On Saturday night, I was attending a Marx Brothers play in New York City (which I shall elaborate upon in a few days). During intermission, my Dad, his friend and I got into a conversation about Meryl Streep and her Oscar nominations, the first of which came with The Deer Hunter. The conversation then shifted to the brilliance of that movie. Dad said that some movies are so brilliant you can only see them once and put The Deer Hunter into that category.
Several hours later, after returning to my Dad’s place, I learned that the man who directed The Deer Hunter had died. Michael Cimino was found dead in his home. Police were summoned to his home after friends had been unable to contact him. He may have been deceased for a couple of days. Cimino was believed to be 77.
After studying painting at Yale, Cimino began directing TV commercials in New York. Eventually, he moved out to Hollywood and co-wrote scripts for the Bruce Dern movie Silent Running and Magnum Force, the second Dirty Harry movie. Clint Eastwood thought highly enough of Cimino to invite him to direct Thunderbolt & Lightfoot which starred Eastwood and Jeff Bridges, a film that Eastwood had initially intended to direct himself.
Four years would pass before The Deer Hunter came to light. Despite going well over-budget, it proved to be well worth the wait. Starring Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, Meryl Streep and John Cazale (who died during the production of the film), the Vietnam War movie would win five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Cimino.
However, by 1980, Cimino would become persona non grata in Hollywood following the commercial and critical disaster that was Heaven’s Gate. The cast included the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, John Hurt, Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, Brad Dourif, Isabelle Huppert and a young Mickey Rourke and Willem Dafoe. Loosely based on the Johnson County Wars in Wyoming in the 1890’s, it brought in less than $4 million at the box office after more than $40 million had been spent making the movie which nearly bankrupted United Artists.
Cimino would direct only five more films over the next 15 years and would never direct another film after 1996. He had been originally slated to direct Footloose, but when he demanded more money from Paramount, they fired him in favor of Herbert Ross. Cimino had many film projects that never came to realization including one based on Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead.
A couple of years ago, I saw Heaven’s Gate. While it doesn’t equal The Deer Hunter, it is not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. The performances are compelling, the scenery breathtaking and a rollerskating segment riveting. Cimino may very well have been a difficult personality, he deserved a far better fate for he would never get a second act.