• Heaven’s Gate: Western Promises

    By Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan

    Space is the great American theme, Michael Cimino likes to say, paraphrasing the poet Charles Olson from Call Me Ishmael, his study of Moby-Dick (a book Cimino loves). And indeed, starting from the beautiful Montana backdrops of his sharp, Clint Eastwood–produced-and-starring road-movie debut Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), and arriving at the Arizona plateau that witnesses the tragic catharsis of his last feature, The Sunchaser (1996), the fundamental underlying theme in all Cimino’s films is the great American landscape—geographical and emotional as well as historical. Nowhere does he deal with this theme as lovingly and obsessively as in his most audacious and controversial work, Heaven’s Gate, a film whose sheer beauty, emotional power, and unconventional politics have been obfuscated for way too long by the story of its own making and catastrophic American opening.

    The vitriolic reviews that greeted the U.S. release of Heaven’s Gate in November 1980 seemed inexplicable to an Italian film student working at the time on a dissertation about Francis Ford Coppola (another Hollywood filmmaker accused of being too grandiose and financially irresponsible). And I could never share the moral indignation exuded by Final Cut, Steven Bach’s pruriently gripping account of the making of Cimino’s film, and the consequent unmaking of United Artists, the studio that produced it, almost simultaneously with Coppola’s similarly “untamable” Apocalypse Now.

    After its European premiere at Cannes in May 1981, Heaven’s Gate opened in Italy in a truncated, 149-minute version (released that spring in the U.S., after the original, 219-minute cut was pulled from theaters following its disastrous one-week run in New York). It was love at first sight for a generation of young cinephiles more attuned to John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Raoul Walsh than to the revisionist tales of Soldier Blue or Little Big Man. Cimino’s enormous yet critical and somber celebration of the frontier spoke to us of Fredrick Jackson Turner’s writings and of classic Hollywood. What the New York Times’s Vincent Canby (the most vicious of a vicious pack) had described as an “unqualified disaster” was, to us, clearly one of the great American westerns. Cimino shared Ford’s passion for mountains, running horses, and dances, as well as his flawless instinct for scale and composition; the political complexities of his last films; and the overwhelming sadness that envelops them.

    Already in production when Cimino’s The Deer Hunter made its triumphant turn at the 1979 Academy Awards (it won five Oscars, including best picture and best director, with John Wayne handing Cimino the golden statuette), Heaven’s Gate was a script the director had been working on since the early seventies. Initially titled The Johnson County War, it was inspired by that bloody episode in American history, from 1892, when the wealthy cattle owners of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, with the not- so-tacit support of local and federal government, hired a militia of gunmen, ferried to Casper from Texas on a special private train,to hunt and kill a group of ranchers/settlers suspected of rustling cows from among the cattle barons’ densely populated herds. In interviews, Cimino has occasionally referred to the Johnson County events as a “white genocide,” leaving little doubt about his take on the war, and thereby siding with several historians and at least one popular eyewitness account of the time, A. S. Mercer’s captivatingly vivid The Banditti of the Plains, published in 1894.

    Cimino’s new title, bringing to mind both the Gospel of Matthew and a Shakespeare sonnet, was better suited to the script, apoetic blend of history and fiction. Real-life protagonists of the Johnson County War, like James Averill, Ella Watson, and Nate Champion, are key characters, although their identities and story lines have been vastly rewritten. (Accused of stealing cows, Averill and Watson were actually hanged before the Association’s posse invaded the county.) But in sketching his protagonists, Cimino carefully honors some well-documented details, such as Watson’s dexterity with horses and guns and Champion’s stoic account of his own imminent death, written while trapped alone in his cabin, under fire from fifty militiamen.

    What Cimino wanted to take no chances with was visual accuracy. He painstakingly constructed his film according to photographs from the time. “There is no building and no interior that has not been inspired in one way or another by a picture. Every single costume, from leads’ to extras’, has been designed based on specific photographs,” he told Cahiers du cinéma’s Bill Krohn in 1982. Working again with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (who had shot The Deer Hunter), Cimino devised dark, often smoky interiors pierced by outside light, alternating with huge sets of bustling streets and beautiful, wide vistas. In his mind was the colossal portrait of a frontier animated with people, activity, contrasting interests, social classes, ethnic groups, languages—the picture of an extraordinary country caught in the struggle of becoming itself. Seen today, in its grand realism, the film anticipates the taste for a more historically accurate, geographically and socially diverse view of the West, reflected, for example, in the successful cable series Deadwood or in Walter Hill’s Broken Trail and enormously underrated Wild Bill.

    With The Deer Hunter, Cimino had deftly handled on-screen the still recent historical quagmire of the Vietnam War. Although some critics found its politics too conservative, the film—set between Southeast Asia and a small industrial Pennsylvania town—spoke to established Hollywood much more than the counterculture- fueled antiwar films of Cimino’s contemporaries, like Coppola. For Heaven’s Gate, United Artists gave Cimino virtually free rein.

    Faithful to his passion for space and place, he searched tirelessly through Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington State, Idaho, and even Canada. What he wanted was a landscape that no one had ever laid eyes on before—to capture what it would have been like to “see” the West for the first time. He eventually settled on shuttling between Wallace, Idaho, and Kalispell, Montana, and built from scratch his Sweetwater, theater of the Johnson County War, in the heart of Glacier National Park—a beautiful glimpse of paradise among snow-peaked mountains, the American West as a heartbreaking promise. In Cimino’s vision, it would come with a muddy street, a church, and a roller-skating rink. A paradise elevated on a three-foot-high platform, so as not to damage the park’s wide expanse of grass.

    The film actually opens over two thousand miles east of that. A smiling young man runs madly through a sequence of stone courtyards, archways, and alleys while a marching band plays “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It is Harvard in 1870. The Civil War is just behind, and James Averill (Kris Kristofferson), a child of New England wealth, is graduating together with a crowd of enthusiastic peers. In his valedictory address, the Reverend Doctor (Joseph Cotten) speaks of “a mandate of imperative duty” and encourages his students to promote the contact of (their) “cultivated minds with the uncultivated.” “John Brown’s Body” turns into “The Blue Danube,” and the celebration of the day is swept away in a beautiful waltz pirouetting around a gigantic tree.

    A few years later, Cimino would refer to The Leopard as a direct inspiration for The Sicilian, his 1987 biopic of the charismatic bandit/hero Salvatore Giuliano. But Luchino Visconti’s grand fresco, set against the backdrop of Italy’s own North versus South war, seems very much in Cimino’s mind here, and not just because of the immediate association one can make between his long, lush opening waltz and the famous grand ball in Visconti’s film. Like Prince Don Fabrizio Salina, Averill soon turns out to be a tragic figure somehow detached from his time—witnessing changes that will gravely affect history but without the power to really do anything about them. From its exuberant early scenes, Heaven’s Gate is an intensely melancholic movie. Loss looms over all of it.

    Fulfilling the reverend’s call, Averill heads to the “uncultivated” West (as the well-educated New Yorker Cimino did quite young). We find him twenty years later, with a hardened face and a grayish beard. He is a federal marshal in Johnson County, about to be invaded by the Association’s mercenaries, armed with a 150-name death list. Averill is in love with Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert), a local madam, who loves him back but also has feelings for one of the Association’s enforcers, Nate Champion (Christopher Walken). Their triangle plays against the bloody events, concentrated in just a few days’ time.

    Despite the freedom he was given on the project, Cimino had to fight hard to convince United Artists to let him cast Huppert, and was given great grief for having done it, in particular because of her strong French accent. Huppert, though, is wonderfully luminous in the part, and instead of the stillness she so often communicates in some of her best roles at home, here she is perpetual motion. Her free-spirited whore, stubbornly convinced that she can love two men at the same time, may be a somewhat romantic notion on Cimino’s part, but Ella’s restless roaming around—naked in the house, on horseback or in a carriage on those barely existing roads—seems a natural part of the unpredictability and the promise of the place itself.

    It is not always an easy promise to inhabit. Cimino’s large canvas depicts hundreds of poor settlers (mostly Eastern Europeans, who even among themselves speak different languages) piled up in narrow quarters, swarming out into the street from overcrowded trains, women struggling alone to farm the land, hunger, poverty, hard labor . . . Even when they all convene in joyful celebration at the skating rink (a peasant dance scene that mirrors the upscale eastern waltz), their lives seem hard. When these scenes are juxtaposed with the comfort of the cattle barons, sipping brandy in their luxurious club, Cimino’s Johnson County War becomes very much a war of class. Strangely enough, when the film came out, few critics commented on its take on the historical facts. Some accused Cimino of foggy Marxism, but most preferred to forget the film’s subject, concentrating their attacks instead on its cost (roughly $40 million) and its dramatic structure, or lack thereof.

    Among the few North American critics who liked Heaven’s Gate from the beginning was Robin Wood. It was Wood who first compared it to another wildly ambitious and very controversial epic film, D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. It is a comparison that still stands. The two films may be ideological opposites, but like Griffith, Cimino is not afraid to revisit America’s dark past and admit that it is an intrinsic part of this country’s DNA. But make no mistake, it is a country that Cimino loves. Even in the worst moments of the final battle of Heaven’s Gate, amid the beautiful, bloodied landscapes, the American flag is filmed with (somber) devotion.

    Where U.S. critics railed against Heaven’s Gate because of its unconventional dramatic structure, their European counterparts thought it a deliberate subversion of traditional American film narrative. No matter which side you are on, the film’s symmetries and metaphors are very clear and precise (Cimino was, after all, a student of painting and architecture)—the East and the West, Strauss and the rural melodies of the settlers, Harvard’s stone alleys and Wyoming’s pristine mountains, Ella’s ceaseless motion and the stillness of Averill’s eastern wife, framed by a window at the end of the graduation ceremony, lying on a chaise in the film’s epilogue, like an attractive, costly object. Cimino brings the film back East for its ending, which is set in 1903, on a yacht off Newport’s Gold Coast. James Averill’s story closes in a luxurious floating jail, as far as possible from the freedom and openness he sought and hoped for.

    Just a few months before Heaven’s Gate opened in New York, 1980 saw the release of Star Wars’s sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Raiders of the Lost Ark came in 1981, the first year of the Reagan presidency. E.T. would land in theaters shortly after. Seen today, in its stark contrast to the Manichaean spirit of those two space sagas and Indy’s anti-Nazi comic-book adventure, Cimino’s dark, very untriumphant epic looks like a beautiful anachronism. And there is no doubt that the film paid dearly for its disconnect from the contemporary zeitgeist.

    Over three decades later, one hopes that Heaven’s Gate can be watched without the burden of prejudice that weighed on its original release. After all, when it first came out, people hated Moby-Dick too.

    Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan is a New York–based film writer and curator, and U.S. programmer and selection committee member of the Venice Film Festival. From 2003 to 2006, she was the codirector of the Torino Film Festival. Among her books are monographs on Clint Eastwood, John Carpenter, George Romero, Walter Hill, John Milius, Robert Aldrich, and William Friedkin. Her most recent book is the 2008 John Landis. She is currently working on a book about Robert Altman. She wishes to thank Dave Kehr, Bill Krohn, and Roberto Turigliatto.

31 comments

  • By Esoth
    November 20, 2012
    07:03 PM

    Interesting reassessment of the initial critical reception of "Heaven's Gate". For me, the film remains, after a recent viewing, a disappointment, deserving generally of its critical scorn but failing to live-on fully as among the worst films ever made. It is a beautifully filmed, European-flavored, overwrought melodrama, with self-conscious and self-important performances. Cimino had the audacity to cast hisidiosyncratic and given-to-self-indulgence mark on one of the great forms in all of cinema -- the American Western. For all its verisimilitude, "Heaven's Gate's" claim to accuracy or actuality is undercut by it's excesses and affectations. So we know from Cimino's archly cinematic flourishes that we are in the realm of the cinema, and it is the iconic west of Hollywood and not the real west. And through this storied and sanctified place in American cultural consciousness, comes traipsing hoards of down-trodden immigrants. Where once the great men of our foundational myths played out so dramatically and thrillingly against the wide, open screen, in the films of Ford, Hawks, Boetticher and Peckinpah, Cimino renders these archetypes wooden, malignant and small. The squalorous, pathetic immagrants are wrapped in ragged bathos. It might be argued that Cimino succeeded in commenting on the clash of cultures within America, through his deconstruction of the form but I don't have to like it and it is sad, slow and boring to watch.
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    • By Daniel W.
      November 20, 2012
      09:35 PM

      I agree. It is not the worst movie of all time but it is just unimpressive on many levels. Without compelling drama, the visuals (whether they are good or not) are useless. I couldn't find a single character to like. I have seen it three times and it got worse and worse with each showing. This is just not a film that stands up well.
  • By thevoid99
    November 20, 2012
    07:59 PM

    I don't think Heaven's Gate deserved the bashing it received but it's not the great epic western it wanted to be. It's narratively flawed. Some of the characters don't really get much a chance to flesh themselves out with the exception of Nate Champion. It's a mess of a film. Yet, it does have a lot great technical elements such as Vilmos Zisgmond's photography, the art direction, and David Mansfield's score. It's not a complete waste of time but it's somewhere in the middle. Still, I think is a wonderful essay.
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  • By Gord
    November 20, 2012
    08:32 PM

    I haven't seen this in many years and I was young then and didn't know squat about good cinema - so I'll reserve judgement until I watch this again. Cinimo had so much potential though. He could have been one of our greatest film makers but this got in the way of his continued output and that's extremely troubling. The Deer Hunter is a wonderful film and The Year of the Dragon, although maybe a guilty pleasure, is one of my favorite films and I'd defend it against any and all criticism. Cinimo is a great film maker.
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    • By Esoth
      November 21, 2012
      03:55 PM

      I have nothing against Cimino -- portions of "The Deer Hunter" are beautifully moving, though I always objected to the use of Russian Roulette as a cheap, dramatic device, when there was the war and all that to work from. And "The Year of the Dragon" is an absolute hoot!
  • By flmlvr
    November 21, 2012
    11:30 AM

    I watched the film - all the way through - as recently as 2007, only this time it was the uncut version PROJECTED on a big screen (any other time I saw the uncut version was video/laserdisc), with its Dolby Sound and all. Though I agree that the film wasn't the worst film ever made, it was still achingly dull and it's a movie that is screaming THIS IS A MASTERPIECE DAMMIT!!!! The actors say their lines like THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DIALOGUE EVER SPOKEN IN A MOVIE DAMMIT!!! And yet, when seen projected on the big screen, it was as though somewhere in all that footage was a great movie in there trying to make it's way out. I said it before and I'll say it again, I wish Cimino only intended to make a good western instead of a masterpiece - cause I have a feeling the film would have turned out a masterpiece. And yet, through all I've just said, there is much to praise too on the technical side. But before I get to THAT part, I should confess that my copy hasn't arrived in the mail yet, so I might just eat everything I just posted after I'm done watching it.....but we'll see.......
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    • By Daniel W.
      November 21, 2012
      02:35 PM

      well... even watching the new criterion blu-ray last night certainly didn't change my view of the film. Yes, the picture was improved greatly and you could actually hear some of the dialogue now, but it really is a dull film. I don't really think this was a film worth putting in the Criterion Collection (that is just the way I see it). Maybe, we can finally get Criterion to release animated films in the collection. Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg or the Richard Williams cut of The Thief and the Cobbler would be great places to start.
    • By Andrew C
      November 23, 2012
      02:53 PM

      Yes, what he said: "... Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg or the Richard Williams cut of The Thief and the Cobbler would be great places to start."
  • By Ian M.
    November 22, 2012
    10:40 PM

    Vincent Canby got it right, like he did with most movies.
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    • By Daniel W.
      November 22, 2012
      11:06 PM

      Yeah, Canby was spot on about this one, but he was dead wrong about The Empire Strikes Back.
    • By Robert
      December 01, 2012
      11:41 AM

      He didn't.
  • By Ian M.
    November 23, 2012
    06:21 PM

    No, Canby got that one right too. The only movie he got wrong was 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure'
    Reply
  • By rv branham
    November 24, 2012
    02:39 AM

    i hated the movie when i saw it theatrically in both cut & uncut, & hated it even more when the uncut version ran on z channel. still, it is a movie that many passionately detest & loath, & that some love not wisely but all too well. & as a controversial zeitgeist movie, heaven's gate deserves to be on the shelf with michael bay's the rock. canby & kael disagreed on everything, rancorously so. but with heaven's gate they concurred. a couple of cimino movies criterion should definitely release: desperate hours, and thunderbolt & lightfoot (with a great performance by jeff bridges)... & as to ian m's observation on canby's rare failing, both bill & teds should be a criterion bluray.
    Reply
  • By Bart
    November 24, 2012
    11:08 PM

    Boy did Criterion drop the ball with the extras. What the heck! I think they should have waited to actually include something worth the extra money. Rental for me.
    Reply
  • By NAME
    November 25, 2012
    11:43 PM

    I can only comment on the Criterion Blu-Ray of "Heaven's Gate" and not the 140 minute cut. Apparently there were subtitles for the immigrants in that cut and a brief narration from Kris Kristofferson's character, Jim Averill on the impetus for going out west. This film is a lot of things: A commercial flop, a long sprawling western, a misunderstood critical failure, and a masterpiece. A read through some of the critics of the day exposes a gang-like phenomenon of kick the director when he's down. This is a long film, and a flawed film, yes, but I deify anyone to stack this up to any epic from Lean or Visconti and not find the same faults symptomatic with any large ambitious production.
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    • By Esoth
      November 26, 2012
      10:25 AM

      Lean? Really? How about coherence in tone and narrative as grounds for stacking Lean's films stacked considerably higher.
  • By Jimmie P
    November 28, 2012
    01:50 PM

    I actually don't have too many problems with most things about this film, but the unnecessary animal deaths make it unwatchable for me.
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    • By Daniel W.
      November 28, 2012
      10:31 PM

      All the cases of animal cruelty aside (animal cruelty does suck), this movie is only memorable for it's production history and it's place in history as a failure. The movie itself is mediocre and not engaging. And it does make me kinda sad to say that because a lot of effort was put into this film and it doesn't amount to anything. Believe me, you are not missing anything.
  • By Mr. Arkad N. Jones
    November 30, 2012
    09:37 PM

    I always like to make up my own mind about a film regardless of what has been said or written about it. I was almost kind of hoping that in this film I would be re-discovering a lost gem of the cinema. I bought a ticket to a festival screening of a restored directors cut & had to stop myself falling asleep in the middle of the day! I will happily sit in absolute wrapt attention through films like The Leopard, Barry Lyndon & even Once Upon A Time in America (none of my friends or colleagues can; they find them too long, slow and boring) but this film was just the most boring uninteresting thing I have ever seen in all my life of watching every unwatchable film from Warhol through Michael Bay. Flmlvr got it right- the film is so self-important that it is close to a 31/2 hour-long pisstake of proportions never even imagined by the likes of Monty Python. There is not one character that is even believable enough to give a flying shit about. It is a dead film & should be left to rot. So very disappointing. In the words of United Artists- "I want my money back!"
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    • By Daniel W.
      November 30, 2012
      10:41 PM

      Well Said! Heck, I wouldn't mind a criterion edition of Once Upon a Time in America.
  • By R. K. Din
    November 30, 2012
    09:43 PM

    Ps- every time I write & ask criterion to release something I get no reply but a year later it is one of their new releases! Are they being coy or stealing my ideas? ;)
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    • By Daniel W.
      November 30, 2012
      10:38 PM

      I wish they would steal my ideas. I still want a criterion blu-ray of Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg or even Kursawa's Dersu Uzala.
  • By aaron mannino
    December 04, 2012
    10:29 PM

    Heaven's Gate is a unique creature. More than most films, even the long ones, it takes its time, like a slow undertow. Which is yet another kind of "space" that Cimino wields with powerful effect. His drama goes for the long game. HG takes the duration of a feature length film simply to reveal all its principal characters. But within that "space of time" we absorb into physical spaces visualized with such specificity and generosity that they are both wholly believable and unbelievable. The crowded dusty town of Casper has all the character-like presence of the Pennsylvania steel town of Clairton in The Deer Hunter, an equally transportive film. And Johnson County nearly feels like home by the end, which is why one may feel so invested in the stakes of the townspeople. Faces too become part of the towns' identities. This is the crux of Cimino's craft, familiarizing an audience with spaces through a sense of seamless authenticity. As I watch Heaven's Gate, it never feels as though "nothing is happening" because the environments are always alive, always vital, and always contain within them drama. As to the characters, I find them to be richly realized. To the contrary of some opinions, there is nuance to each of them, imperfection, vanity, desire, disillusionment. All of these qualities can be felt if one takes the "space of time" to watch and carefully listen ( a lot of important dialogue is said in passing or is muttered). The triangular emotional drama between Huppert, Walken, and Kristopherson is a classic one, but more importantly is how the emotional and existential material is woven into - rather than set against - the historical drama. Personally, I revere the film because it does a rare thing..... takes me somewhere completely, with all its elements of craft and execution working together intelligently and elegantly. That confidence that some are calling "self importance" is part of it too. The characters speak with importance because what they say is important. Their lives depend on and are shaped by everything they say until they can say no more and must act. I would have killed for a commentary track, but Ill settle for the illustrated audio essay which is illuminating. Im so glad this edition focuses on the film and not the frenzy. If people maintain a negative view of this director approved final cut, then at least it is based on the definitive version and not the murky sepia-tone mess that masked Vilmos Zsigmond's exemplary photography and put an impenetrable scrim between the viewer and true immersion.
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    • By riffconway
      December 05, 2012
      12:25 PM

      Unique creature indeed. There are many reasons why 'Gate' is one of my favorite American films. The cinematography is matched only to Malick's 'Days of Heaven' as the finest ever photographed. Costumes, production design, art direction--all first rate. It's 'flaws' attributed to storytelling are a bit exaggerated. Many sequences can stand on their own, in fact certain parts were re-edited and placed in different parts of the shortened release. Some of the dialogue (which I love to quote) is a hoot. It's so over the top. But instead of considering that a flaw, I find it part of the unique fabric of the whole movie. The cockfighting scene in the back of the bar where Jeff Bridges works, how can you not be captivated by that? That's classic. And the roller skating sequence; it's just about the most perfect combination of music, motion and visuals I've ever seen. Which actually leads me to a question. I'm so familiar with the original director's cut (VHS) from the late 80's that I was wondering if that skating sequence has the sepia-toned tint to it on this version? I thought it really worked well with that effect. Also, there's the issue of the glaring ommision of subtitles involving scenes with immigrants on the 2000 DVD release. Those scenes make little sense if you don't know what they're saying. Are they (subtitles) on this release? If not, I don't think I'd be interested in a purchase. Still, it's inviting.
  • By aaron mannino
    December 05, 2012
    03:10 PM

    Riffconway, Agreed! The rollerskating sequence is indeed still rich with brown and earthy tones. The sepia I was referring to was the brown haze that marred the earlier prints of the film (from mistreatment and poor transfers) and turned every scene into a muted haze. With this new transfer all the colors come through beautifully, which gives true life to each frame. The scenes which are meant to be amber and sepia, like the rollerskating scene and when the train first arrives in Casper, are now able to stand out. The subtitles are omitted on this version as well (a function of Cimino's intent), which I tend to appreciate because it reinforces a sense of the complex and confusing ethnic fabric of that town, and especially this melting-pot country. Having to navigate so many languages and sift through broken english was part of the struggle of that time, and still is. I think that in those scene where things are unsubtitled, the tone and actions of the characters come to the fore (even though I wish I knew what they were saying!!). I love when the actors truly struggle to say what they need to in whatever little english they know. It lends such urgency to those moments. I would still recommend giving it a viewing if you can borrow a copy because the new transfer is out of this world. Truly a testament to criterions mission of presenting films with the highest standards of presentation.
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  • By Anonymous
    December 18, 2012
    10:00 PM

    In those cold November days of 1980, mere weeks before John Lennon's murder, and at the bitter dawn of Carter's defeat and Reagan's victory, another assassination was waiting in the wings using film reviews instead of bullets. Three decades later, because of the outwardly acknowledged and epic failure of American democracy, a brilliant artist's prophetic masterpiece has finaly been vindicated. But it's a pyrrhic victory.
    Reply
  • By futurestar
    February 19, 2013
    05:08 AM

    I never saw the initial release but can say this is epic, savage, brutal, awesome, and beautiful - full of wonderful characters. Cimino wasted no dimes in actual looks to details and nth degree of authenticity. Sam Waterston plays the perfect politician SOB he is in real life. Seeing him getting his noggin blasted off at the end is well deserved. Never has any soul deserved more angry 'blast off my cap' than any character ever in cinematic history. Priceless. Kristofferson, Walken, Huppert, Hurt, and Bridges are perfect as real historical characters from same events. Great stuff. I've confident of a huge current appreciation.
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  • By Linda
    January 05, 2014
    09:40 PM

    What is the language spoken in this film?
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    • By cedric
      April 15, 2014
      03:55 PM

      english
  • By Robin O Harris
    July 08, 2014
    12:46 AM

    I finished watching this film and bawled for the inhumanity of man. I saw parrells between the fierce and ugly reactions to immigrants in our country today. I thought the scenery beautiful, and as a historian appreciated the accuracy of costumes and characterizations. I did appreciate the use of close captioning to be able to follow the dialogue, but agree that the clash of diverse languages added to the reality of the story. We as Americans need to be reminded that we do have reasons for historical grief based on our actions in regard to various issues: our treatment of Native Americans, slavery, immigrants, internment of the America born Japannese, etc., and other countries do have reasons to resent us for these same actions and others. If we are indeed "the home of the free and the brave", films such as this one are important to view to remind us that we haven't always lived up to our rhetoric of democracy and liberty for all. If we intend to do so, we must assure that the rhetoric of today does not cause us to slide back into those times in history that bring us shame.
    Reply
  • By Daniel W.
    October 02, 2014
    08:27 AM

    I'll admit, part of my backlash against releasing this film in criterion was in part due to the experience of the region 1 dvd from 2000. That was dreadful. I may need to give this a 4th viewing to decide once and for all if (for myself) it is good or not. I am a bit ashamed to have joined the hate bandwagon against this film right off the bat. That was embarrassing. I will try to be more opened minded in the future.
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