Sunday, Sep 2020
Director: Michael Caiman
Screenwriters: Michael Caiman
Length: 219 minutes
Released: 1980

heavens gate posterA landmark in the history of American Western cinema. Heaven's gate is said by many to have killed the genre. The movie was widely panned by critics and was a box office dud. Made at a staggering cost of 36 million dollars it contributed to the studios' (United Artists) subsequent bankruptcy. After Heaven's Gate, it was clear that the Western was no longer a sure thing at the box office.

Director Michael Caiman was given carte blanche to make Heaven's Gate after he wrote and directed The Deer Hunter (1978), a movie that won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor as well as a nomination for Best Screenplay.

The most popular criticisms of Heaven's Gate are that it is overlong and lacks a strong story line. Many rip Caiman for his excesses. Here at CouchCowboy, there is a hearty debate about Heaven's Gate. Yes, it is very long (219 minutes) and slow moving at times. But it also is one of few Westerns to effectively capture America's migration West. The film starts with a magnificent reproduction of graduation ceremonies at Harvard University in 1870, and then jumps twenty years and 2000 miles west to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Not just immigrants moved west, all strata of society moved. And with them they brought their social position and privileges.

Heaven's Gate is based on the Johnson County War. A dispute between The Wyoming Stock Growers Association and settlers that came to a head in 1892.

Heaven's Gate is a closing-of-the-west movie. But more than that it is a movie about the death of social patronage in America. The wealthy elite, once responsible caretakers of the underclass are no longer needed as the poor become self-reliant. By banding together, the agrarian class rejects and repels the wealthy stewards and their minions. The principle patron, marshal James Averill (Kris Krisofferson), who began at Harvard, moved west (as a marshall), returns East to a life of privilege at the end of the film.

Heaven's Gates contains some of the most stunning Western footage ever filmed. Aside from the natural beauty of Wyoming, the period detail woven into every scene is amazing. The city of Cheyenne is depicted in an awesome long shot. Sepia tones are used extensively to give the film a vintage look.

Trying to categorize Heaven's Gate is a difficult task, it is magnificent in so many ways, yet it has been assigned so much baggage. Critics seldom praise the movie. And it certainly damaged Cimamo's career. So, it is here in Camp that Heaven's Gate rests comfortably.

Cast:

  • Kris Kristofferson.... James Averill
  • Christopher Walken.... Nathan D. Champion
  • John Hurt.... Billy Irvine
  • Sam Waterston.... Frank Canton
  • Brad Dourif.... Mr. Eggleston
  • Isabelle Huppert... Ella Watson
  • Joseph Cotten.... Reverend Doctor
  • Jeff Bridges.... John L. Bridges
  • Ronnie Hawkins.... Wolcott
  • Paul Koslo.... Mayor
  • Geoffrey Lewis... Trapper
  • Richard Masur.... Cully
  • Rosie Vela.... Pretty girl
  • Mary C. Wright.... Nell
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