Heaven's Gate

The Inscrutable Occidental

Why can't it just be mediocre?
Reported on 10th of September, 2013

Editor’s Note: This piece was delayed for two reasons. One, I was tempted to do a double of this and The Lone Ranger being that they are exactly same film, produced under the exact same circumstances, but when you do article with two films in it, it’s really tricky to get all the metadata to redirect and so forth. Plus I couldn’t seem to get the transition right. Two, and I just realized this, I got sidetracked researching a way to chart profit combined with loss, which given the existence of The Lone Ranger and Heaven’s Gate, is not something that they do in the financial world. Basically twelve hours of research for a bit that isn’t very funny and you wouldn’t have even noticed.

‘Speaking of AMC Pacers full of coke, Susan…’

Heaven's Gate

11 August 2013 @ The National Film Theatre

$10.00 or, if one must be quotidian, and one must... 
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


So the director’s cut of Heaven’s Gate came here, and being a devotee of the insane, I was compelled to see it, despite and because of the 236 minute running time. Berlin Alexanderplatz, in the theater, and there was no way I was going to let bragging rights for Heaven’s Gate to go unbragged. The movie itself? Who knows? Basically the question as to whether or not this is a lost masterpiece or piece of garbage is no. Actually it’s yes, which are the two responses you can imagine being uttered on set with the utter seriousness of a great comedy that I would sit through 234 minutes of. The graph tells it all.Charty

The story of the film is simple: the more story, the worse it gets. The more ridiculous period detail and unabashed visual lyricism the better. Now I’m a story guy, but the reality is that using an inverted vacuum cleaner of cocaine does not, it seems, make for coherent story (oh, I have to be careful here. That could be considered libel. After all, they could have shot up). Love triangles generally make me wait for the parts of the film shot in daylight. What’s that now? Well, I want to be able to look at my watch without letting the other audience members know I am bored. Mr. Cimino, and his fans, deserve the respect of the secret look, while someone like Mr. Guy Ritchie and Wong Kar-wai-sheng would not.

Don't get me wrong, I love assigned seating. But the BFI is super-fascisty about it, which is a bit creepy when you're sandwiched between two couples, and no one else. Apropos for the subject?

Don’t get me wrong, I love assigned seating. But the BFI is super-fascisty about it, which is a bit creepy when you’re sandwiched between two couples, and no one else. Apropos for the subject?

When it comes to the boredom engendered by navel-gazing, I speak from experience, having made the nearly identical, though amateur’s version to be sure, Treasure Island. It’s a film I should review here someday, if for no other reason than I have the ticket to it. They both suffer from being deliberately impenetrable, the difference being that instead of being fueled by cocaine, I was simply fueled by garden variety being a jerk.

Whatever the reason, knowing the character’s motivations and not letting us in on the secret is more about doing everything in your power to avoid cliché, instead of trying to honestly understand what the characters want. I would say it’s more fun in theory than in practice, but it’s not so much fun, so much as it is another way to avoid hanging your emotional shit on the line.

As a result, the various baffling love triangles and rich people are evils become confusing as disconnected as a horror film. Without the insane period lyricism, you’re basically reduced to watching characters yell stuff and go get killed. They don’t go under the stairs, but they do ride around on horseback in a circle around firing soldiers for a long time before realizing that, hey, are we getting shot? You know, to prove how evil rich people are into love triangles?

The Epic part, he nails, there's really nothing like the way he does nothing.

Strangely for me, I’m inverting my usual format of hugging/hammering to hammering/hugging, which means that basically, I’m all-in-all happy I saw it. The Epic part he nails; there’s really nothing like the way he does nothing. The first hour and half would have been a pretty great film, especially since, according to the graph, there’s virtually no story. Just watching the recreation of an 1850s Harvard graduation, where he put dirt on the roads – dirt on the roads! Who does that? – was worth the price of admission. I had no idea what was going on, but the first ninety minutes was as complete and well-observed as any of the films I’ll see this year. And shorter than most.

Then there is the period detail, which is the closest version to porn that I’ll ever get to…watching in an actual theater. Besides missing films fueled by cocaine, I miss extras; I miss seeing the money onscreen. The idea that one couldn’t fix it in post meant that films had to have actual people on the set. They just add in CGI now, which I’m sorry, still looks and feels fake to me, especially when you see a film like this. I understand the economics of it – they use CGI to save money. That’s how they’ve managed to keep film budgets under $300 million dollars. That and all the salary cuts to everyone below the line, of course. I mean, it takes a lot of specialized personnel to render human like figures in crowd scenes.

Figure about one to one ratio.

Heaven’s Gate qualifies as a compleat world scenario and a satisfying one, with the crazy-ass multiple wire telegraph poles, trains with people riding on top of them, crowded general stores and Heaven’s Gate itself, which is a tent where rolling skating-fiddling goes on to the enjoyment of hundreds of period onlookers. The sound design doesn’t hurt, which either uses the real acoustics of the places involved, or spent a lot of money in the 2012 digital remaster to make it sound like it did. I have one film that I want to see – instrumentally motivated characters trying to get what they want and no funny business – and this film was all funny business. But I only liked the parts that weren’t like the films that I liked. When seeing a film with Nathan, there is only two things complimentary to say. The highest compliment is, of course, ‘Is it so hard?’, but almost as good, and I did say this out loud, despite the watch avoidance tactics outlined above: ‘What the hell was that?’

‘the Hell was’ indeed.

The Take

Because he paid to have a juggler in the window, that’s why.
Total Profits
Horse fall down bridge.
Show it again!
Show it again!
I didn’t quite get that violence is bad. Could you show it just one more time?
Here’s two things you don’t want the intellectual character screaming right before he gets shot:
‘I love Paris!’
‘All flesh is grass!’
Total Losses


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