This weekend, Hollywood lost a director who experienced the both the staggering highs and tremendous lows the industry can offer: “The Deer Hunter” and “Heaven’s Gate” director Michael Cimino has passed away.
Like many filmmakers, Cimino first cut his teeth in the world of commercials following his graduation from Yale. It was in that realm that he first started forging the exacting standards and strong visual approach that would mark his film work. In the 1970s, Cimino turned to Hollywood, where his screenplays for the sci-fi “Silent Running” (directed by Douglas Trumbull) and Dirty Harry flick “Magnum Force” first got produced, before he made his directorial debut with “Thunderbolt And Lightfoot” (produced by and starring Dirty Harry himself, Clint Eastwood).
Cimino’s ambitions fully came into bloom, however, with his second effort, “The Deer Hunter.” The epic drama about the effect of the Vietnam War on the residents of a small town in Pennsylvania featured an all-star cast (Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, John Cazale, Christopher Walken) and was met with rave reviews, box-office success, and Oscar glory, nominated in nine categories, and winning five prizes including Best Picture and Best Director.
However, while Cimino hit his peak with “The Deer Hunter,” his follow-up, “Heaven’s Gate” would be a near-career-ending valley. The picture, which for years was the example brought forth when describing productions that ran out of control, became notorious for its arduous, prolonged shoot, which saw the budget skyrocket and Cimino cement his reputation for being relentless in pursuit of perfection. Unfortunately, critics savaged the movie, audiences stayed away, and when the film was finally released, it flopped and essentially bankrupted United Artists. While Cimino would manage to direct four more features — “Year Of The Dragon,” “The Sicilian,” “Desperate Hours,” and “The Sunchaser” — none would come close to “The Deer Hunter.”
In recent years, the tide of opinion has shifted on “Heaven’s Gate.” A new restoration of the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2012, where it was received with greater appreciation. And the tastemakers at The Criterion Collection also allowed for a new critical evaluation of the film to take place by issuing the director’s cut of the movie on Blu-ray and DVD.
Michael Cimino was 77 years old at the time of his passing. [Variety]