×

Steven Bach dies at 70

Former United Artists exec wrote 'Final Cut'

Steven Bach, the United Artists exec who took the fall for the disastrous “Heaven’s Gate” and wrote “Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of ‘Heaven’s Gate’ ” about the film, died of lung cancer March 25 in Arlington, Vt. He was 70.

As senior VP of worldwide production at UA starting in 1978, Bach shepherded influential films such as “Raging Bull,” “Manhattan,” “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and “True Confessions.” But his string of money-makers and prestige items came to a screeching halt when he presided over the making of the epic 1980 Western “Heaven’s Gate,” directed by Michael Cimino.

Cimino was fresh off his 1978 success “The Deer Hunter,” which won five Academy Awards, including best picture. Under the perfectionist director — who sometimes staged complicated sequences, but refused to print the take because he didn’t like the clouds, the budget for “Heavens Gate” skyrocketed from a modest $7.5 million to anywhere from $36 million to $44 million, depending on the report.

That was an astonishing sum for the time, and critics inevitably zeroed in on the budget in their overwhelmingly negative reviews of the 3½-hour film. The title became synonymous with Hollywood excess, and the pic grossed only $2 million at the box office.

Bach was then fired from his UA post.

A recut, much shorter version was released, and that did no better at the boxoffice and it’s only in recent years that the film has been re-evaluated, with some film scholars praising it as under-appreciated.

Bach’s examination of the effect of the film’s failure led to changes throughout the entertainment industry. “Within three years of the ‘Heaven’s Gate’ debacle, the management of every major company in the motion-picture industry had changed,” he wrote in the 1985 “Final Cut,” which became a classic insider look at the movie business.

In 2001, Bach wrote a biography of Moss Hart, which prompted Variety to revisit the exec’s career: “Bach was fired on a Monday. On Friday, UA was sold to MGM. Soon after UA’s demise, Bach formed a partnership with director Richard Lester. They began putting together financing for several films, which they hoped to make in Munich using German tax money. But a change in German tax laws eventually scuppered those plans. Bach subsequently built a career around writing and teaching.”

Born in Pocatello, Idaho, Bach studied at the Sorbonne and graduated Northwestern U.

He earned a doctorate of film at USC before becoming a story editor for Palomar Pictures, which produced “Sleuth” and “The Heartbreak Kid.” He then worked on the production of films including “The Parallax View,” “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ and “Mr. Billion” through his partnership in Pantheon Pictures, which also produced Broadway plays.

His other books included bios of Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl. He also taught in the film program at Columbia U. and for the past 10 years at Bennington College.

He is survived by his companion, Werner Rohr.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Refugees from the besieged Muslim enclave

    Sarajevo’s True Stories Market: Documenting the Atrocities of War

    Reconciliation and dealing with the tragedies of the Yugoslav Wars has been a major focus of the Sarajevo Film Festival and its CineLink Industry Days event in recent years. The True Stories Market, launched in 2016, aims to connect filmmakers with organizations that are researching and documenting the Yugoslav Wars that spanned 1991 to 2001 [...]

  • Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’

    Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ Wins Top Prize in Sarajevo

    “Take Me Somewhere Nice,” Bosnian director Ena Sendijarević’s coming-of-age story about a teen raised in the Netherlands who returns to Bosnia to visit her ailing father, won the top prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival Thursday night, earning the Amsterdam-based helmer the coveted Heart of Sarajevo Award. The jury heralded the “beautifully photographed, acted, scripted [...]

  • Khadar Ahmed - BUFO - photo

    Bufo Sets Key Cast for Co-Production ‘The Gravedigger' (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —   Actor Omar Abdi, who starred in the Ahmed-scripted short “Citizens,” and actress Yasmin Warsame, who made her name as a Canadian model, will topline romantic-tragedy “The Gravedigger,” the latest big screen project from Bufo, the Helsinki-based outfit behind Berlinale winner “The Other Side of Hope.” The film follows a Djibouti gravedigger [...]

  • Jacobs Ladder Movie 2019

    Film Review: 'Jacob's Ladder'

    It’s understandable that someone would want to remake “Jacob’s Ladder,” Adrian Lyne’s 1990 head-trip thriller about a Vietnam veteran haunted by fragmentary nightmare visions. I was far from alone in finding the original to be an overwrought but rather thin “psychological” horror film that was more punishing than pleasurable. And it wasn’t exactly a hit, [...]

  • Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles

    Film Review: 'Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles'

    Still beloved and routinely revived 55 years after its Broadway debut — including a Yiddish-language version now playing in New York — “Fiddler on the Roof” is a popular phenomenon that shows no sign of subsiding. Max Lewkowicz’s “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” provides an entertaining if hardly exhaustive overview of how the unlikely success [...]

  • 'Weathering With You' Heads for $100

    'Weathering With You' Heads for $100 Million Box Office Haul

    Makoto Shinkai’s animated romantic drama “Weathering with You” passed the JPY10 billion ($94 million) mark in Japan on Wednesday, according to an announcement by distributor Toho. This makes it the tenth-highest earning Japanese film of all time. Since its release on July 19 on 448 screens in 359 complexes, the film has racked up 7.52 million admissions. The [...]

  • Burn review

    Film Review: 'Burn'

    There’s more smoke than fire in “Burn,” a reasonably promising single-location thriller that never quite settles on what it wants to be — a straight-up suspense piece, twisty black comedy, oddball character study, etc. “All the above” would be a tall but not impossible order to pull off. The problem is that writer-director Mike Gan’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content