Monday, November 8, 2010

Heaven's Gate

Last night I dreamed I was spearheading an effort to expose a link between Heaven's Gate,the movie, and the Heaven's Gate-Hale-Bopp cult. In my dream I was trying to publicize the notion that perhaps there really had been no cult, that perhaps the whole thing was just more of the effort by Cimino's enemies to sabotage him and his movie. (Cimino's a scapegoat, like Barry Bonds in baseball. The manufactured outrage about them is used more to distract from than to solve problems endemic in their respective industries.)

With the rise of home video, more and more people were actually able to see Heaven's Gate, which is a masterpiece. Okay maybe it's not your thing and maybe some of the shots are orangy -- or maybe the orangy shots are just more industry sabotage, deliberately poor image transfer from the original film to video. I don't remember earlier video versions being so orangy -- but any reasonable viewer must admit that it's interesting at the very least. See it and compare it to the awful reviews millions of people heard about when the film was released and then vanished before more than a few thousand people had had a chance to see it and decide for themselves whether or not those reviews made any sense.

They certainly made no sense to me when I first saw Heaven's Gate on VHS in 1992, except as a concerted conspiracy to derail the career of a gifted man. The film looked liked a masterpiece to me. Similar to The Deer Hunter in a lot of ways, but better.

Maybe the Hale-Bopp cult was a hoax. Maybe some producers who hate Cimino because he's not a yes-man, or because they see him as a dangerous loose cannon, or simply because he's too damn good at his job and he knows it, decided that his career was getting too close to back on track, and decided to plant a horrible subliminal message in the public's mind, associated with that movie. Maybe they hired an actor to play the creepy cult leader, told him it was a screen test or something, whatever, then they castrated him and 38 other people, dressed them in matching dorky outfits with sneakers, killed them and left them along with the "leader''s creepy tape to be discovered as the self-described Heaven's Gate cult, sexless, styleless, crazy, horribly sad all around, all just to make sure there was something else very unpleasant for people to associate with that movie -- even putting $5 in each of the victim's pockets for yet another subliminal association, because $5 is more or less what it would've cost in 1980 to get into a big-city first-run cinema to see Heaven's Gate -- unless you were a hack reviewer being paid to trash it, in which case you'd most likely seen it in a private screening before the first run, or some other big shot being comped.

Do I REALLY think that Hollywood big-shots castrated and murdered 39 people in order to create an unpleasant association with Cimino? Well...


..., probably not. I don't think Hollywood is quite as bad as it enjoys portraying itself. Not quite as bad as, for example, the Hollywood of The Player,in which a producer not only gets away with murder, but murder actually gives a big boost to his career, makes him seem more serious and worthy of more respect. The Player is satire. (It's a great movie, though.)

But I do think that Cimino and Bonds are scapegoats in their respective industries, movies and baseball, and that what they were punished for is being uppity. They're employees, they're the help. Granted, they're very well-paid help -- but how many other peoples' pay is headline news? The nature of those two businesses is that you must pay a few uniquely-talented people something approaching what they're worth in order to offer your product to the public. Publicizing their pay is a distraction from how much money their employers make. Now there's a question people should be asking. There's the sort of question an uppity employee might pose in front of a live mike. Best to try to preemptively make them look bad beforehand.

And I do think that people take incompetent and/or dishonest reviews and other sorts of less-than-stellar journalism much too seriously, and that in consequence they think too little for themselves about the subjects of journalism, whether it's movies or baseball or politics or economics. That's my subject here: how easily opinion is molded by the media, which in turn all too often seems to be dancing on the strings of a few nasty plutocrats behind the scenes. How is Heaven's Gate less of a movie than The Deer Hunter,except as portrayed by Vincent Canby and a few other hack journalists? To take the example of a director-writer-auteur significantly sillier than Cimino, Oliver Stone, how is Stone's fun but silly old-fashioned Holly melodrama Wall Street,which got generally bad reviews and had a relatively short run in theaters before its second life as a perennial favorite on TV and video, any worse than his silly but fun old-fashioned Hollywood melodrama Platoon,released one year earlier, which reviewers generally praised to the skies and which won the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year? My face still scrunches into an incredulous sneer as I recall the pretentious film fans I knew in the 80's who praised Platoon so and were so contemptuous of Wall Street. To me they were silly in both cases. Well, I don't hang out with them anymore.

I really like Heaven's Gate a lot. Like The Deer Hunter, it evokes a subculture in America -- actually, in the case of Heaven's Gate, two subcultures -- and makes them feel like the viewer's whole world. Like The Deer Hunter it's full of great acting and superb visuals. Like The Deer Hunter, it's very long, but will reward your patience.

But I don't want to tell you what to think of it. I want you to make up your own mind about everything, including whether or not I know what I'm talking about on any of these subjects, and also about whether this or that movie is worth watching to begin with.

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