Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hell's teeth

Ella Watson: "Do you think a woman can love two men?" James Averill: "Sure you can. Why not three? But it sure as hell isn't convenient."

Or 300, if Michael Cimino could have got away with it.

Today was to have featured my retrospective look at the notorious movie disaster
Heaven's Gate. But IE swallowed it by closing unexpectedly and it can't be retrieved. It's probably a mercy; it was looking almost as bloated as the film.

I 'd heard all the stories about how this was the most spectacular failure ever bankrolled by a Hollywood studio, and an artistic disaster to boot. So I'd mentally written it off until I spotted the DVD at a bargain price and thought, what the hell, I'll see for myself -- at 210 minutes it would be an absolute bum anaethestic in a cinema seat, but in my recliner with the pause button and coffee to hand, no problem.

The most remarkable thing about this notorious epic, which nearly bankrupted United Artists and blighted director Michael Cimino's sometimes brilliant career, is the enormous scale of the set pieces that provide the only functioning engine to propel this 210-minute behemoth to a non-conclusion. Nothing less than hundreds of extras will do on every conceivable occasion. And these were real people who had to be marshalled, fed and paid, unlike today's CGI clones.

The first two scenes set the tone -- Mr Cimino shoehorns the obligatory army of newly graduated Harvard students into a great hall for the uproarious valedictory ceremony. There are to be a great many more teeming and uproarious scenes before we're done. But here we meet two of the main characters, Kris Kristofferson as the afore-mentioned James Averill and John Hurt as Billy Irvine, the star debater and wit of the class of 1870. The taciturn Averill (natch) turns out to be the good guy and the witty and likeable Hurt a weakling who falls in with the villains, rich cattle barons in Johnson County, Wyoming, who are trying to drive poor immigrants from their miserable patches of land and keep the world safe for steers. This first scene seems to go on for a very long time. But there is to be no still calm moment before we are plunged into a whirl of dancers circling a maypole in the quad -- hundreds of them, inevitably. This very kinetic scene is in some ways brilliant, perhaps thanks mainly to cinematographer Vilmos Szigmond, one of the greats. There are several outstanding scenes in the film and even the set pieces might have been bearable if Cimino just knew when to stop.

One interesting thing I learnt while researching the piece was that Cimino has eked out four movies since, so his career may be in the toilet but hasn't been flushed. A fifth is on the way. And he has regularly churned out screenplays. Some of his work has been uncredited, perhaps because producers fear the albatross effect.

I'm prepared to recommend you see for yourself.

In total contrast, my DVD viewing last night was Flightplan (sic), 85 electrifying minutes on a giant "new" jumbo jet with Jodie Foster doing what she does best, playing a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, who in this case recovers her wits hunting for her daughter on the huge (fictitious) aircraft. Is the daughter imaginary.? Is she deluded? Or are they really out to get her?

Tight, classic suspense thriller, recommended despite some clunky lines given to lesser characters.

And now I'm going to wallow in the SA-Australia one-day international cricket match. Longer than Heaven's Gate, but hopefully a classic with no long and painful passages.


Blogger BiScUiTs said...

Hehe I think it might be amusing to be a film director known for bad films. Although that would be sort of lke Ed Wood I suppose. Still. Hahaha.
Ooh I've linked you on my blog now by the way. I'm glad you've started one!

2:04 PM  
Blogger DavetheF said...

I linky you back, sweetie.

8:45 PM  
Blogger surly girl said...

jodie foster has only made one film in the last fifteen years - they just keep releasing it with a different title every eighteen months.

10:12 PM  
Blogger patroclus said...

Ed Wood! - now *there's* a film. One of my all-time favourites.

10:55 PM  
Blogger First Nations said...

oo!oo! seconding 'Ed Wood'!!
thanks for stopping by!
by the way, you have the patience of a saint and the bravery of a martyr to have subjected yourself to 'Heavens' Gate'. ass numbing is right.

12:36 AM  
Blogger DavetheF said...

Surly Girl: true, that was sort of my point. But she's getting better at it all the time.

I haven't seen Ed Wood, but had the misfortune to see a bit of his disasterpiece, "Plan 9 from Outer Space", on British TV some years ago. That was quite enough of him for me.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Wyndham said...

The best thing about Heaven's Gate - and as I say, I like it very much - was that Cimino looked through the camera lens and had the two sides of the two moved back from each other... by four inches!... at a cost of millions of dollars. That's why I always wanted to be a director!

11:43 AM  
Blogger DavetheF said...

Something's amiss with your comment, Wyndham -- "the two sides of the two"? As for your enjoyment of this film, I'm not clear whether you mean the 210-minute job or the much shorter theatrical release.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Wyndham said...

I'm sorry, that meant to read something completely different: "The two sides of the street." I was referring to the township that Cimino built, one side of which was moved back all of four inches on the director's command.

Actually, I like both versions but the restored version is particularly impressive.

3:21 PM  

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