by Jim Ridley
To say that we're psyched about the Belcourt screenings of Heaven's Gate this Saturday through Monday is beyond understatement. A big-screen viewing of Michael Cimino's mangled masterpiece has been near the top of our wish list for years — and if you only know the movie by reputation as a punchline to a zinger about Hollywood turkeys, we suggest you read Jason Shawhan's first-rate piece in this week's Scene:
Yanked after a catastrophic week in one theater in 1980, it was chopped by 79 minutes and given a brief, widely derided release several months later. A few admirers tried to save it from obscurity: Los Angeles' legendary early pay-cable Z Channel programmed the film's full version in 1982, keeping the word alive. But the channel's own tragic story (covered in Xan Cassavetes' entertaining documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession) clipped its rehabilitation in the bud.
And so it was until 2000, when MGM released Heaven's Gate as a letterboxed, proper-length DVD. Awareness began to build about writer-director Cimino's maimed masterwork, which shows the journey of a disillusioned sheriff — played by Kris Kristofferson, that one-man incarnation of the many quirks and possibilities of what it is to be an American — from idealistic graduate to stabilizing authority to social crusader to helpless cog. In this new light, the movie looked less like an epic failure than an epic about failure. ...
[T]he mad specificity that drove studio executives and production staff to the brink of insanity is all right there on the screen, and the new restoration does a tremendous job of finding the balance between multicolored splendor and the original, muted dusky color palette. Thanks to unparalleled cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, Heaven's Gate is a film that breathes with life. If these weren't the faces of performers we know from their esteemed bodies of work — Christopher Walken, John Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke, Sam Waterston — this could be some astonishing window into the 1890s. Dust, smoke, snow, breath, blood: Heaven's Gate flows like no other film, which makes its digital-only restoration somewhat ironic and ultimately alchemical. It upholds the photochemical process it could never hope to exactly replicate.
Seriously, folks, you don't want to miss this. More details here. Now where's that new cut of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America ... ?