The Venice Film Festival on Thursday paid tribute to Michael Cimino, screening a full-length, digitally restored print of “Heaven’s Gate,” prompting the helmer to reminisce about the heavily cut version of his Western epic that became one of the world’s biggest box office flops.
“My first reaction was, I don’t want to revisit ‘Heaven’s Gate.’ I’ve had enough rejection for 33 years,” Cimino said about the 1980 pic that contributed to the collapse of United Artists due to time and budget overruns.
“Being infamous is not fun. It becomes a weird occupation in and of itself,” he added in an emotional tone, before sitting down with the audience to watch the 216-minute Criterion edition, which despite being restored under his supervision, he hadn’t seen on the bigscreen.
In a curious coincidence, Cimino said, “the stage we were working on (for the restoration) was directly across the street on the lot from my office when we made ‘Heaven’s Gate.’ “”Heaven’s Gate” bowed in a new fest section called Venice Classics, modeled on the Cannes Classics section launched by Thierry Fremaux, who was in the Lido audience.
Venice topper Alberto Barbera said the Western had “disappeared and been erased from film history” after being “massacred by the distributor, which made it totally impossible to understand.” The version of “Heaven’s Gate” released by United Artists was 149 minutes long.
Cimino was also presented with Venice’s Persol Award for career achievement.