Michael Cimino, ‘Deer Hunter’ and ‘Heaven’s Gate’ Director, Dies at 77

Michael Cimino
Courtesy: REX/Shutterstock

Michael Cimino, who won Oscars as director and a producer of “The Deer Hunter” before “Heaven’s Gate” destroyed his career and sped up the demise of 60-year-old United Artists, has died. He was 77.  Friends called the police when they couldn’t reach him and he was found dead Saturday at his Los Angeles home. Cause of death has not yet been determined.

Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux tweeted the news Saturday, writing that he died in peace surrounded by those close to him and the two women who loved him. “We loved him too,” wrote Fremaux.

His birthday is usually cited as Feb. 3, 1939, though many facts about Cimino’s life, including his birthdate, were shrouded in conflicting information. 

Cimino directed eight films in his career. His first was 1974’s “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”; his second was the 1978 Vietnam War masterpiece “The Deer Hunter,” which won five Academy Awards, including best picture and director; his third was 1980’s “Heaven’s Gate,” the film that became synonymous with showbiz disaster; and the rest were mostly footnotes, though some (like “Year of the Dragon”) have passionate fans.

In a statement Saturday, Robert De Niro said, “Our work together is something I will always remember. He will be missed.”

Directors Guild of America president Paris Barclay also issued a statement on the news late on Saturday: “With his visionary approach and attention to every detail, Michael Cimino is forever etched in the history of filmmaking. In his most iconic work, the DGA and Academy Award-winning film ‘The Deer Hunter,’ Michael captured the horrors of war through a personalized lens – captivating a nation in the process.”

The rise and fall of Cimino is so extreme that it would undoubtedly make for a great book, miniseries or opera. But it may not make a good film: It would require too big a budget, and the plot would be too complex. His career is a cautionary tale for Hollywood, about the eternal conflict between artistry and finance, with side battles between creative people and the media.

When Cimino pacted with Universal and EMI for the 1978 “The Deer Hunter,” he had only two screenplay credits (including “Silent Running”), plus the one film he wrote and directed. “Hunter” ran behind schedule and over budget, but proved a big profit-maker, earning $48 million on a $15 million budget. It was nominated for nine Oscars and won five — including director for Cimino and picture (another statuette for Cimino as one of the four winning producers).

Based on its success, United Artists signed him for “Heaven’s Gate,” a Western based on the Johnson County Wars. Since its founding in 1919, UA had a long tradition of giving creative freedom to filmmakers, from Charlie Chaplin to Billy Wilder to Woody Allen. In 1978, a new United Artists team was in place, after top execs like Arthur Krim battled with parent company Transamerica and defected to form Orion Pictures.

The new team at UA were eager for a big hit and Cimino seemed just the ticket. So they contractually gave him control over the production. The French New Wave in the early 1960s had anointed directors as auteurs, and the 1970s, after “Easy Rider,” saw many successful films from maverick filmmakers. So, the UA execs figured, what could possibly go wrong?

“Heaven’s Gate” started filming in April 1979 and wrapped 11 months later, in March 1980. In his book “Final Cut,” Steven Bach, who was a UA exec at the time, said the film was greenlit for $7.5 million but eventually budgeted at $11.5 million. It ended up costing $35.1 million, with another $9 million for marketing, leading to a $44 million writedown for UA. After the film, Cimino directed only four more features, ending with the 1996 “Sunchaser.” He always avoided questions about “Heaven’s Gate,” except to label Bach’s book “a work of fiction.”

Cimino was born in New York City and raised in Long Island; his father was a music publisher, his mother a costume designer. He went to Michigan State, graduated from Yale in 1961 and got an MFA there in 1963, both in painting. He directed TV commercials for United Airlines, Kool cigarettes and Pepsi, among others.

He moved to L.A. in 1971 and was repped by Stan Kamen at William Morris. He got gigs as a co-writer of the ecological science fiction film “Silent Running,” starring Bruce Dern, and the 1973 “Magnum Force,” the second “Dirty Harry” film. Eastwood was impressed, and gave Cimino his big break by agreeing to star in Cimino’s directing debut, the 1974 “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.” The film was a box office hit and gained an Oscar nomination for supporting actor Jeff Bridges.

Director Michael Cimino, left, talks with actor Robert De Niro, wearing beret, during a break in filming of “The Deer Hunter” on location in Bangkok, Thailand, Sept. 11, 1977.(AP Photo/Neal Ulevich)

His second work, 1978’s “The Deer Hunter,” was the right movie at the right time. Though the Vietnam War was a daily presence on American TV, the studios generally avoided the topic on the bigscreen until long after the last troops had withdrawn in 1973. Cimino’s film was a three-hour-plus look at events on the battlefield and the home front, a gritty, grim study with excellent, Oscar-nominated performances by Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep (her first) and supporting actor Christopher Walken, who won. The film also won for editing and sound.

When “Deer Hunter” was released, Cimino implied in various interviews that the story (credited to him and three other scribes) was autobiographical, or else based on tales he heard when he was part of a 1968 Green Beret medical unit in Vietnam. Others refuted both versions, saying Cimino was never in Vietnam and his military experience was limited to six months in the reserves. Other details of Cimino’s life were subject to scrutiny, criticism and re-evaluation, including his age and even his gender identity. He variously listed the year of his birth as 1939, 1943 and 1952, sometimes shifting the month.

Almost from the beginning, “Heaven’s Gate” was the subject of criticism and speculation. Cimino was such a perfectionist that Hollywood told tales of him halting filming so an outdoor set could be rebuilt to have a wider sidewalk, and waiting endlessly for the clouds to create the right formation before filming. The story, possibly apocryphal, was that on the sixth day of shooting, it was already five days behind schedule. Aside from complaints of  self-indulgence, there were claims of animal cruelty.

At various times, United Artists execs considered firing him (but relented, fearing a backlash and citing the actors’ support of him) or  pulling the plug. But they were impressed with the footage — “as if David Lean were directing a Western,” the execs said of what they’d seen. Plus, they didn’t want a huge writedown with nothing to show for it, so the film was completed.

In the next few years, there were four cuts of the film, of varying lengths. Three months after wrapping, Cimino had a print that ran 325 minutes (i.e., five hours, 25 minutes), with Cimino announcing that it needed to lose 15 minutes. However, it was trimmed to 219 minutes by the time it premiered in New York on Nov. 19, 1980. The audience and critical reaction were negative, so UA pulled the film and re-released it in April 1981 at 149 minutes. It earned less than $4 million.

United Artists was sold to Kirk Kerkorian and MGM; at a Cannes screening of “Heaven’s Gate,” Cimino denied that his film was responsible. UA honcho Norbert Auerbach said tactfully that if the film didn’t force previous owner Transamerica to exit show business, “Heaven’s Gate” certainly didn’t discourage that move. The company never regained its stature.

In 1985 Bach, who was senior VP and head of worldwide production for UA at the time, wrote “Final Cut,” a withering account of the film. Bach cited studio execs, including himself, for culpability, and questioned how artists are expected to learn “discipline and responsibility” in an age of conglomerates. He notes that it was a time of turbulence in the film biz, and within three years of “Heaven’s Gate,” every major company changed management. But Bach clearly portrays Cimino as the villain, for giving priority to his artistic vision over budget considerations, and for his refusal to deal with studio executives.

Over the years, the film has been re-evaluated several times, with either positive or rapturous reception. A new director’s cut, running 216 minutes, debuted in fall 2012 at the Venice Film Festival.

Although he directed a few films in the decades after “Heaven’s Gate,” Cimino kept a low profile, and plastic surgery made him almost unrecognizable. He resurfaced at the Cannes Film Festival for a screening of his 1996 film “Sunchaser.” He appeared at Cannes again in 2007 for his final film venture, a three-minute contribution to the multi-director anthology “Chacun son gout.” He obliquely addressed the rumor that he was transitioning into a woman, saying there were many false rumors about him, part of a “personal assassination”; he said if a detractor wants to prevent a person from working, the next best thing is to “destroy them personally.”

Cimino circled many projects that never came to fruition, including a life of Dostoevsky developed with Raymond Carver; adaptations of “Crime and Punishment,” Truman Capote’s “Handcarved Coffins,” Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and Andre Malraux’s “Man’s Fate”; and bios of Janis Joplin, Legs Diamond and Mafia boss Frank Costello. He also circled many projects eventually directed by others, including “The Bounty,” “Footloose,” “The Pope of Greenwich Village” and “Born on the Fourth of July.”

He wrote a 2001 novel, “Big Jane” and two years later collaborated with Francesca Pollock on the book “Conversations en miroir.”

He had no survivors.

 

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  1. Dave J says:

    Rest in peace!

  2. Aleric says:

    I liked Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, it was a good pairing of Eastwood and Jeff bridges, but too many people hype the Deer Hunter. The movie was BORING and started the trend of the psychotic Vietnam vet. HG was twice as long and boring and add in Year of the Dragon and you have an ongoing set of movies that had they been edited better would have been more successful.

    • Mark says:

      That’s one of my favorites. It’s a great, underrated, unique buddy movie, that is almost surreal in places. It’s one of Cimino’s best.

  3. IT--II--IT says:

    Everyone promoted, spotlighted by Hollywood,certainly cince 1970,
    has been 100% INTEL RUN. Most we discover, were NOT operating
    under their REAL identities.

    1970 was just 2 years before the –long planned RED CHINA handover TREASON summit.

    Hollywood was there to RUN you with demoralization ops, PORN, celebrations of mafia ‘values’
    and brain dead franchise slum SLOP.

    WORKED like a CHARM.

    – – — SHMUCKS – – —

  4. After Heavens gate went to 44 million no studio would take a chance on him hijacking a movie and or financial chaos. Should have retired after Deerhunter.

  5. Dan says:

    This article is not accurate. It’s a popular myth that “Heaven’s Gate” destroyed his career and that he was responsible for the demise of United Artists.

    Lets start with United Artists:
    Even Steven Bach wrote that the flop of “H.G.” didn’t have a big impact on the stock of United Artists. But the experience and especially the bad press made the money men uneasy about the film business in general and they wanted to invest their money in other, safer, quieter industries. The bad press destroyed United Artists, that’s the truth. The major lesson of the troubled “H.G.” production was, that PUBLIC RELATIONS was key. Since “H.G” there have been many, many more out-of-control productions and major failures, but Hollywood paid money for P.R. to keep the press under control. Cimino and the producers made the major mistake, that they didn’t give them the ‘stories’ they needed for their publications, therefore they came up themselves with ‘scandals’ and negative stuff. “H.G.” was a game changer for P.R. in Hollywood, because it became clear, that bad press can make or break your film.

    Michael Cimino’s career wasn’t over after “H.G.”:
    In Europe the film was well received by some critics and it did business in France and other countries.
    It wasn’t as strong as “The Deer Hunter”, but it was beautiful and unique. Cimino was still a respected director. Within a short amount of time he directed epics with major budgets again, so I wouldn’t call such a career “destroyed”. “Year of the Dragon” is a BIG movie! It did O.K. in the US, but was a hit in Europe, so I don’t think this can be regarded as a failure. And it’s still an impressive film.
    Cimino’s real problems started after “The Sicilian” which was a flop in the US and didn’t do well in Europe either. But what’s more important is: It was an artistic failure. It was boring, had weak acting in the leads and was simply bad. THIS movie destroyed Cimino, not “H.G.”. If “The Sicilian” would have been as good as his early films, nobody would have said something, even if it wasn’t a success, but
    now they all lost trust in him. Cimino wanted to be the Leo Tolstoy of cinema, but he couldn’t be that anymore. All his movies after that were simply ‘jobs’, that he did to make a living, but his vision demanded larger budgets. The direction is competent, but the films are mediocre.

    Yes, he lied a lot about his age and his life, but many do that in Hollywood to gain an advantage. It’s one of the most competitive industries, don’t forget that. He did it, because he wanted to stay in the game as long as he could to do what he loved. Cimino was a true romantic, somebody who didn’t care about anything else than his art. Most of his films are interesting and some are great. He had an impact on film history and influenced other artists: John Woo’s films for example wouldn’t be the same without Cimino. R.I.P.

  6. Troy G says:

    Sometimes people receive credit which is not warranted.
    I found the Deer Hunter boring and lacking.

  7. Bill.B. says:

    A very odd man indeed, but an interesting story. Living in NYC & working in the entertainment industry at the time, I remember the Heaven’s Gate fiasco well. The immensely large negative criticism was deserved as it was an interesting looking incomprehensible film in which much of the dialogue couldn’t even be heard & some scenes couldn’t be seen due to “realistic” dust and such. I don’t care what the revisionists say. It was a huge mess of a film, but it was unique. Might be the most limited career of an Oscar winning director of all time.

  8. Dave says:

    I believe nothing (including claims of military service) from someone who cannot even be honest about their age

  9. Markus Johnson says:

    So interesting to see the how this director upsets, and shines a light on how pompous (shallow, afraid, and dishonest) Hollywood’s core people are.

  10. Rex Porter says:

    EXT. HEAVEN. – DAY.

    MICHAEL CIMINO dies and at the Gates of Heaven SAINT PETER, reading glasses in place, murmurs…

    PETER

    Let’s see here… “Cimino, Michael”. Yes. Oh, wait!

    Looks up at Cimino

    PETER

    You’re the director of The Deer Hunter, aren’t you?
    Welcome to Heaven, son!

    Peter’s assistant whispers in his ear.

    [beat]

    PETER

    Michael, is it true you also directed “Heaven’s Gate”?

    CIMINO

    Um, yes. I guess so.

    PETER

    Well, there’s been a change in destination for you. Best of luck!

    DISSOLVE TO: CIMINO face, eyes, eye, a single teardrop.

    Fade out with crackling fire sound.

    Cue Heaven’s Gate soundtrack. Roll credits.

  11. I think someone slipped up big time in the history/credit portion of this article. Typical of the shitty journalism these days. No one can afford fact checkers or editors.

  12. Al says:

    The roller skating ring scene on a wooden state, I have never forgotten it.

  13. his death can serve to focus public attention on the stock growers association again, what the original film meant to do. what did the association do then, what does it do now, who are these people.

    “According to the WSGA,[7] the three main roles of today’s association are:

    Advocating on issues affecting the cattle industry, Wyoming agriculture and rural community living….”

    seems to me trashing a film about their activities fulfills this goal successfully.

  14. Berke Zane says:

    That scene in the bar where they sing to the 4 seasons, man that was filmmaking and storytelling. God I loved that film. God bless Michael Cimino. I hope he felt somewhat vindicated by the many mega-bombs Hollywood produced during his lifetime. If he could have only hung on to see Ghostbusters.

  15. william norton says:

    The coca loved him too.

  16. Mario Marino says:

    I”v had the pleasure of knowing Him,
    He was an amazing person.
    We have all lost an amazing person,
    He touched all of our harts,
    He will be missed
    RIP Maestro.

  17. Richy Spinega says:

    Deer Hunter was a slog with De Niro doing a lousy imitation of a Brooklyn accent. He’s always been better in comedy. I fully expect he’ll resurrect the stand-up routine that made him famous to begin with.

  18. Uncle Fink says:

    Cue the song from Bad Company: Shooting Star

    Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was a Very Good movie. The Deer Hunter was a Magnificent movie. Everything else after the Hunter can be considered junk at best, toxic waste at worst.

    The song Shooting Star should be sung/played at his funeral.

  19. Ken/Toronto says:

    I was stunned when I saw “Deer Hunter” at the cinema when it opened. Then I was appalled when I saw the re-edited version of “Heaven’s Gate” when it was released in Spring 1981. And then I was both bored silly and infuriated by the 3+ hour long restored version on television and dvd. “Gate” was undeniably beautiful to look at (“like David Lean directed a western” it was said at the time), but it was sooo slow, meandering and utterly self-indulgent. Cimino was clearly engaging in post-Oscar ego-itis…and UA enabled him. The story of the “Heaven’s Gate” disaster (and it was a newsworthy calamity) is brilliantly detailed in Steven Bach’s phenomenal book. Cimino had a most curious career, indeed. Perhaps somebody should make a movie about him.

  20. IT--II--IT says:

    WORD’s not OUT about the reality that Hollywood, which was always INTEL RUN,
    was literally of a piece with the CIA by 1970. You know, 2 years before the
    CFR’s Nixon–MAO handover TREASON summit.

    Vietnam demoralization op movies were KEY to undermining the public sense.

    This while such trifles as the RED CHINA HOLOCAUST and the soon to be
    21st century -KEY– KOREAN WAR were ‘overlooked’.

    We understand –MANY– of the implicated ‘eye cons’ are opting for ‘PSUEDO–CIDE’.

    We hear, Buenos Aires is getting to be the place to be.

    And we have to wonder IF that’s NOT Annie LENNOX doing a ‘reality actor’ turn ?

    Sorry, but things are THAT bad in this, the 11th HOUR of RED CHINA handover ‘wrap up’.

  21. gamersa2000 says:

    The same year Heaven’s Gate failed with it’s 44 million budget, Raise the Tianic was released with a 40 million budget and also bombed. But Raise the Titanic was the work of studio hacks and it was a lot easier to blame an ambitious, visionary director (whatever you thought of his vision).

    I always thought that Heaven’s Gate was a film that had great things in it, without being a great film. The Deer Hunter was a very good film with great performances, while Year of the Dragon is underrated.

    I read Bach’s book, but while Cimino may have let his success go to his head, he is far from the first film artist that has happened to. In the end, he became the scapegoat for the failure of others. In the end it was a sad that he never got the chance to redeem himself as an artist. RIP Michael Cimino.

  22. SF says:

    Remember the Deer Hunter and the spring of ’79 well.
    No doubt the definitive film made about the Vietnam War.
    Nothing else comes close.

    • Rescue Dawn was more realistic
      Rescue Dawn is a 2006 American war drama film made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Gibraltar Films and Thema Production and directed by Werner Herzog, based on an adapted screenplay written from his 1997 documentary film Little Dieter Needs to Fly. The film stars Christian Bale, and is based on the true story of German-American pilot Dieter Dengler, who was shot down and captured by villagers sympathetic to the Pathet Lao during an American military campaign in the Vietnam War. Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, Pat Healy, and Toby Huss also have principal roles. The film project, which had initially come together during 2004, began shooting in Thailand in August 2005.

  23. Amazing how he never really bounced back after Heaven’s Gate.
    Deer Hunter is amazing. The rest of his career is a huge disappointment

  24. iamn00b says:

    You’ve gotta be kidding with that first sentence in an article about someone who DIED.

  25. Freddy says:

    Nice. Trash him in an obit and idiots writing snarky comments.

    He seemed like a decent guy and never had a scandal like Wood-eye Roman or JJ. Deer Hunter was a tremendous film. The people who worked with him only had compliments. RIP Michael.

  26. C.C. 95 says:

    That was a really sh*tty way to write a first sentence about a man’s death. You trashed him while mentioning he died. Classy….

  27. Jeff Gibson says:

    Sicko movie, sicko mind.

  28. JOE S HILL says:

    Michael Cimino’s movies were very successful,giving the great success with “THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT” that Malpaso and United Artists cranked-out in 1974-but the downfall of United Artists,as a result of the “HEAVEN’S GATE” failure,was absolutely unforgivable! that would certainly explain why many hadn’t heard much about Cimino since that corporate mess,,but United Artists still has the potential to begin a new era,depending on MGM’s current people,like Gary Barber,at the helm. as for Michael Cimino,his passing was truly unfortunate,given the great success of his 1978 movie,”THE DEER HUNTER”,but the bad taste with “HEAVEN’S GATE” will always be a serious slow burn! after reading Steven Bach’s “FINAL CUT” book,one can certainly appreciate the great loss and damage done here,when Cimino’s movie caused a messy turn of events,resulting in UA being sold to MGM in 1981-so off hand,i’ll bet that this director wasn’t so popular in the movie community,being highly associated with
    such a failure,and it’s fiscal consequences! still,he was a great film director,who’ll always be remembered,if in part,for the downfall of a studio,that can still be reinstated and returned to its rightful place in the entertainment industry!

    • Brad Stevens says:

      Actually, United Artists was on the brink of collapse long before HEAVEN’S GATE. Cimino may have pushed it over the edge, but there are many films which have lost more money, even after the figures have been adjusted for inflation. Some of them such as SPEED RACER, are generally thought of as successes (I was certainly surprised to see that one on the list of biggest financial flops). Cimino’s real crime was to make a film which took a critical view of American history at a time when Ronald Reagan’s presidency was waiting just around the corner.

  29. Robbins Mitchell says:

    Wasn’t he the one who said “Bring on the empty horses!” during the filming of “Heaven’s Gate”?

    • Jacob says:

      That was actually Michael Curtiz during the shoot of some Gary Cooper western, owing to his very broken English.

  30. TheBull says:

    I remember as a 15 year old being dragged to see The Deer Hunter. AWFUL! I was probably too young for it, but all the negative feelings about Vietnam was not something I wanted to live through, then or now. It was aimed at Cimino’s slightly older generation from me who lived through the war as adults, but I doubt you can find many under 50 today who have seen it (outside of film students) and even less who like it. It’s one of those great films where once is enough, at least for me.

  31. Dan Greenough says:

    That guy must have been a HUGE Asshole.. or Variety is.. I’ll dollow the money..,.

  32. Richard says:

    Deer Hunter was a masterpiece. One of the best ever.Thank you and RIP

  33. usafrn says:

    When Deer Hunter first came out my friends were very taken emotionally by it. I waited a few
    years then rented it and watched at home alone. The story was so riveting and real to me I
    became nauseated during the christopher walken scenes where VC play Russian Roulette
    with pistol against his head. The ending of the movie was perfect. Great movie. Felt like I was
    there while it happened. Excellent directing and acting.

  34. Steven says:

    The Viet Nam war for America ended in 1975

    • Mike Smith says:

      The Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 27th 1973 and direct U.S. military involvement ended on August 15, 1973. The U.S. forces in Vietnam until 1975 were token in comparison.

  35. Ben says:

    I am probably the rarity, but I think his best film is Year of the Dragon.
    It is a somewhat difficult movie, adult and pensive for much of it, but I admire and enjoy it a great deal.

    • Mark Spiegel says:

      “Year of the Dragon” was a very good movie that could have been great, except that the female lead (Ariane) gave the worst performance I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture– I mean like, DISTRACTINGLY bad!

  36. Steve Barr says:

    Heavens Gate is the greatest example I can think of how critical over-reaction and studio cowardice destroyed a film that is only now finally getting the recognition it deserved . Thank God he lived long enough to see his film reevaluated as the masterpiece it always was.

    • Kevin M says:

      Heaven’s Gate has the makings of a great film. It’s hard to say, given all the cutting and what they left in — the battle scene is monotonous after a while. I very much enjoyed the cut I saw, but it’s been so long I’ve got no idea which it was. With DVDs and streaming, there’s a great opportunity to resurrect this classic.

  37. I still cannot believe that a single film, by a single Oscar winning director could destroy a studio like United Artists. There’s so much more to the story about ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and why UA folded that we may never know the truth. But I’m certain Michael Cimino was not solely or even a fraction to blame for it.

    But we all know that Hollywood loves a villain. And Cimino, in his extravagances and willingness to go over budget, was cast in the role perfectly. What a shame. People say Lucas could’ve made many more great films if he hadn’t been tied to the success of Star Wars. Well, a similar ‘what if’ could be said of MIchael Cimino. How many masterpieces did we NOT get because the studios, obviously mismanaged and made up of other artists, blamed their management failure on a single director, one who just created an Oscar sweeping masterpiece the year before? How many awful and mediocre films by awful and mediocre directors did we get in all the years they shunned Cimino? Too many, that’s how many. What a waste. Rest in Peace, Michael Cimino. Thanks for the Art.

    • Steven Bach wrote the definitive account of Heaven’s Gate, called Final Cut. One of the great Hollywood books.

    • Matt R. Lohr says:

      Have you read Steven Bach’s book? Cimino obviously had issues with it (as well he might), but it does dig into more of the UA business at the time than just what was going on with Heaven’s Gate, and would be worth checking out if you are interested in more context.

  38. irwinator1992 says:

    Cimino was self-indulgent with only one decent film in his resume (The Deer Hunter) and a bunch of crap. His lack of talent shows in other films, especially Heaven’s Gate. That film is as atrocious as any Transformers film; nothing about it works on any level.

    • Really? You are happy a man died who didn’t fulfill your movie wishes? Geez, have some decency and caring if you have any in your soul.

      • irwinator1992 says:

        I have no respect or sympathy towards pretentious, arrogant clowns who are full of themselves. People like Cimino, Josh Trank, David O. Russell, Paul W.S. Anderson, Brett Ratner, and Michanel Bay fit the bill perfectly.

  39. Danno says:

    It’s funny. A cousin of mine, a Vietnam marine combat infantry vet, mentioned to me once that he hated Apocalypse Now. I don’t know what he thinks of Deer Hunter. I think I will ask him now.

  40. FZ says:

    I revisited Heaven’s Gate recently. The obvious problem is that it’s far, far too long: almost every scene could be cut in half, and nobody but this self-indulgent director would notice.

  41. Steeler Fan down South says:

    In my opinion and having grown up near Pittsburgh the Deer Hunter is not only the best movie ever made it is the most authentic movie ever made about real life living and growing up in Western Pa steel mill towns. A close second is Slap Shot and third is All the Right Moves.

    • Matt R. Lohr says:

      I grew up IN Pittsburgh, and my dad worked in the mills. You’re right. It 100% nails the look and feel of those eastern industrial cities at that time in history.

  42. As a young film student and recent Army veteran at the time, I traveled to Montana and worked the entire summer of 1979 on Heaven’s Gate as an extra. Michael Cimino was very kind to me. When I spoke to him about film in between shots every now and again, he always took the time to answer thoughtfully, and when I think back on it, he must have been under so much pressure. Truly amazing he took the time so often…Also, I recall in a huge crowd scene inside a building one hot day, a woman had an epileptic fit, and Cimino rushed forward and helped her until an ambulance arrived. I know his bio said he’d been a medic assigned to a Special Forces battalion in the 60s, and he certainly was very calm and in charge and knew what he was doing in this situation. The Deer Hunter is a tremendous film, symbolically, of man’s descent. Magnum Force still works to this day. Thunderbolt is solid fun and a great buddy movie with depth. Heaven’s Gate, truly, folks, truly, does not work very well on any level (my opinion). But God bless Michael Cimino. He was a great writer and film maker – and a kind man who created many brilliant films that will live on.

  43. Patricia Brown says:

    The Deer Hunter is one of my favourite movies..Sorry to hear / I liked Heaven’s Gate also.

  44. Heavens Gate is a good film. It’s all great visuals (late d.p. Vilmos Zsigmond), first rate production design, and the music is terrific. It has a great sense of place and atmosphere. It’s a helpful history lesson, if not a precise one, about the Johnson County Wars in late 1880s Wyoming and the local anarchy it played out among settlers, land owners and cattle men. I can think of few movies that better convey a stronger vision of what the Old West might have *really* been like. Not breathtaking vistas, not rootin tootin heroic shootin, but a lot of poverty, immigrants, misery and bloody, violent death.

    One of H.G.’s main problems is the self-indulgent lack of focus. It would have been a much better opus if a few scenes had been cut completely. Sometimes the movie lingered on a scene just to show off the set, location or shot. WTF do we need minutes of Kris Kristofferson roosting around and under his bed looking for his boots during a dialogue scene? Because Cimino could — but it does little or nothing to advance character, story or plot. Make the movie move, dude. We the audience can ponder without the ponderousness. The action scenes are really good, compelling and at times almost horrifying, as they should be. But too much of the rest of the movie was the equivalent of watching someone play with a very expensive model train set.

  45. Joe says:

    All this incessant crying about Heaven’s Gate and the damage it did to UA, but hardly anything gets said against Joe Mankiewicz almost sending 20th Century Fox in liquidation with his bloated version of Cleopatra. Hollyweird sure picks and chooses their fiscal spendthrifts, don’t they?

    • Rex says:

      Nothing gets said about Cleopatra?!?!?! Seriously? More has been written in the last 50+ years about that film than Heaven’s gate!! I remember newspaper and magazine articles, and even multiple chapters in great book — about its size and waste. Why do people make such fools out of themselves just because THEY’VE never bothered to research a topic at hand beyond (one assumes) a friggin’ WEB SEARCH?!?! THE WORLD EXISTED BEFORE THE INTERNET, people. Look into it.

    • gamersa2000 says:

      One big difference was that Cleopatra was always a studio project. It started in 1960 with Rouben Mamoulian directing. With Taylor’s various illnesses and production problems Mankiewicz replaced him with 5 million dollars already spent and the original co-stars Peter Finch and Stephen Boyd gone to other commitments because of the delays. And Mankiewicz rewrote the script on the fly. The original sets were in London which thanks to the weather they deteroited before moving to Rome. In other words, a movie were anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. In the end the movie actually had good box office, it just cost too much.

    • Exactly! Cimino was cast as the villain – typecast, actually.

  46. Miguelito Jose says:

    The dude was a nut case.

  47. Robyn Wh. says:

    Deer Hunter breaks my heart to this day, there was so much I identified with regarding Vietnam, the background story was in Cleveland, Mingo Junction, Ohio, Penn., hunting all of it..a story of what made up these men.
    Robert DeNero was brilliant to me his carried the crux of the film.
    I remember Heavens Gate and the crucifixion he went through by the studio press. We all make mistakes some are huge but not worthy enough to remember all the bad; as with grace and nobility he offered a healing to so many Vietnam Vets. May he rest in peace, thank you
    Michael Cimino Director.

  48. Ben Stillman says:

    Thank you for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

  49. luxomni says:

    Sorry, but of all the movies EVER done about Vietnam, Deer Hunter was the least realistic in ANY way. ‘Apocalypse Now’ had more vignettes of reality in it and it was not at all realistic.

  50. Bill Jefferson says:

    I watched “Deer Hunter” again a couple of months ago, after 20 years, because I couldn’t remember whether I liked it or not.

    It’s really not very good and drags along. This will be my last watching, but wondering why it’s still considered a ‘classic’ won’t stop. I’ve watched my Criterion Blu-ray of “Heaven’s Gate” three times and will revisit that one before “Deer Hunter”. It’s actually not a bad film.

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