours 39 minutes, just six breezy minutes shy of Gone with the Wind), with rich cinematography capturing the beauty and the grimy authenticity of the West, about the 1892 Johnson County War. At the outset of Wyoming’s statehood, the Stock Growers Association of wealthy cattle ranchers decided to hire mercenary gunmen to attack immigrant settlers. This sprawling movie – “One of Hollywood’s most infamous big-budget bombs,” from Netflix’s summary – adds to its conflated history of the conflict a love triangle of Sheriff James Averill (Kris  Kristofferson), prostitute Ella Watson (French actress Isabella Huppert), and hired-gun Nate Champion (Christopher Walken). Also in the cast: Sam Waterston as Frank Canton, leader of the Stock Growers Association, and Jeff Bridges as John L. Bridges, Averill’s pal. 

There are obvious similarities with Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971). I don’t fully understand the importance or import of the opening of this film, with Jim Averill and Billy Irvine (John Hurt) graduating from Harvard in 1870 while a young woman watches them with admiration, and its connection with the closing scene on Averill’s yacht with the same woman (his wife?) off Rhode Island in 1903, other than to contrast his early idealism, wealth, privilege, and sophistication with his apocalyptic years in Wyoming. A critic on the Netflix website commented: “In 1980, the dawn of the Reagan era, a ‘Marxist western’ as one hysterical critic called it, never had a chance. The critics would make Cimino pay for all the sins of the iconoclastic free spending directors that came before him since the collapse of the studio system.” Here is a link to Wikipedia's entry on the Johnson County War.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2007 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)