Heaven’s Gate: Michael Cimino’s ambitious Western epic encapsulates the best and worst of 1970s auteur-driven cinema

The epic Western, Heaven’s Gate(1980), Written & Directed by Michael Cimino and starring Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Walken, was a major financial disaster for its studio, United Artists, and for the western film genre, and marked the end of the Auteur-driven New-Hollywood cinema that flourished in the 1970s.

Michael Cimino was a hot-shot Madison Avenue ad filmmaker who burst into the Hollywood scene in early 1970s. He had written a script called “Johnson County War”, which he hoped to direct, but since he didn’t have any prior directorial experience, he couldn’t get financing for it. Then he dabbled in writing some screenplays, and while re-writing Magnum Force(1974), he became friends with star, Clint Eastwood, who was the number one box office star of the time. His relationship with Clint ensured that he got to direct his first film, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, with Eastwood and Jeff Bridges. The film was a modest budgeted($5 million) film which was profitable enough to land him his big directorial gig, The Deer Hunter(1978), which was made for $15 million, and grossed around $50 million, that’s not all, the film won Oscars for Cimino for best director and Picture. So within a space of just 2 films, Cimino had become the King of Hollywood, an exalted filmmaking genius. In the 1970s, Hollywood believed in the director; the young upstart directors like Francis Coppola, William Friedkin, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had saved the industry from the brink of extinction with their blockbusters like The Godfather, Jaws, The Exorcist and Star Wars. Naturally, Cimino was also considered to be in their league. So for his third film he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted; Cimino originally wanted to do an adaptation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, but when that didn’t materialize, he decided to dust off his “Johnson county War” script and turn it into his magnum opus. United Artists, the studio which at the time had a new, inexperienced administration dying to make its own mark in the film world courted and got Cimino for the film. The film, now retitled Heaven’s Gate, went into pre-production in 1978, with a budget of $7.6 (later raised to $11 million) and scheduled to release by the end of 1979, to qualify for the Oscars. What happened next is cinema history, or rather cinema infamy. Cimino had courted stars like Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton for the lead roles, but they all turned it down; Cimino decided that Cimino is the star of the film, and went without any marquee stars, instead casting Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken and , very much against the studio’s wishes, French star Isabelle Huppert, who couldn’t properly speak English. Cimino also insisted that film be retitled “Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate”; his ego had just begun to run rampant and it will reach scary proportions before the shoot is through. By the time the film wrapped, it was a year late- releasing in November 1980 instead of 1979- and the budget had ballooned to a mammoth $44 million, which means that the film will have to gross around $100 million just to break even, and only 4 or 5 films in movie history had grossed that much up until that time. Ultimately, the film that Cimino delivered was 325 minutes long, with absolutely zero commercial potential and no stars. the studio flatly refused to release this version and Cimino recut it to still mammoth 219 minutes. This was the version that premiered on November 18, 1980 in New York; the reviews were terrible, the film that was supposed to be the ultimate epic Western almost became the last, with reviewers taking turns to deliver one vicious blow after another, blaming Cimino for making an incomprehensible mess with artistic pretensions.

Stung by the reviews, Cimino requested the studio to pull the film from the theaters so that he can recut it again. Alas! the Dictator Cimino (who was nicknamed “Ayatollah” for his dictatorial ways) chose to compromise at the most inopportune moment. what was just a simple flop became a full-blown media event, with extreme criticism of the United Artists management for allowing such a big fiasco. Heaven’s Gate reappeared in cinemas in April 1981 in a much shortened length of 149 minutes, and flopped again; in the end grossing just $3.5 million, thus making it the biggest financial failure till then in movie history. the repercussions were severe; United Artists went bankrupt and was sold to MGM studios. With UA gone, a culture of filmmaking – referred to as New-Hollywood – in which the director had the most power and control over a film project, came to an end. From now on, no filmmaker will ever be indulged like this again. Also, the success of Jaws and Star Wars ensured that the studios doesn’t have to depend on arrogant directors anymore for the success of their films; they have cracked a new formula to make big budget B movies for the youth and adolescent market, which doesn’t require much artistic talent. Michael Cimino was ostracized in the film community, and he couldn’t get work for the next 5 years, and even when he did, he got to make just 4 more movies in his lifetime, none of which reached the artistic or commercial success of The Deer Hunter. He and his notorious flop slowly receded into history, always remaining a cautionary tale of directorial excess and a punchline for over-budget movies. So when Dances with Wolves and Waterworld went way over budget , they were dubbed “Kevin’s Gate”, after its star Kevin Costner. but there were a cult of fans that kept the film alive in its original 219 minute version who considered it a classic, especially in France, and as time went by their voice would get loud and louder, until the prestigious home video banner, Criterion, decided to do a full on restoration of the film under the supervision of Cimino. When the newly restored 216 minute director’s cut came out in 2013, it lead to a reevaluation of the film, with many critics hailing it as an unsung masterpiece.

As someone who has seen Cimino’s original 219 minute unrestored cut and he criterion restored 216 minute cut, the biggest change I notice is the pictorial quality of the film; in its original form , the film , as critic Roger Ebert said, looked like the ugliest movie ever made, with smoke and dust in every frame making it impossible to make out what’s happening. Cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, had originally shot the film in sepia tones to generate the look of faded photographs, but now Cimino has done a complete re-creation as opposed to restoration, by removing the sepia color scheme and restoring scenes to its pristine beauty; which means that scenes that were almost intolerable to sit through before are at least tolerable thanks to the picture clarity being so good, and this is one of the main reasons the film plays much much better today, and has achieved a major reevaluation; one thing that is even more clearer in the restoration is that Michael Cimino is a supreme visual artist; the price at which he achieves that artistry may be questionable, but there is no question about his visual gifts. And like what William Friedkin attempted in Sorcerer(1977), Cimino’s attempt here is to create pure cinema that tells its story visually. This is a film that can be made only in the 1970s, and the virtues (and vices) of the film relate directly to the freedom that was available to filmmakers in that period. This also leads to much of the problematic aspects of the film; most of the issues one has heard about Heaven’s Gate: the dramatic inertia, the inaudible, muffled dialogue, the uninteresting (or the complete lack of) character delineations, the snail-like pace and an extreme affliction of cinematic elephantiasis is all true; scenes go on for too long, both good scenes and bad scenes; with the good, Cimino doesn’t know where to stop, with the bad, he doesn’t know how to eliminate; the film give full vent to Cimino’s monomania as a filmmaker which degenerates into mythomania as a story-teller and chronicler of history, and yet the film cannot be ignored, it’s a film to be watched and analyzed and perhaps even furiously discussed; for one, it’s a totally original work. Whatever you may say about the film, you have never seen anything like this before and would never see anything like this ever again. Secondly, it’s a true blue American epic; forget the European art film rhythms that seem to invade the film from time to time, and all attempts at revisionism and creation of an anti-western, the film (at least two thirds of it) is, both visually and thematically, is a genuine attempt at appropriating the American classical filmmaking tradition of John Ford. No filmmaker’s shadow falls more strongly on this film than Ford’s; there are throwbacks to several of his films, most notably “The Man who shot Liberty Valance“; the troika of characters essayed by Kristofferson ,Huppert and Walken has it roots in the characters essayed by James Stewart, Vera Miles and John Wayne. Averill, like Stewart’s Stoddard is an educated guy from the east who comes west to change things, while Walken’s gunslinger is reminiscent of Wayne’s Doniphon. And as in “Liberty Valance,” the film attempts to debunk a lot of myths about the American West; the notion that it was a classless, utopian, “promised land” where the immigrants were heartily welcomed. The film shows that the West was very much a class-based society, and the immigrants had to face the same kind of oppression they faced in Europe.

The most frustrating aspect of the film (for a traditional film viewer) is that the film is not much concerned with a well defined story, narrative progression, characterization, conversations or intra-character relationships. What Cimino hope to do is to create a living breathing world of 1890 America, and expect the viewer to immerse themselves in it. Also, the film’s length, budget and scope might make the audience to expect that a sweeping, epic saga would be told, but that’s not the case, the film just present a “little incident” that happened across a few days in an obscure part of the country. The film is full of scattered snapshots of life in that period, and not an epic story that’s constantly moving forward. The film is mainly structured around four or five big “set pieces”, what happens in between are mere “fillers” to get from one set piece to the next; first obviously is the prologue set in 1870 at Harvard, where James Averill(Kris Kristofferson) and his friend Billy Irvine(John Hurt) are attending their graduation ceremony. This extended prologue that goes on for 25 minutes encapsulates everything that’s good and bad about the film. At the ceremony, The Reverend Doctor (Joseph Cotten) speaks to the graduates on the association of “the cultivated mind with the uncultivated” and the importance of education. Then comes the class orator Irvine’s speech; stone drunk, Irvine behaves more like a class clown than the orator, and his speech, given in flowery language, with pauses at the most unlikely places, in which he call upon his fellow class members to defend the social status quo, is a big bore and thoroughly irritating. And to extend that point, Hurt’s Irvine is a thoroughly irritating character throughout the film, expect on very rare occasions when he is mildly amusing. Once we gets through Irvine’s speech, we get to one of the greatest set pieces, not just in the film, but in movie history: the swirling couples dancing Strauss’ Blue Danube waltz on the Harvard College lawn following graduation – especially the couple of Jim Averill and a beautiful admirer (Roseanne Vela). The sequence that include about 700 dancers, all swirling in giant patterns, even as they circle a circumference, is a marvel of choreography; of both the dancers, the assorted props like horse carriages that are circling them, and the multiple cameras used in shooting this scene; though the scene goes on a bit, i didn’t mind, because the sensory pleasures that it provide is immense, and I’m a sucker for spectacle and purely cinematic set pieces. Soon the dance devolves into chaos, as the graduates start fight among themselves and climbing trees, and we are left scratching our heads as to what’s going on. The prologue ends on a serene note, with Averill and others serenading the girls in the dark of the night, with the intellectual, Irvine sadly commenting that “It’s over.” This prologue is alternatively fascinating and irritating, exhilarating and frustrating, and this is how the rest of the film is going to go. Cimino will keep a lot of things unexplained which is going to frustrate the viewer; for instance, the reason why Irvine speech is so terrible and he behave like an idiot is because it’s the class Orator’s job to be provocative to the maximum in his valedictory speeches, and Irvin’s speech is clubbed together from a lot of real speeches of the time.. Also, Harvard graduations used be extremely rowdy affairs, with students breaking out into random violence, and in most cases the Boston Police had to be called in to quell the riots; which explains all the fighting among the graduates after the Waltz, but unless you know the history of Harvard you will not be able to understand any of this. This “secrecy” is going to get worse as the film goes on, and it’s one of the reasons why the film failed so miserable at the time, as the audience couldn’t make heads or tails about lot of things depicted in the film.

So from that graduation night in 1870, the film cuts directly to a 1890; inside a train headed for Casper, Wyoming. We see a drunk Averill, much older now, trying hard to pull up his boots. He is on his way to “Johnson County”, where he is Marshall. and he gets off at Casper station. The train is full of poor, European immigrants who have come west to homestead their land. The set created for the town of Casper is awe-inspiring, with its attention to detail, and is filled with every kind of paraphernalia, with people moving around in authentic period costume, and carts and horse carriages and all. The town is revealed in a sweeping crane shot, very similar to the one in Sergio Leone’s “Once upon a time in the West“, when the town of Sweetwater was revealed, but that was a town still under construction, this one is a fully built town. Once in town, Averill notices an abundance of sinister looking guys dressed in long overcoats roaming around; in some instances viciously beating up immigrants, bringing up images of Nazi thugs beating up Jews. Averill remains passive at first, and simply looks on as some thugs are seen beating up an immigrant in front of his wife and children; it’s only later, after he had surveyed the place around, that he comes back flashing his badge and rifle, and asks the thugs to stop, when they don’t, he punches them out. But by then it’s too late; the immigrant has been wounded almost fatally, and as we will see later, Averill will pass this family on his way to Johnson County, and by then the man is dead. His passiveness is a recurring theme in the film. This makes him a most uninteresting hero for a “Western”, and making things worse, Kristofferson plays him in a relentlessly depressed and dour manner. In town, the station master, Cully (a superb Richard Masur) informs Averill of the Stock Growers Association’s (consisting of the cattle barons of the county) plan to hire assassins to kill 125 of the immigrants in Johnson County with the tacit approval of the United States government. These immigrants have been branded thieves and anarchists by their association for stealing their cattle. This scene is the most pivotal scene in the film, and if you miss this information, a lot of what comes next is not going to make sense, so this has to be shot with clarity, but here again, Cimino plays spoilsport. he stages the scene on the busy street, where Cully’s words are drowned out by sounds coming from all different directions. If you are not concentrating really hard you will miss this. All these accusations about the sound of the film being pathetic has to be understood in this context. Cimino then cut to the Stock Growers Association’s luxurious club, and in contrast to the earlier scene, this one take place in total silence, where the barons are planning the upcoming “death raid” under the auspices of Frank Canton (Sam Waterston). The barons are mostly made up of Averill’s fellow Harvard graduates, including the drunken, Irvine, who is the only one who objects to the plan. This whole scene, where the barons vote on Canton’s plan, shows Cimino as a rank amateur when it comes to shooting scenes that takes place in close quarters and depend up on character and intra-character behavior. The barons comes across as exaggerated caricatures, and the whole set up smacks of artificiality. For a contrast, just take a scene each from first two Godfathers, where all the Dons have a meeting, the one presided by Vito Corleone in New York and in the second, by Michael in Cuba. Just look at the performances, how they interact with each other, the words that they speak, their gesticulations, it’s all so genuine, they come across as real human beings. Coppola is a master at staging these intimate scenes between characters, and he is also good with the big stuff, but with Cimino, as long as he is painting on a broad canvas, he is god, the moment the camera cuts to a close-up or a two shot, he is a severely flawed-human. This problem is there in all the “smaller” scenes in the film, with some of them being unintentionally funny. To make a truly great epic, you must know how to marry the micro with the macro, and all the great directors of epics, whether it’s John Ford, David lean, Francis Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, etc…they know how to do it, Cimino, unfortunately, does not, which is why i don’t look at him as a great filmmaker, nor does Heaven’s Gate qualify as a great epic in my opinion, just an ambitious epic with some great stuff in it.

The next big set piece is actually a cockfight staged by John L. Bridges (Jeff Bridges), an entrepreneur in the county, who build the eponymous skating Rink, The cockfight involving hundreds of immigrant extras staged in a dark, dingy room is one of the worst in the film, and adds absolutely nothing to it, just a lot of bloated running time and expense. Bridges and Averill are friends and Averill informs Bridges about the Association’s “death-list”, but Bridges also remain passive. Averill departs to meet his lady-love Ella (Isabelle Huppert), the brothel madam; the new buggy and horse he is riding in are a present for her. What follows is a series of scenes showing unfinished actions; first Ella insists that Averill eats the pie she has cooked for him, but even before Averill finishes, Ella strips down and runs into the bedroom, Averill follows suit, and no sooner have they started making love, he tells her about the new buggy. She wants to see it immediately, so with soiled sheets wrapped around them, they go outside to look at the buggy. The film then cuts to Averill and Ella riding the buggy through the streets. Next thing we know, Ella has stripped down again and is seen skinny-dipping in the nearby river, with Averill relaxing on the shores. This entire episode looked very strange to me. Knowing what’s coming to the county, Averill asks her to leave town, but she takes it as his rejection of her love. Then we cut to the next big set piece; the best in the film: the roller-skating celebration at the “Heaven’s Gate” skating rink. Stirred on by a young fiddler (film’s music composer David Mansfield), the whole town dances on roller-skates; the scene is a brilliant contrast to the opening graduation ball, and again features circular motion from the participants; superbly choreographed with perfect coordination of music, movement of actors and camera-movements, it’s a tour de force of pure cinema. You realize why the rink (and the film) is called Heaven’s Gate, because this is one heavenly place for these poor working-class people to let go off their sorrows and indulge themselves and be happy, like the aristocrats we saw at the beginning. And as seen at the end of this scene, we have both Averill and Ella dancing alone to the music after the rest had left. It’s also a “return to heaven” moment for Averill, the heaven that he had left at the beginning of the film, and here dancing with Ella he is recreating the same moment he had with his unnamed girlfriend at the grand ball at the beginning. The scene has a fitting poignant end: it’s the golden hour, and Averill and Ella walk out to the edge of the river, and stands there watching the horizon. It’s really the last moment of peace and tranquility before all hell breaks loose; a beautiful shot reminiscent of several John Ford films.

Nate Champion (Christopher Walken), the third wheel in the romantic triangle, was introduced in a much earlier scene where he is seen executing an immigrant cattle rustler with a rifle. Champion is a son of immigrants, but is now acting as an enforcer for the barons. he is illiterate and ashamed of his class, and hence his overenthusiasm in aligning with the upper-class against his own people. He’s supposed to be Averill’s friend, but we never get to know how? and why?. He’s also in love with Ella, and after Averill seems to reject her love, Ella decides to move in with Champion in a cabin he has specially built for her, plastered with Newspaper cuttings. Meanwhile, Canton has organized his posse of assassins, and they head for Johnson County on a special train, the drunken poet, Irvine is also with them. the film’s intermission point comes with another great Fordian moment. Canton and his gang disembarks the train and rides to Johnson County on their horses. Irvine stays near the train for a while, as he recites some poetry sitting on his horse; the smoke from the train builds and builds, and finally when the smoke clears, Irvine has disappeared. It’s a shot taken directly from the climax scene in Ford’s 1948 Western “Fort Apache.” Post interval, the film is given over completely to the death raid and the final battle. First: Ella, who’s on the death-list for accepting stolen cattle for services rendered, is gang-raped by Canton’s men; she’s saved in the nick of time by Averill who guns them all down, except one who escapes. This infuriates Champion who walks into Canton’s camp and kills the one who escaped; he too now demands to see a legal warrant for the 125 on the list, (as Averill had demanded before) forgetting all those immigrants he killed in Cold-blood without one; like everything else in the film, Champion’s “turncoatism” is also heavily exaggerated, and so is Canton’s reaction to it. Canton shoots an immigrant (they had caught) cold-bloodedly in front of Champion, and then, forgetting all others on the death-list, proceeds to kill Champion first. He ambushes Champion’s cabin with his men; the scene takes a bizarre turn when Ella comes riding and shooting in her buggy, and without stopping rides out into town. Champion and his friends are brutally murdered; Champion takes some thousand bullet hits and is still seen firing his pistol, but in the end succumbs, not before penning a letter to Averill and Ella about his death.

Ella reaches the skating rink where the whole town is assembled, except Averill who’s lying stoned drunk. Ella and Bridges lead the immigrants in their fight against Canton’s posse. The first part of this battle is superbly staged, though the beginning of it makes it appear that immigrants are taking part in the “Oklahoma land rush”, rather than in a battle to defend themselves, as they go charging forth in horses and wagons and carts. Bridges, Ella and their men surround the posse, as they ride around them shooting and screaming like wild “injuns”, making a metaphorical connection with themselves and the dispossessed “native tribes.” Seeing their causalities mounting, Canton flees to get help, telling others to keep on fighting. The second part of the battle has Averill reluctantly joining the immigrant settlers, with their cobbled-together siege machines and explosive charges, in an attack against Canton’s men and their makeshift fortifications; this section reminds one of the primitive wars fought during the time of the Roman empire, scenes are filled with smoke and dust and it’s hard to make out much in the chaos. Again, there are heavy casualties on both sides, before the U.S. Army, with Canton in the lead, arrives to stop the fighting and save the remaining besieged mercenaries.

Later, at Watson’s cabin, Bridges, Watson, and Averill prepare to leave for good,; there’s total silence everywhere and we believe that the worst is behind us, then suddenly out of nowhere violence erupts, as the three are ambushed by Canton and two others. Averill and Bridges shoot and kill Canton and one of his men but both Bridges and Watson are killed. A grief-stricken Averill holds Watson’s blood-splattered body in his arms. This burst of abrupt violence is so shoddily built up, staged and edited together that it comes across as funny rather than tragic, though Averill holding Ella’s corpse- she’s dressed in pristine white, which has now turned red, is a deeply moving moment. The film then cuts to the epilogue: set in 1903, Newport, Rhode Island,  a well-dressed, beardless, but older-looking Averill walks the deck of his yacht. He goes below, where an attractive middle-aged woman is sleeping in a luxurious boudoir. The woman, Averill’s old Harvard girlfriend (perhaps now his wife), awakens and asks him for a cigarette. Silently he complies, lights it, and returns to the deck. He’s now back to his rich, but robotic existence. This entire sequence looks slightly unreal and dreamy, just like the opening prologue, where the stylized choreography of the Harvard waltz suggests a nostalgic dream. This completes the full arc of this plot: Rich boy takes the reverend doctor’s advice and decide to go out and help the poor. He tries his best for next 20 years, but fails miserably, now he’s back to being rich again; like an angel descended from heaven to the hellish earth with noble intentions; who though that he could improve the lot of the poor humans and create a heaven for them; but after faltering in his mission, he has returned to heaven, though this is a lifeless existence; when he was with the dirt-poor humans in dangerous situations, there was a vitality to his life, that’s gone forever.

The film bears many similarities to Cimino’s earlier success, “The Deer Hunter”: a focus on male solidarity and conflict, man returning to a more primitive state, a narrative structure that has the protagonist moving from civilization to a barbaric world and then back to a civilization that will be changed forever by preceding events. Like “The Deer Hunter,” this films deals in images more than words. Unlike “The Deer Hunter,” however, and this film’s biggest failing, is the lack of a cast of the same strength that graced Cimino’s earlier film. “The Deer Hunter” had Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Christopher Walken. Kristofferson is not a bad actor, but he’s no De Niro and is mainly a director’s actor, and Cimino is not a good director of actors. Also, De Niro is a very proactive actor, who can take care of his performance, or even shape the film according to the power of his performance, without much help from anyone, and he had a lot to do with assembling the cast and generating the performance in that film. The same goes for Streep; Huppert is a terrific actress, but this being her English language debut, she’s bogged down by her accent and the collective inertia of the film and Cimino’s direction. But she’s truly game for anything in this film, whether it’s full-frontal nudity or riding and shooting on horses, in what seems to be dangerous conditions. As for Walken, he is horribly miscast in a role that work against all his strengths, he’s a very charismatic actor, who’s good at doing and talking a lot- Check out his one scene appearance in both Tarantino scripted “True Romance” and “Pulp Fiction,” i don’t know what Cimino was thinking casting him in this subdued role. Also, unlike The Deer Hunter, which was the first film to tackle Vietnam and the audience were ready for it, the timing of this film was problematic: nobody wanted to see the story of “whites” killing “whites” in 1980, when Ronald Reagan and republicans had come roaring back to power; by this time, films like Rocky and Star Wars had set the stage for more optimistic times, and there was no way the audience where going to accept such a downbeat tale that depicted American West as a battle ground between rich corporates and poor laborers. As for the critical drubbing it received: apart from the various issues with the film, it was also due to a cascading effect: The film came at the end of a lot of big budget flops from promising directors: Friedkin’s Sorcerer, Bogadanovich’s At Long last love, Scorsese’s New York New York, even Spielberg’s 1941 (Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was better received, but was a very troubled production); one promising director after another was falling flat on his face with one bloated failure after another, and Heaven’s Gate would came at the end of that cycle. The critics (and perhaps the audience too) where tired of these egomaniacal directors making these overblown, crazy movies which were not finding any connection with the audience. With Heaven’s Gate, they had decided that enough is enough. Obviously, blaming Cimino for the end of New-Hollywood is hyperbolic (it was a series of failures that led to it), but the perception is always greater than the reality, and Cimino paid a big price for it.

So at the end what i want to say is that the film is neither an unqualified disaster as the critics opinionated then, neither is an unsung masterpiece that the critics wants us to believe now; it is some where in between, and as history has proved, unlike other great artists of our times like Scorsese, Spielberg and even Coppola who picked themselves up after their failures- having learnt valuable lessons from them- and would go on to have a great career well into the twenty-first century, Cimino never recovered from this blow, which definitely shows that he was nowhere in the league of these great artists. So, even as i wish that this film – which has as many virtues as it has vices – had gotten a better deal from both critics and audiences at the time of its release, and there by would not have become an excuse for the “money men” to end the auteur-driven New-Hollywood cinema, which was responsible for some of the greatest films ever made, i find it hard to term it “unfair” as to what happened to Cimino’s career post this film; even though he was not a man without talent, his flaws as a man did stop him from realizing his potential as a professional film director. Cimino passed away in 2016, and he couldn’t get a film made in the last 20 years of his life.


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