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Famed film flop back on big screen

Glacially paced ‘Heaven’s Gate’ shown in New York
/ Source: Reuters

One of Hollywood’s most notorious film flops, the 1980 box office disaster “Heaven’s Gate,” has been resurrected.

The picture that buried the career of Oscar-winning director Michael Cimino and led to the implosion of an entire film studio returned as an art-house offering on Friday at New York’s Film Forum, along with the screening of a documentary about the movie.

“My hope is to bring the film to a new generation of audiences and critics without all the baggage and negative publicity,” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film archivist John Kirk, who oversaw a 10-month restoration of the original three-hour, 45-minute version, told Reuters.

Cimino, empowered by the success of “The Deer Hunter” (1978), the Vietnam War drama that won him Academy Awards for best picture and best director, was given carte blanche for the film about 1890s Wyoming cattlemen waging war on European immigrants.

The glacially paced western, which starred Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, John Hurt and Isabelle Huppert, was reviled by critics and ridiculed for costing nearly five times its budget of $7.5 million.

Cimino’s first cut of the film ran five hours and 25 minutes.

Unqualified disaster’The New York Times called the movie “an unqualified disaster” and compared it to a “forced four-hour walking tour of one’s own living room.”

It was pulled from theaters after one week. It was released again four months later after it was shortened by nearly 90 minutes. And it bombed again.

The financial fiasco led to United Artists being sold to MGM. Cimino’s directorial career was cut short, and he was painted as the symbol of artistic self-indulgence.

Bruce Goldstein, repertory director of the Film Forum, noted that the movie was hailed by some European critics at the time as a masterpiece and said a 1985 book about the film, ”Final Cut,” by former United Artists executive Steven Bach, had revived interest in the epic.

“It’s become a legendary film,” Goldstein said. ”Twenty-five years is enough of a distance for people to see for themselves whether it’s a masterpiece or a big, overblown disaster.”

The movie is scheduled to be shown in Austin, Texas, Berkeley, Calif., and in Washington, D.C., following its weeklong run in New York. Further U.S. exhibitions of the film are expected, contingent on audience reaction.

Kirk said he was bringing another restored print to Australia next week, where the original version never ran.

Between screenings of the feature, Film Forum is showing ”Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of ’Heaven’s Gate,”’ a documentary by Michael Epstein narrated by actor Willem Dafoe, which The Times describes as “10 times as engrossing as the film that is its subject.”