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Heaven's Gate
Alternate Title: The Johnson County War
Director: Michael Cimino (Dir)
Release Date:   19 Nov 1980
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 19 Nov 1980; Los Angeles opening: 24 Apr 1981
Production Date:   16 Apr--4 Oct 1979; re-shoots in Apr and Jun 1980
Duration (in mins):   219
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Cast:   Kris Kristofferson ([James] Averill) in
  Co-starring: Christopher Walken ([Nate] Champion)  
    John Hurt ([William C.] Irvine)  
    Sam Waterston ([Frank] Canton)  
    Brad Dourif (Mr. Eggleston)  
    Isabelle Huppert (Ella [Watson]) as Ella
    Joseph Cotten (The reverend doctor) as The Reverend Doctor
  also starring: Jeff Bridges (John L. Bridges)  
  with Geoffrey Lewis (Trapper)  
    Paul Koslo (Mayor [Charlie] Lezak)  
  [and] Richard Masur (Cully)  
    Ronnie Hawkins (Wolcott)  
    Roseanne Vela (Beautiful girl)  
    Mary C. Wright (Nell)  
    Nicholas Woodeson (Small man)  
    Stefan Shcherby (Big man)  
    Waldemar Kalinowski (Photographer)  
    Terry O`Quinn (Captain Minardi)  
    John Conley (Morrison)  
    Margaret Benczak (Mrs. Eggleston)  
    James Knobeloch (Kopestonsky)  
    Erika Petersen (Mrs. Kopestonsky)  
    Robin Bartlett (Mrs. Lezak)  
    Tom Noonan (Jake)  
    Marat Yusim (Russian merchant)  
    Aivars Smits (Mr. Kovach)  
    Gordana Rashovich (Mrs. Kovach)  
    Jarlath Conroy (Mercenary in new suit)  
    Allen Keller (Dudley)  
    Caroline Kava (Stefka)  
    Mady Kaplan (Kathia)  
    Anna Levine (Little Dot)  
    Pat Hodges (Jessie)  
    Mickey Rourke (Nick Ray)  
    Kevin McClarnon (Arapaho Brown)  
    Kai Wulff (German merchant)  
    Steve Majstorovic (Czech merchant)  
    Gabriel Walsh (Zindel's clerk)  
    Norton Buffalo (Private)  
    Jack Blessing (Emigrant boy)  
    Jerry Sullivan (Governor of Wyoming)  
    Jerry McGee (Heaven's Gate band)  
    Cleve Dupin (Heaven's Gate band)  
    Stephen Bruton (Heaven's Gate band)  
    Sean Hopper (Heaven's Gate band)  
    David Mansfield (Heaven's Gate band)  
    T-Bone Burnett (Heaven's Gate band)  
    David Cass (Mustached mercenary)  
    Paul D`Amato (Bearded mercenary)  
    Peter Osusky (Peter)  
    Ivan Kormanik (Ivan)  
    Michael Christensen (Juggler)  
    Anatoly Davydov (Fighting Bulgarian emigrant)  
    Nina Gaidarova (Bulgarian emigrant's wife)  
    Wally McCleskey (Chicken fighter)  
    Gary (Buzz) Vezane (Canton's bodyguard)  
    H. P. Evetts (Wolcott's bodyguard)  
    Bruce Morgan (Miner, mercenary)  
    Bobby Faber (Class marshal, Harvard)  
    Judi Trot (Irvine's girl friend)  

Summary: In 1870 Cambridge, Massachusetts, James Averill and his friend, William “Billy” C. Irvine, graduate from Harvard College. In his speech, the Reverend Doctor encourages graduates to exert influence over the uncultivated masses with their cultivated minds. Irvine, the class orator, follows with an irreverent, rhyming speech. The young men celebrate afterward, and Averill dances with a beautiful girl with whom he becomes smitten. Twenty years later, Averill serves as a U.S. marshal in Johnson County, Wyoming, heavily populated by Eastern European immigrants. After purchasing a carriage in St. Louis, Missouri, Averill stops in the bustling town of Casper, Wyoming, on his way home. There, Averill sees a newspaper headline stating the governor of Wyoming plans to end a “state of anarchy.” He notices an immigrant being beaten in the street and intervenes. At a gentlemen’s club in Casper, Frank Canton addresses the Stock Growers Association, a group of wealthy landowners, about the thieving nature of immigrant peasants. Canton criticizes lawmakers for ignoring rampant cattle thievery and predicts anarchy will prevail if “the Association” does not enforce the law. Canton announces plans to employ fifty men as bounty hunters to shoot or hang immigrant cattle thieves in Johnson County. The only member to vote against the plan is a drunken Billy Irvine, who stumbles upstairs and is surprised to find his old college pal, Averill, shooting a game of pool. Averill presses Irvine for information about the meeting, and Irvine reveals the Association’s plans to target a “death list” of around 100 immigrants. Averill warns the Association will not get away with its plan, but Irvine argues anything can be done “in principle.” Irvine asks if Averill remembers their “good, gone days” at Harvard, and Averill laments that they become clearer as he gets older. On his way out, Averill confronts Frank Canton, who reminds the marshal he was blackballed from the club long ago and forces him to leave. Averill tells Canton he better have a signed warrant for every man he targets in Johnson County. Later, Canton recruits men for his vigilante army, announcing that the death list contains the names of 125 thieves, outlaws, and anarchists. Averill rides his new carriage back to the Two Oceans Hotel, a Johnson County boardinghouse run by local entrepreneur John L. Bridges. In the midst of a cockfight, Bridges notices Averill at the bar and steps outside the ring. Averill gives Bridges a rifle and warns him about the death list. He then goes to a brothel run by his French-Canadian girl friend, Ella Watson. They begin to make love, but when Averill tells her he brought her a birthday present, Ella runs outside to discover the new horse and carriage in her carriage house. The couple goes for a ride in the new carriage and stop to rest by a river. Averill suggests they leave Wyoming because the state will soon declare war against immigrants. Ella rejects the idea. They go to a celebration at Heaven’s Gate, John L. Bridges’s new roller-skating rink, where Averill urges Ella to reconsider moving away. That night, Nate Champion, an enforcer for the Stock Growers Association and a regular client of Ella’s, arrives at the brothel. He finds Averill passed out in Ella’s bed and takes him back to his room at the Two Oceans Hotel, where Averill keeps a framed photograph of himself and the beautiful girl he met at Harvard on his nightstand. Champion returns to spend the night with Ella. She demands money from him and relays the news that Averill asked her to leave Wyoming with him. Champion promises Ella he has enough money to take care of her and alludes to a marriage proposal. Later, Champion confronts Averill about his plans to leave town, upset that his friend would abandon him. Averill obtains a copy of the death list and finds Ella’s name on it. Averill accuses Champion of hiding the information, but Champion claims ignorance and shares the news that he proposed marriage to Ella. In love with both men, Ella chooses Champion over Averill because of his desire to marry her. Champion takes Ella to the cabin he shares with an unkempt man named Trapper and his friend Nick Ray. Although he tries to make her feel at home, Ella cries. However, when she leaves, she tells him she is glad she made up her mind to be with him. Canton leads his vigilante army to Johnson County. Cully, a foreign train stationmaster from Casper, rides to Johnson County to warn the citizens, but is killed by Canton’s men along the way. Averill organizes a gathering at Heaven’s Gate and reads the names on the death list, inciting panic. Ella returns to the brothel and finds a group of Canton’s men in the parlor. They force her to the ground and rape her, while the other prostitutes lay dead upstairs. Averill arrives and shoots all but one of the attackers, who flees. When Champion shows up, Averill informs him the Association is responsible. Champion goes to Canton’s camp, shoots the remaining rapist, and denounces the Association. Back at the brothel, Averill tries to convince Ella to change her mind, but he realizes she loves Champion more and cannot bring herself to leave Johnson County. In the morning, Mayor Charlie Lezak wakes up Averill and announces his plans to turn in whomever appears on the death list. Although Lezak feels defeated, Averill reminds him that Johnson County’s population of 200 outnumbers Canton’s army of fifty. Lezak asserts that the immigrants’ land will be taken away, one way or another, prompting Averill to quit his job as marshal. Meanwhile, Canton’s men surround Champion’s home, shooting at Trapper as he emerges. Inside the cabin, Champion and Nick Ray are both hit by bullets. Ella arrives in her carriage, shoots one of Canton’s men in self-defense, and flees. As his cabin burns down, Champion writes a letter and tucks it into his vest. He loads his gun and runs out the front door but is shot to death. Armed immigrants gather at Heaven’s Gate. Amidst debate over whether or not they should fight, a woman shoots Mayor Lezak in the face. Ella appears and announces, “They’re here!” She leads them to Canton’s army, and a chaotic battle begins. In the midst of fighting, Irvine swigs from a flask and remarks how much he loves Paris, France, before he is shot down by Ella. Back at Two Oceans, Averill dresses to leave town, but when he sees the bloodied Lezak in the carriage house, he changes his mind and rides to Champion’s house. He finds Ella huddled over Champion’s dead body. She hands him the letter Champion wrote, in which he bid goodbye to the two of them. Averill joins the battle and instructs Ella to wait for him at the brothel. Although the Johnson County citizens break through a makeshift barricade erected by Canton’s army, they suffer heavy casualties and must surrender when Canton arrives with U.S. cavalry. Averill and Bridges are among the few survivors. The next day, Averill and Ella prepare to leave town together as Bridges awaits them outside the brothel. When the couple finally emerges, they are ambushed by Canton’s men, who shoot Bridges and Ella dead. Averill cradles Ella’s lifeless body and cries. In 1903, off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island, an aged Averill traverses the deck of his yacht. Below deck, in a luxuriously appointed living room, he greets the beautiful girl he met at Harvard, now an older woman. She asks for a cigarette, and, without a word, he gives her one. Before returning to deck, Averill glances back at the woman and his chin quivers as if he is holding back tears.  

Production Company: Partisan Productions  
Production Text: Partisan Productions, Ltd. presents
Distribution Company: United Artists (Transamerica Corp.)
Director: Michael Cimino (Dir)
  Dennis O'Dell (Prod mgr)
  Charles Okun (Prod mgr)
  Bob Grand (Prod mgr)
  Peter Price (Prod mgr)
  Michael Grillo (Asst dir)
  Brian Cook (Asst dir)
  Michael Stevenson (2d asst dir)
  Terry Needham (2d asst dir)
  Dennis Capps (2d asst dir)
  Richard Graves (2d asst dir)
Producer: Joann Carelli (Prod)
Writer: Michael Cimino (Wrt)
Photography: Vilmos Zsigmond (Dir of photog)
  Jan Kiesser (Cam op)
  Michael Gershman (Asst cam)
  Eric Engler (Asst cam)
  Ken Nishino (Asst cam)
  Lee Heckler (Gaffer)
  Richard Deats (Key grip)
  Tony Cridlin (Key grip)
  Doug DiGoia (Cam op)
  Herb Lightman (Cam op)
  Jeff Gerhsman (Cam op)
  Kelvin Pike (Cam op)
  John Harris (Cam op)
  Paul Pollard (Cam op)
  Paul Gilbert (Cam op)
  Joseph Steuben (Cam op)
  Ray De La Motte (Cam op)
  Lazlo Regos (Cam op)
  Ken Miller (Best boy grip)
  John Hull (Grip)
Art Direction: Tambi Larsen (Art dir)
  Spencer Deverill (Art dir)
  Maurice Fowler (Art dir)
Film Editor: Tom Rolf (Ed)
  William Reynolds (Ed)
  Lisa Fruchtman (Ed)
  Gerald Greenberg (Ed)
  Penelope Shaw (Asst ed)
  Michael E. Polakow (Asst ed)
  Mellissa Bretherton (Asst ed)
  Donah Bassett (Negative cutting)
  Ralph Sandler (Asst film ed)
  Jose Torres (Asst film ed)
Set Decoration: Jim Berkey (Set dec)
  Josie MacAvin (Set dec)
  Robert Visciglia (Prop master)
  Gus Basso (Greensman)
  James Orendorff (Const coord)
  Ragnar Antonsen (Drapery foreman)
  Joseph D. Brady (Const foreman)
  Alan Sims (Leadman)
  Rodolfo Reachi (Asst prop master)
  Glenn W. Ryan (Asst prop master)
  David Quick (Asst prop master)
  Carmen Goglia (Set painter)
  James T. Woods (Painter-gang boss)
  Maurice Larson (Sign painter-gang boss)
  Jimmy J. Hinkle (Sign painter)
Costumes: Allen Highfill (Cost des)
  Sandy Berke (Women's costumer)
  Laurie Riley (Men's costumer)
  Beth Alexander (Costumer)
  Barry Delaney (Costumer)
  Frimi Okun (Costumer)
  Claudia Everett (Ward asst)
Music: David Mansfield (Mus)
  David Mansfield (Mus arr)
  Joann Carelli (Mus supv)
  Bill Saracino (Mus ed)
Sound: James J. Klinger (Supv sd ed)
  Buzz Knudsen (Dubbing mixer)
  Don MacDougall (Dubbing mixer)
  Chris Jenkins (Dubbing mixer)
  Richard W. Adams (Sd ed)
  Tom McCarthy (Sd ed)
  Skip MacDonald (Sd asst)
  Jas. Klinger (Sd asst)
  Darin Knight (Sd mixer)
  Don Bolger (Boom man)
  Charles Bond (Cable man)
  Arthur Carelli (Cable man)
  Todd-AO (Post prod sd)
Special Effects: Paul Stewart (Spec eff)
  Ken Pepiot (Spec eff)
  Stan Parks (Spec eff)
  Sam Price (Spec eff)
  Jim Camomile (Spec eff)
  Kevin Quibell (Spec eff)
  Wayne Fitzgerald (Titles)
Dance: Eleanor Fazan (Choreog)
  Tad Tadlock (Addl choreog)
Make Up: Ben Nye (Makeup)
  Tom Burman (Spec eff makeup)
  Mary Keats (Hairstylist)
  Vern Caruso (Hairstylist)
  Ken Chase (Makeup artist)
  Thomas A. Hoerber (Makeup artist)
  Gerald W. O'Dell (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: Dennis O`Dell (Exec in charge of prod )
  Charles Okun (Exec in charge of prod )
  William Reynolds (Exec in charge of prod )
  Cis Corman (Casting)
  Jane Halloran (Casting)
  Pam Caper (Casting assoc)
  Rudy Ugland (Boss wrangler)
  Alan Curtiss (Loc mgr)
  Joe Stanley (Loc mgr)
  Tony Gaznick (Atmosphere casting)
  Nanette Siegert (Prod coord)
  Lynda Karjola (Prod coord)
  June Samson (Scr supv)
  Sally Jones (Scr supv)
  Patty Nelson (Mr. Cimino's secy)
  Robert Weinstein (Research)
  Ellen Ribner (Research)
  Kim Burke (Wrangler)
  Gene O`Brian (Wrangler)
  Freddie O'Dell (Wrangler)
  Bill Twaddle (Wrangler)
  Jerry Young (Wrangler)
  Gene Johnson (Transportation coord)
  Thomas Seidman (Asst trainee)
  Ann M. Tait (Prod controller)
  Ted Albert (Unit pub)
  Betty Owens (Asst prod accountant)
Stand In: Buddy Van Horn (Stunt coord)
  Technicolor® ([Col by])
Color Personnel: Aubrey Head (Col timing)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: “Mamou Two Step,” by Doug Kershaw; “The Blue Danube Waltz,” performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, courtesy of CBS Records
Composer: Doug Kershaw
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
United Artists Corporation 16/3/1981 dd/mm/yyyy PA97475

Physical Properties: Sd: Recorded in Dolby Stereo®
  Lenses: Filmed in Panavision®

Genre: Western
Subjects (Major): Frontier and pioneer life
  Romantic rivalry
  Specific wars and campaigns
  United States--History--19th century
Subjects (Minor): Alcoholics
  Bounty hunters
  Carriages and carts
  Class conflict
  Class distinction
  Harvard University

Note: End credits include the following statements: “We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the following people and organizations in the production of ‘Heaven’s Gate’: U.S.A. – The Office of Film Production, Montana, Department of Highways, Gary Wunderwold; Governor Tom Judge and the People of the State of Montana; Glacier National Park, United States Department of the Interior/National Park Service, Phillip Iversen Superintendent, The U.S. Forest Service, Flathead County, and the Blackfoot Indian Reservation; The City of Kalispell, Montana, and the Chamber of Commerce; Governor John V. Evans and the people of the City of Wallace, Idaho; The City of Newport, Rhode Island; England – Oxford University, and the City of Oxford, England; The Bursar and the Board of Mansfield College; The Sheldonian Theater – The Bodelian Library – St. Aldate’s Church, Oxford; Harvard Class Orations and Poems by: Charles Edward Grinnell, 1862, Frank Sumner Wheeler, 1872, James Holden Young, 1872, Andrew Peabody, 1874”; “With special thanks to: The Wyoming State Museum and Archives and A.S. Mercer, George Dunning, Nathan D. Champion, John Clay and Jack Flagg and all the early reporters who contributed to The Cheyenne Daily Leader, The Casper Weekly Mail, The Buffalo Bulletin, The Great Falls Tribune, The Omaha World Herald, as well as all those pioneers whose words and deeds are recorded in The Northwestern Livestock Journal, The Western Brand Book, and The Annals of Wyoming.”
       According to an article in the 1 Dec 1980 issue of Newsweek, writer-director Michael Cimino completed a first draft of Heaven’s Gate, which he referred to as “an American Great Expectations, ” nearly ten years before the spring 1979 start of production. In an early version of the script, then titled The Johnson County War after the 1892 event on which it is based, “Nate Champion” worked for “James Averill,” stealing cattle, as noted in an Oct 1980 American Film article, and the ending saw James Averill and “Ella Watson” meeting a “bloody death.” All three characters were named after real-life counterparts. Cimino showed the script to producer David Foster, who brought it to Twentieth Century-Fox and obtained financing from the studio for a re-write. Steve McQueen was approached to play the lead, but reportedly did not trust Cimino as a director.
       In a revised script, titled Paydirt, Cimino turned Nate Champion into a gunfighter who worked for the Stock Growers Association, and included an aggressive lovemaking scene between Ella and Averill on page five, presumably to add commercial appeal. Twentieth Century-Fox was not satisfied with the rewrite, however, and both Fox and David Foster dropped out. Cimino retained rights to the script and worked on other projects for several years before returning to it. After his 1978 film The Deer Hunter (see entry) won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director, Cimino went back to Fox with a further revised script, but the studio again turned it down. Cimino brought the project to United Artists (UA), with whom he already had a two-picture deal as the director then attached to The Dogs of War (1981, see entry) and screenwriter attached to The Fountainhead. Warner Bros. vied with UA for the project, but did not accept Christopher Walken as the second lead. Thus, Cimino made a $7.5 million “pay-or-play” deal with UA, as stated in a 5 Feb 1981 Rolling Stone article. The project was initially budgeted at $7.8 million. By the time it received a green light, expected production costs had risen to $11.6 million.
       A 10 Oct 1978 DV brief announced that actor-singer Kris Kristofferson had been cast as Averill. Filming was expected to begin late Jan 1979, but was delayed until 16 Apr 1979, as noted in several sources including the 28 Mar 1979 DV. Filmmakers planned to shoot in Montana, Idaho, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The 4 Apr 1979 Var listed Jeff Bridges, Isabelle Huppert, and Brad Dourif as recent additions to the cast, which included Christopher Walken as Nate Champion, and John Hurt as “William C. Irvine.” According to the Jan 1981 issue of Millimeter, Jeff Bridges was related to the real-life “John L. Bridges,” whom he played in the film.
       In a 10 Jul 1979 interview, actress Carroll Baker told LAT that she dissuaded her daughter, Blanche Baker, from accepting the role of a prostitute in the film. Carroll Baker regretted her own experience as the Academy Award-nominated leading actress in 1956’s Baby Doll (see entry), which the actress claimed “tagged” her with a sexual image that negatively affected her career.
       An item in the 14 Jun 1979 Rolling Stone reported principal photography was already two weeks behind its seventeen-week schedule. Exterior shooting was delayed due to snow, so interiors had to be filmed on sets still under construction. Other delays occurred when Cimino and director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond routinely organized shooting around “magic time,” the brief period between sunset and darkness when illumination from the sky made background vistas appear bluish on film, as seen by the human eye.
       According to the Oct 1980 American Film article, locations included Kalispell, MT, Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near the Montana-Canada border, Flathead National Forest, and Wallace, ID, which doubled as Casper, WY. Two months were allowed for construction, as noted in the Jan 1981 Millimeter article, which entailed 150 carpenters working in four crews across three states. An entire city block was built and taken down when Cimino determined the street needed to be six feet wider. For a battle scene, an irrigation system was inserted underneath a field so the grass would look greener against blood. “Heaven’s Gate” roller-skating rink was one-hundred-feet long and forty-two-feet wide, and contained a seven-foot-tall stove. A nineteenth-century locomotive was imported from Denver, CO, and had to be re-routed “all over the West” because it was too big to pass under tunnels. Different sources stated that between 1,000 and 2,500 extras were employed, many of whom received special training in horseback riding, wagon driving, bullwhipping, waltzing, and roller-skating.
       Despite mounting budgetary concerns and a runaway schedule, Cimino remained uncompromising on the issue of authenticity and insisted “every article of clothing, every structure, every sign, is based on a photograph of the period.” Due to his tireless perfectionism, the writer-director earned the nickname “The Ayatollah” from crewmembers. Cimino believed the studio lacked inventory for period films; thus, everything had to be made from scratch. Producer Joann Carelli defended escalating costs by stating that local vendors took advantage of the filmmakers on location, demanding more money for services and use of land over time. However, she later commented that Cimino acted “crazy” and “out of control” during the shoot and blamed the ego-boosting effect of his recent Academy Awards wins.
       Montana’s economy was greatly aided by the estimated $14 million filmmakers spent there. Upon arrival, Cimino and producer Joann Carelli bought matching Jeeps, and Cimino purchased 156 acres of land that was used for the battle sequence. By mid-Aug 1979, principal photography was in its sixteenth week with “no definite end in sight.” An additional two weeks of shooting in MA and Newport, RI, were slated to be “picked up” in post-production. Isabelle Huppert, who was scheduled to shoot a French film in late summer, cancelled plans to remain on the shoot, while actor John Hurt insisted he must leave for a 15 Oct 1979 start date on The Elephant Man (1980, see entry). The 15 Aug 1979 Var reported UA was in “budgetary quicksand” on the picture, with production costs estimated at $21-22 million and expected to climb to $30 million. UA Senior Production Vice President Steven Bach, who made frequent visits to the locations along with UA Vice President David Field, admitted the studio considered halting the production, and stated things between Cimino and UA were “tense on a daily basis.”
       The set was closed to the press. However, Les Gapay, a former journalist for the Sacramento Bee and WSJ, appeared in the film as an extra and wrote about his experience in an “unauthorized report” published in the 2 Sep 1979 LAT. Gapay stated extras were paid thirty dollars a day, with overtime after ten hours, and provided with one mid-day meal at a cost of three dollars. Shooting often went from five a.m. until eleven p.m. Gapay claimed many extras were injured, himself included, and were often asked to perform the work of stunt people. Similarly, the 5 Feb 1981 Rolling Stone article noted rumors that extras were purposely run over with buggies to elicit authentic reactions.
       According to Gapay’s report, filming in Glacier National Park was shut down by the National Park Service (NPS) when authorities discovered filmmakers had broken their agreement by painting patches of grass, covering a parking lot near Two Medicine Lake with soil containing weeds foreign to the park, and antiquing buildings with oil that polluted the lake. The NPS had also stipulated no animals be slaughtered on park land due to a “bear problem,” but found three cows being butchered on set. Although more shooting was planned there, filmmakers were ousted from the park and denied use of a location near the Flathead River’s north fork. Addressing rumors about Cimino’s relentless directing style, Gapay attested that Cimino set up every shot himself and frequently shot twenty-to-twenty-five takes of each scene. Another source stated Cimino kept crewmembers and extras “on call,” nights and on weekends, “in case he woke up in the middle of the night with an idea.” By the end of filming, Cimino had earned a reputation for being “arrogant” and “cold,” and was referred to by one unnamed source as “the most disliked man in Hollywood”
       The end of principal photography was announced in the 7 Nov 1979 Var. However, ten more days were set to be filmed at Oxford University’s Magdalen College in England, which stood in for Harvard University, as noted in a 15 Nov 1979 DV “Just for Variety” column. Coincidentally, Kris Kristofferson had attended Magdalen College as a Rhodes scholar for two years. Extras on the Oxford University set demanded overtime pay and bonuses on top of their thirty-three-dollar-per-day fees, as noted in 16 Apr 1980 and 22 Apr 1980 HR items. The England shoot added $5 million to the budget, according to a 12 Apr 1980 LAHExam brief, bringing it to roughly $36 million. Steven Bach stated the studio strongly considered canceling this portion but chose to allow Cimino to “complete his vision” after viewing an hour and a half of footage.
       A 23 Jun 1980 LAHExam “Page 2” column announced that Kristofferson was called for additional filming in San Diego, CA. The shoot reportedly entailed Averill staring at a sunrise and sunset from the deck of his yacht, part of a $300,000 epilogue sequence. To accommodate the additional filming, Kristofferson cancelled one of two concerts at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, CA.
       In total, the production’s 156 shooting days resulted in over 1.5 million feet of exposed film. Cimino reportedly threw a party when his footage surpassed that of Apocalypse Now (1979, see entry). The first edit shown to UA had a running time of five-and-a-half hours, with a battle sequence lasting eighty minutes. Likening the film’s length and budgetary problems to that of Apocalypse Now, Time magazine referred to it as “Apocalypse Next.”
       A 17 Apr 1980 HR article stated a Heaven’s Gate soundtrack would be released on United Artists Records.
       Early promotions included a twenty-two-page brochure containing sepia-toned still photographs, which was inserted into Var and DV at a total cost of around $42,000, as noted in a 16 Jul 1980 LAT brief. A 16 Jul 1980 Var article noted the importance of Heaven’s Gate as part of UA’s fourth quarter, which the studio hoped would make up for a “very disappointing early summer.” A prints and advertising expenditure of at least $6-8 million was expected to bolster the limited three-city release scheduled for Nov 1980 and nationwide release of “possibly 400 prints” at Christmas.
       A 15 Sep 1980 DV “Just for Variety” column stated Cimino was “living at the studio” and working non-stop to complete the film, and an additional forty-to-fifty people had been hired to help expedite post-production. The 1 Oct 1980 DV noted the film’s three-and-a-half-hour running time, and quoted Gene Goodman, UA’s senior vice president of sales, as saying, “We’d like it if the film were a little shorter,” but predicting it would not lose or gain more than ten minutes. An “invitational” screening was scheduled for 16 Dec 1980, the day before the 17 Dec 1980 wide release. As part of the nationwide break, UA was expected to put ten-to-twenty 70mm prints, which cost $13,000 each, into release, although some theaters, including New York City’s Cinema 1, needed new sound and projection equipment costing roughly $70,000 to exhibit the film in 70mm. The majority of prints would be 35mm and cost $2,000 each.
       Citing a previously scheduled nationwide release date of 19 Dec 1980, the 24 Oct 1980 issues of DV and HR reported the date had been pushed to 20 Feb 1981, when the film would open on roughly 100 screens. A 19 Nov 1980 release was still scheduled for New York City at Cinema 1, with a Toronto, Canada, release to follow the next night at University Theatre, and a 21 Nov 1980 Los Angeles opening at the Plitt Century Plaza Theater. Only 70mm prints would be readied for the early release. Although rumors had circulated about a shorter version of the film, UA denied any such version was planned.
       Following an 18 Nov 1980 press screening in New York City, extremely negative reviews appeared in the NYT, NYDN, and New York Post. Toronto and Los Angeles openings were cancelled, as well as a premiere in Los Angeles, that was to be attended by 1,200 guests. Cimino wrote an open letter to UA president Andy Albeck which was printed in DV and Var. In the letter, Cimino claimed the “around-the-clock effort” to edit the film in time meant forgoing preview screenings and led to his “clouded” perception of the film. He beseeched Albeck to pull Heaven’s Gate from theaters, and allow him more time to edit it “with the same care and thoughtfulness with which we began it.” On 19 Feb 1981, LAT announced Albeck’s early retirement from UA, citing Heaven’s Gate, whose budget had reached $40 million, as a primary cause.
       Following the critical backlash, actors, including Kristofferson, Bridges, and Huppert, came to Cimino’s defense. Bridges claimed he never experienced Cimino’s reportedly huge ego, Kristofferson lamented that he was unfairly targeted, and Huppert stated she liked working with him. Vilmos Zsigmond led a bus full of people from Philadelphia, PA, where he was shooting Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981, see entry), to New York City, where the group wore black armbands “in memory of the prematurely dead movie” and attended a screening at Cinema 1. For one week, the film continued to show at Cinema 1, where it grossed $35,000 in its first six days, as noted in an 8 Dec 1980 New York brief.
       UA spent $100,000 cancelling premiere parties and advertisements, according to an 8 Dec 1980 People item. Calling the studio’s decision to pull Heaven’s Gate from theaters “unprecedented,” the 21 Nov 1980 LAT stated thousands of moviegoers were seeking refunds on advance ticket purchases. The sudden cancellation left Plitt’s Century Plaza in Los Angeles and Cinema 1 in New York City without any films to run during Christmas, as noted in a 21 Nov 1980 HR brief. If the theaters were forced to close, UA would be responsible for operating expenses and lost revenues. Transamerica Corp., the studio’s parent company, wrote off an unspecified part of the film’s total costs as a loss, and predicted Heaven’s Gate had no chance of “turning a profit” despite plans for a later release. According to the 21 Nov 1980 LAT, Heaven’s Gate cost over four times the average Hollywood studio film budget, at the time, of $9 million. Although numerous UA employees stood to be fired in the wake of the film’s failure, Transamerica president James Harvey denied the rumors.
       The 25 Nov 1980 LAHExam reported Cimino returned to the editing room at six a.m. on 21 Nov 1980. For the next few months, he worked on the new edit for twelve-to-fifteen hours per day. Having experienced similar challenges on Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola offered assistance and screened a videotape copy of Heaven’s Gate at his Zoetrope Studios, while Steven Spielberg spoke out in defense of the film, stating that people were overreacting to the scandal. Meanwhile, a 26 Nov 1980 LAHExam item announced its “First Annual ‘Heaven’s Gate’ Contest” in which readers were asked to guess the length of the re-edited version. The winner stood to win four tickets to the re-scheduled premiere, and six tickets would go to second place.
       Various sources estimated additional editing costs between $500,000 and $10 million. The 17 Dec 1980 LAT noted that, after seeing an edited version, UA’s Steven Bach mandated another half hour be cut by the end of that week, when UA would decide “whether to release it or have someone else do the editing.” At the time, a 20 Feb 1981 opening was still scheduled to take place in twenty-five cities. However, on 21 Dec 1980, an LAHExam brief noted that UA pushed the release to late spring or early summer 1981 after screening a two-hour-and-forty-five-minute cut on 19 Dec 1980 and determining that another fifteen minutes needed to be trimmed. A two-and-a-half-hour version was viewed the week of 22 Dec 1980, as stated in the 31 Dec 1980 LAT.
       According to a 27 Feb 1981 NYT news item, the re-edited version would screen as the closing night film of the Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Filmex) on 18 Apr 1981. Heaven’s Gate was one of two UA releases to be invited to the Cannes Film Festival in May 1981, as stated in a 18 Mar 1981 DV item.
       A new U.S. release date of 24 Apr 1981 was announced in the 12 Mar 1981 LAT and 24 Apr 1981 HR. The “drastically cut” film was set to open in over 800-900 theaters. Advertising was expected to cost $6 million, adding to the $40 million production budget and at least $500,000 spent on re-editing. UA reportedly absorbed a loss of $1.5 million on the original advertising campaign, which included the tagline, “What one loves about life are the things that fade.” Cimino, who originally had “final approval” of all advertising, was now merely consulting on the marketing of the film. Six preview screenings took place between Jan and Mar 1981. A number of walkouts at early screenings in Kansas City, KS, Denver, CO, and Chicago, IL, led to the toning down of violence in later preview versions.
       The 24 Apr 1981 NYT observed that the re-edited version which opened that day “looks like a fat man who’s been a crash diet,” and noted shortened scenes, including the Harvard graduation sequence, and the addition of voice-over by Kristofferson, meant to clarify the story. Title cards denoting times and locations of certain events were added, and the epilogue now showed Kristofferson on his yacht but did not reveal the woman below deck. A 24 Apr 1981 DV item noted the running time was now 153 minutes for 70mm prints and 149 minutes for 35mm prints, while NYT did not specify and listed the running time as 145 minutes.
       Critical reception of both the original and re-edited versions was overwhelmingly negative. NYT’s Vincent Canby called the original edit “an unqualified disaster” and likened it to a “forced, four-hour walking tour of one’s own living room.” Several critics deemed the story unclear and noted important dialogue was often inaudible. The 21 Nov 1980 LAHExam accused the film of insulting both the movie industry and U.S. history, stating that only two people died in the real-life Johnson County War. The 20 Nov 1980 DV review asserted the film failed on nearly every level, notwithstanding Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography, which, along with art direction, received consistent praise. Art director Tambi Larsen and Set Decorator Jim Berkey received the film’s sole Academy Award nomination for Best Art Director-Set Decoration.
       Heaven’s Gate flopped in both the U.S. and Europe, despite hopes for better overseas box-office earnings based on favorable critical reception in France. A 12 Jun 1981 LAT brief stated the film opened poorly in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. In turn, UA scaled down publicity efforts. An 8 Oct 2004 New York Post article listed cumulative box-office earnings as $3.4 million.
       Filmmakers came under criticism for the mistreatment of animals on set, as noted in a 28 Apr 1981 LAHExam item. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reported that suffering was inflicted on chickens, horses, steers, ponies, and fighting cocks. Five horses were rumored to have died during filming, and one horse was allegedly blown up. Cimino was also accused of bleeding steers and horses, and killing one dozen chickens, to use the animals’ blood on actors. The ASPCA also claimed filmmakers applied razor blades to the talons of roosters during the cockfight sequence.
       A 12 Jan 1981 LAT brief cited Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Film (MGM) Co.’s new mandate to keep all productions under $15 million, a ceiling that was intended to help the studio avoid its own Heaven’s Gate. Four month later, MGM made an offer to purchase UA for somewhere between $350 and $375 million, as reported in a 16 May 1981 LAT news item.
       UA Classics “inherited” the film, as noted in a 29 May 1981 DV item, and was looking to resurrect both the original and re-edited versions for television, video and special markets, possibly releasing a version under the working title The Johnson County Wars, with an edit focused more on the action of the story and less on romance. The 12 Jun 1981 LAT item also noted a possible miniseries.
       According to an 8 Oct 1980 DV brief, a lawsuit was brought against Cimino and several others by horse owner Mary Irene Hodges, who claimed her Arabian gelding underwent “severe physical and behavioral trauma and disfigurement” at the hands of the filmmakers. Hodges was seeking over $1 million in damages. Another lawsuit was announced in the 29 Jan 1981 HR, this one brought by sound editors Gordon Davidson and Bill Sawyer, who accused Cimino, Carelli, UA, and Cimino’s Johnson County War Co. of breaking an oral agreement. The men claimed that at the last minute, Cimino hired James J. Klinger in their place, and sought one million dollars. The outcome of both lawsuits could not be determined as of the writing of this Note.
       In the aftermath of its release, Heaven’s Gate was frequently described as a scapegoat for recent big-budget trends in Hollywood, and many sources, including the 1 Dec 1980 Newsweek, predicted the balance of power between artists and studios would swing back toward studios because of its failure. According to a 25 Sep 1981 LAT item, as a result of Heaven’s Gate, UA changed its policy on giving directors final cut after having maintained a more lenient position than other studios. Henceforward, UA planned to retain final cut on all films, notwithstanding contractual exceptions. One such exception had already been made for writer-director Robert Benton, who received final cut on Still of the Night (1982, see entry).
       In Aug 1985, the same month Cimino’s next feature film, Year of the Dragon, was released (see entry), former UA executive Steven Bach’s book, Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven’s Gate, arrived in bookstores. As reviewed in the 18 Aug 1985 LAT, which referred to Heaven’s Gate as “the most conspicuous failed film in the annals of American movie making,” the book alleged almost every UA executive connected to Heaven’s Gate was fired after the release. Bach also asserted the film was the “proximate” reason for UA’s sale to MGM, which some considered the death of UA, a company founded in 1919. Recalling Cimino’s unchecked egomania, Bach noted his demands to have his name appear alongside the title of Heaven’s Gate, in the same size font, in all advertising and on theater marquees, and claimed Cimino requested $10 million for the tacked-on prologue but only received $2 million when UA finally decided to take a tough stance with him. The book inspired a feature-length documentary by Michael Epstein titled Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven’s Gate, released in 2004 (see entry).
       Over time, Heaven’s Gate came to be seen as a misunderstood masterpiece by some, and in 2015, was named the twelfth greatest Western by Time Out London. A restoration of the film, produced by The Criterion Collection and overseen by Cimino, received positive acclaim at the 2012 Venice Film Festival and screened as part of the Masterworks series at the 2012 New York Film Festival, before its release on DVD and Blu-ray. On 22 Mar 2013, New York City’s Film Forum screened the restoration, with a running time of 216 minutes, for one week. The 17 Mar 2013 NYT review cited the final budget as $44 million and described Heaven’s Gate as “a film with greatness in it but also longueurs, a fascinating artifact and a monument to Mr. Cimino’s towering ambitions, as much for himself as for his art.”

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Variety   26 Nov 1980.   

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