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Young, R.M. (1987). Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven's Gate, by Steven Bach, Jonathan Cape, 1985, 432 pages, £12.50.. Free Associations, 1(9):144-145.
(1987). Free Associations, 1(9):144-145
Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven's Gate, by Steven Bach, Jonathan Cape, 1985, 432 pages, £12.50.
Review by: Robert M. Young
Many people found Michael Cimino's The Deerhunter harrowing, yet beautiful. The counterpoint between the brutalization in an American steel town, and the appalling activity of playing Russian roulette as prisoners and later for money, seemed to sum up the Vietnam war in a single symbol. Cimino was then — and has since been — called a racist for his portrayal of the Vietnamese and, more recently, the Chinese (in The Year of the Dragon). As it happens, the Russian roulette came first, and those who were horrified by it had to acknowledge the truth of the symbolism when American veterans confirmed the ubiquity of the game in Vietnam. Indeed, one reported that when he saw the film he was so nostalgic that ‘I dealt myself a hand right then and there.’
When a man makes such an amazing and highly regarded film, what does he do for an encore? This book tells the story of that project. What he did was to make a film in a way which was so wilful and self-indulgent and so extravagant that it destroyed the studio which gave him unequivocal backing — United Artists. Steven Bach was one of the senior executives nominally overseeing Cimino's next epoch, Heaven's Gate. The film is also a tale of power and brutalization, this time in the American Northwest, where the immigrants were shot down by the land and cattle-owning aristocracy (many of them British émigrés). I think it is a fine film, but there is no doubt that it flopped and brought the studio crashing down.
What Steven Bach does is to tell with a kind of horrified retrospective fascination how Cimino's will prevented anyone from setting boundaries to his extravagance. You can see on the screen (the uncut version is available on Warner Home Video) where all the money went. You can also see powerful performances by Isabelle Huppert, Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken and John Hurt.
The truth of the Johnson County War on which the film — and many another Western, e.g., Shane, Butch Cassidy — is based, certainly deserves epic treatment (see Helena Smith, The War on Powder River, 1966, Lincoln, NE; University of Nebraska Press).
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