Saturday, October 28, 2006

[1980] HEAVEN'S GATE: I can't pretend I didn't enjoy this--so I won't. Yes--it's too long, and rambling, and doesn't represent the actual Johnson County War in the slightest, but all the bloat and historical inaccuracy were extremely well done, and the last battle scene is really memorable. (Oppressed immigrants mount a last charge on the evil hired guns behind huge log walls mounted on wagons. It's incredibly brutal--Cimino spikes the sound on a couple of people's death cries, so you can actually feel the bullets hitting.) It sets up its internal world extremely well, a world of rigid class heirarchy where no matter what a poor immigrant does life is a miserable struggle and any attempt at rebellion will be ruthlessly stamped out by those with money, and power, who will always have money and power. Kris Kristofferson's character is symbolic of Cimino's intentions: his character starts off graduating from Harvard; we find him next as a lawman in Wyoming with a relationship with the local hooker with a heart of gold (Isabelle Huppert--she's great but obviously the role is a cliche, so you can pick on Cimino for that) that he can't ever commit to, even though the affection between them is genuine. Why? Rigid class roles! And of course Isabelle is killed in the end by another member of the upper class, and Kristofferson goes back to his gilded life, having changed absolutely nothing out in the great frontier. So, yeah, the movie is unceasingly depressing, and hardly anyone makes it out of it alive or happy. But in a good way somehow! I dunno. Just keep in mind that this movie is just as mythic and unreal in its treatment of how the west was won as any other Western and you may enjoy yourself. Of course the myth here is that the American dream will always be crushed by American power, which may explain part of the reason why it bombed (the other part: the legendarily bad buzz) and why the French were the first to revive it critically.

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