Venice honors Michael Cimino as 'Heaven's Gate' gets another close-up

Posted by · 3:49 pm · August 13th, 2012

For a film that a lot of critics continue to believe is a disaster of momentous proportions, Michael Cimino’s epic flop “Heaven’s Gate” has received an awful lot of second chances. The vast period western is one of Hollywood’s most enduring cautionary tales: made on the back of Cimino’s Oscar triumph with “The Deer Hunter,” it fell prey to the director’s hubris as it ran catastrophically behind schedule and over budget, ruining United Artists as it grossed not one-twentieth of its then-massive $44 million budget.

Critics may have piled onto the already woebegone film, both in its 219-minute premiere edit (still a feat of restraint compared to the five-and-a-half-hour edit Cimino originally had in mind) and the studio-shredded 149-minute version prepared for general theatrical release, but the rehabilitation has been steady and dedicated over the years. Originally unveiled in Competition at Cannes, it’s since been given other illustrious platforms from to recoup its credibility.

An extended director’s cut played the Berlin Film Festival in 2005, while at the upcoming Venice Film Festival, a new digital restoration of the 219-minute edit will follow the presentation of the Persol Award to Cimino. (Venice, as you may have noticed, does a lot of these vague career-achievement awards: the Italians are nothing if not a generous people.) That restoration itself heralds the imminent arrival of a Criterion Collection Blu-ray. So the redemption process is just about complete.

Some will inevitably call this a futile act of turd-polishing, but I’m glad “Heaven’s Gate” continues to receive such second, third and fourth looks. Venice director Alberto Barbera’s claim that the film is a “masterpiece” is a decidedly over-compensatory statement, but Cimino’s wild, brazenly stirring and ostentatiously beautiful film has never deserved the stinker label. It fails as fascinatingly as it succeeds, from the worlds-apart casting of Kris Kristofferson and Isabelle Huppert as romantic leads to its tangled but excitable politics. It’s both too much to manage and too much to dismiss: as Kris, another qualified admirer, wrote in a Hollywood Elsewhere thread about the film yesterday, “It’s not misunderstood, but it’s too gorgeous and detailed to disavow.”

Anyway, good on Barbera for picking such a relatively contentious director and film to honor in his first year as festival director. I’d like to check out “Heaven’s Gate” at the festival, though will likely be pressed for time: the Blu-ray, however, is a gourmet prospect.  

Partial press release as follows:

La Biennale di Venezia and Persol are pleased to announce that the great American director, screenwriter, and producer Michael Cimino will be honoured with the Persol 2012 award of the Venice International Film Festival which aims to celebrate a legend of international filmmaking.

In speaking about this award for Michael Cimino, Festival Director Alberto Barbera said: “It is a belated but long overdue acknowledgment of the greatness of a visionary filmmaker, one of the most intense and original voices in American filmmaking of the last forty years, gradually reduced to silence after the box-office flop of a masterpiece to which the film producers contributed with senseless cuts. By virtue of his immense talent, Cimino has exalted the filmmaking art and offered a portrait of America both critical and passionate, lucid and compelling.”

The Persol Award will be presented to Michael Cimino at a ceremony on Thursday 30 August at the Lido during the 69th Venice International Film Festival (29 August – 8 September 2012), directed by Alberto Barbera and organized by la Biennale di Venezia, chaired by Paolo Baratta.

Following the award ceremony, Michael Cimino”s masterpiece Heaven”s Gate (1980, 219″) will be screened in the new Criterion edition, digitally restored under the supervision of the filmmaker, at 14.30 at the Sala Perla (Palazzo del Casinò), as part of the Venezia Classici section of the 69th Film Festival.

Heaven”s Gate was originally presented in its full-length version in Venice at the 1982 Film Festival, directed by Carlo Lizzani, in the Mezzogiorno-Mezzanotte section curated by Enzo Ungari.

At the 2001 edition of the Venice Film Festival under the direction of Alberto Barbera, Michael Cimino presented his novel Big Jane, of which he conducted a staged reading.

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