Capital Celluloid 2013 - Day 216: Sun Aug 4

Heaven's Gate (Cimino, 1980): BFI Southbank, NFT1, 6.30pm

At last - a chance to see a movie that must rank as one of the most unjustly maligned in cinema history on an extended run from August 2nd to 15th at BFI Southbank. Details here.

"It seems to me, in its original version, among the supreme achievements of the Hollywood cinema."
Robin Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan

Time Out review:
For all the abuse heaped on it, this is - in its complete version, at least - a majestic and lovingly detailed Western which simultaneously celebrates and undermines the myth of the American frontier. The keynote is touched in the wonderfully choreographed opening evocation of a Harvard graduation in 1870: answering the Dean's ritual address urging graduates to spread culture through contact with the uncultivated, the class valedictorian (Hurt) mockingly replies that they see no need for change in a world 'on the whole well arranged'.

Twenty years later, as Hurt and fellow-graduate Kristofferson become involved in the Johnson County Wars, their troubled consciences suggest that some change in the 'arrangements' might well have been in order. Watching uneasily as the rich cattle barons legally exterminate the poor immigrant farmers who have taken to illegal rustling to feed their starving families, they can only attempt to enforce the law that has become a mockery (Kristofferson) or lapse into soothing alcoholism (Hurt).

Moral compromise on a national scale is in question here, a theme subtly echoed by the strange romantic triangle that lies at the heart of the film: a three-way struggle between the man who has everything (Kristofferson), the man who has nothing (Walken), and the girl (Huppert) who would settle for either provided no fraudulent compromise is asked of her. The ending, strange and dreamlike, blandly turns a blind eye to shut out the atrocities and casuistries we have witnessed, and on which the American dream was founded; not much wonder the American press went on a mass witch-hunt against the film's un-American activities.
Tom Milne

Here is the trailer.

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