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May 09, 1981 - Image 12

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1981-05-09

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The Michigan Daily Saturday, May 9, 1981 Page 12
Praise for 'Heaven's Gate'?!


God help me, I liked Heaven's Gate,
the movie that opened and closed last
fall, embarrassed to the gills, like a
one-night Broadway disaster, only to be
recut and reissued to a slightly softer
round of groans. two weeks ago. A
decade ago Hollywood was gasping un-
der the weight of costly flops like Tora,
Tora, Tora!, Camelot, Hello, Dolly!,
Darling Lili and Paint Your Wagon; but
these were drably mass-produced
failures for the most part, ground out
by tired veterans from within the studio
system, and the companies could only
blame themselves. Heaven's Gate is a
New Hollywood project all the way, and
its unfortunate reception has had
everyone screaming at the reckless
auteur who's presumably to blame.
In so many ways Heaven's Gate is
self-indulgent, it is a mess, it is
misconceived, but it offers the
challenge and aesthetic rewards of a
penultimate New Hollywood project,
blown up ,to solemnly vague epic
proportions. .
TRYING TO abstract the western
form into still life - a sort of

Isabelle Huppert and Kris Kristofferson roller-skate at a frontier
amusement house in Michael Cimino's ('The Deer Hunter') much-abused
western epic 'Heaven's Gate.'

massive tableaux, heavy with implicit
meaning - Cinimo (The Deer Hunter)
paints with more delight in executing
his brush movements than interest in
(or knowledge of) the eventual whole
picture. The characters are cliches,
their motives foggy at best. The story is
contrived. But at least he's doing
something, taking artistic risks. The
word is that Heaven's Gate is a lifeless

new CaSSes beginning
May 18

bore, but for all of its dead spots and
faults, the bald ambition and occasional
grandeur of Cimino's effort keeps the
movie much more alive than most.
The plot in the apparently much-
clarified 2 -hour version (trimmed
from the disasterous original 31/2 hours)
is often hackneyed, but its primal
nature does have some emotional
power - this sort of Potemkin-ish
tariat stuff is always effectively un-
pleasant, even (or especially) when it's
being exploited for cheap melodrama.
.Heaven's Gate isn't exactly cheap
melodrama, generally; like such new-
era lyrical westerns as Jeremiah John-
son and Comes a Horseman, it tries to
hide its cliches in cynical, hip, deter-
minedly pictoral seriousness. True, the
fun of innocent genre films is lost, but
this new romanticism of the old
West-closed to an issue of Arizona
Highways (with a dash of elemental
Freud) than to a Zane Grey novel-has
a great pull to it. Cimino's film is a
montage of live-action lithographs,
landscapes, moments of grace and
horror. He goes to often outrageous
lengths to flex his muscles as a visual
whiz-hundreds of graduates and girls

in pastel whirl around a Harvard cour-
tyard, and an hour later immigrants in
Wyoming roller-skate about a huge
meeting house in a funkier, bluegrass-
driven celebration-and it's a clue to
his strengths and limits that the
craziest flights of poetry are the ones
that come off best.
TO TIE IT all together, he has strung
together a group of characters perhaps
inevitably easier to take as symbols
and stock victims than as living flesh.
Graduating from Harvard in 1870,
Averill (Kris Kristofferson) is the
godlike traditional figure of integrity,
disillusioned to a respectable degree
but still ineffably good, a pacifict who
can, of course, outshoot and fight
everyone; Irvine (John Hurt) is his
buddy, the mysteriously wounded
idealist who follows Averill out, to the
West and just keeps getting drunker
to bear all the barbarism.
The villians are similarly designed as
different shades of the same
emotional color. Nate Champion
(Christopher Walken) is the hit-man-
on-the-range with the redeeming virtue
of a troubled conscience. "Elitist." Can-
ton (Sam Waterson) is the evil
Association- leader without ANY
redeeming virtues.
The Association is a group of
swinishly smug and brutal Wyoming
landowners. Its members create a hit
list of 125 immigrant men in the county
that Averill marshalls over, wanting to
simply wipe the largely helpless, star-
ving settlers out-officially to stop their
desperate cattle rustling, unof-
ficially to just be rid of the distasteful,
crowding alien element. The eventual
corrupt-government vs. indignant-
peasants clash can only tragically reaf-
firm the already assumed loss of in-
nocent ideals.
Heaven's Gate is being sold as some
sort of giant patriotic hymn - no won-
der it's flopping - but its ' view of
America is a darkly pessimistic one.
The "land of the free" has become a
cruel joke here, and slaughter is per-
mitted by the wicked, selfish
bourgeoise who have manipulated
themselves into being "the law." Even
the bad guys aren't spared the destruc-
tive effects of such chaos sooner or
later. It's a heavy-handed, depressing
See CIMINO, Page 13






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