• Cimino

  • The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, and the Price of a Vision
  • By: Charles Elton
  • Narrated by: Michael Butler Murray
  • Length: 12 hrs and 4 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (19 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The director Michael Cimino (1939-2016) is famous for two films: the intense, powerful, and enduring Vietnam movie ,The Deer Hunter, which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1979 and also won Cimino Best Director, and Heaven's Gate, the most notorious bomb of all time. When it was finally released, Heaven's Gate failed so completely with reviewers and at the box office that it put legendary studio United Artists out of business and marked the end of Hollywood's auteur era.

Or so the conventional wisdom goes. Charles Elton delves deeply into the making and aftermath of the movie and presents a surprisingly different view to that of Steven Bach, one of the executives responsible for Heaven's Gate, who wrote a scathing book about the film and solidified the widely held view that Cimino wounded the movie industry beyond repair. Elton's Cimino is a richly detailed biography that offers a revisionist history of a lightning rod filmmaker. Based on extensive interviews with Cimino's peers and collaborators and enemies and friends, it unravels the enigmas and falsehoods, many perpetrated by the director himself, which surround his life, and sheds new light on his extraordinary career. This is a story of the making of art, the business of Hollywood, and the costs of ambition, both financial and personal.

©2022 Charles Elton (P)2022 Tantor

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Briskly paced, but misses the mark

It's understandable that an author would choose to write about a subject they admire. But when that strays into sycophancy, it becomes a problem. The author does present Cimino, the man, in a rather unflattering light.. insecure, narcissistic at times, but yet generally likable as a director on sets. It is the when it comes to the work itself however, when the author loses a bit of his objectivity. Numerous examples of supposed unfair treatment from the media and the public are met with examples of others auteurs committing at least as egregious sins on sets (in the author's mind), e.g. running massively over budget, acting tyrannical on sets for his vision. It may be a reasonable defense, but the "whataboutism" just comes off, as it always does, as churlish and petty. Similarly, as the director's career dwindles, and perceived failures mount, the author has convenient excuses and precedents. But he never once considers that perhaps the story isn't so much Cimino, the wunderkind, with a couple early successes and an Oscar for The Deer Hunter being persecuted a la Orson Welles for his auteur ego, But maybe the story is about a reasonably talented, driven guy who caught lightning in a bottle with his first two films. (The truth be told, I don't think Thunderbolt and Lightfoot can be called anything other than a reasonably entertaining and serviceable film, though The Deer Hunter is clearly a gem.) And perhaps his limitations and style of work proved out that he wasn't quite the genius that the author and Cimino himself, thought he was.

I purchased this title mainly because I have an admiration for The Deer Hunter, and an odd fixation on Heaven's Gate. It's the latter film that is the main focus of the book, but seems to me misses a lot of the main points. The author does recognize that outrageous delays and massive cost overruns helped to make the film a stock joke about Hollywood flops. But ultimately the author blames the reception to Heaven's Gate, and the subsequent fallout afterwards, to a scapegoating campaign against Cimino.

Consequently, not enough of a spotlight is put on the film itself. It is a gloriously beautiful visual experience. The cinematography is exquisite and the core story is intriguing, as relevant in 1980 and 2022, as it was in the setting of the film over a hundred years earlier. The rise of the permanent businessman, and the corporate takeover of the country, a theme similar to that expressed in Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. But where the film goes wrong is that, simply, it's too long. Even the shortened version is too long. There should have been more criticism of the editing, both of the scenes and the script. A common criticism, not deeply explored in this book, is the gratuitous violence in the film. It's true, there is too much unfocused violence. It's unlike Peckinpah, who himself earned the nickname "Bloody Sam". But Peckinpah's violence had an ethos, whereas Cimino's is violence for its own sake. Which is neither here nor there, because the truth is, there is too much of everything, and the story is not masterfully constructed to work efficiently. It needed to be edited, shorter, more forward moving. Not necessarily faster, but less languorous and sluggish. The Soderbergh 108 minute Butcher's Cut comes closest to the the mark. But as the film is, it's neither a masterpiece nor a failure.

In any case, it became tiring to hear the author work as a posthumous PR man for Michael Cimino. Particularly, the incessant comparing the treatment of Cimino to how others, at other times, and under other circumstances, were treated, such as Welles, Scorsese, Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Alan Pakula, Robert Altman, the Wachowskis, etc. etc. You get the point. I don't care about Variety or National Enquirer stories.

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A Fascinating Read!

I saw the review in the May 2022 New Yorker and decided to select this title. I'm so glad I did. Cimino is such an interesting character and his story is so well told here. Not only do we learn a lot about the man but also the film business in the 70's and 80's. Highly recommend.

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Fascinating - highly recommended

I really enjoyed the book and narration. It provided a lot more nuance to the Man, and gives great backstory perspectives on the development of his two seminal works - Deer Hunter and Heaven's Gate. A really fascinating, talented and complex guy.

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