Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980)
Some of the themes are starting to sound familiar: talented young filmmaker hot off a giant success, given free reign and left to make a mess of it. In this case, Michael Cimino’s Deer Hunter follow-up was also the product of an unraveling studio, as shake-ups behind the scenes at United Artists left, essentially, no one minding the store. It would nearly take down the studio — though originally budgeted at $11 million, Cimino’s reported perfectionism, endless retakes, and snail’s pace would crank the film months over schedule and inflate its costs to $44 million. Its projected premiere was missed by nearly a year, and when the film debuted in November 1980 for a one-week limited run — edited down from Cimino’s original, five-plus-hour cut to three hours and 39 minutes — it was savaged by critics. UA pulled the film and re-edited it again, into a two-and-a-half hour version that was equally reviled when it was finally released in April 1981, barely grossing $1 million.
The film effectively ended Cimino’s career (he directed four more films, all much smaller and all box-office disappointments, the most recent in 1996), though it has since been championed by some cinephiles, its longer, premiere version attracting considerable attention when it aired on Z Channel in the 1980s and debuted on DVD and Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection in 2012. (Or, if you don’t have that kind of time, you can always watch director Steven Soderbergh’s new “Butcher’s Cut,” which runs all of 108 minutes.)