Michael Cimino (3 February 1939 – 2 July 2016)
Throughout his career, Michael Cimino was a divisive figure. To some he was a maverick movie maker who didn’t care about budgets, ignored studio heads in his efforts to make the best movie he could, and who once said of Francis Ford Coppola, “Why do you think Francis is re-cutting Apocalypse [Now]? He’s dried up. I’m going forward; he’s going backward.” To others he was a genius, one of the most controversial directors of his era, and someone whose movies contain aspects and representations of poetic realism. Whichever camp you fall into, he will always be remembered for two movies: The Deer Hunter (1978) and Heaven’s Gate (1980). The first was a multi-Oscar winning triumph, the second was a movie that supposedly caused the downfall of its studio, United Artists. Both are masterpieces in their own right, and both examine the American experience on different frontiers in powerful and striking ways. If Cimino had never made another movie after those two, he would still be highly regarded.
But after Heaven’s Gate, Cimino found it increasingly difficult to get funding for his projects, and he often butted heads with studio executives on the movies he was offered – Footloose (1984) was just one of many movies he could have directed but managed (maybe deliberately) to get himself fired from. Among the projects he tried to get made were adaptations of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (with Clint Eastwood as Howard Roark), Frederick Manford’s Conquering Horse (to be filmed entirely in the Sioux language with English subtitles), and Andre Malraux’s Man’s Fate (to be filmed in Shanghai with Johnny Depp and Daniel Day-Lewis). He was always channelling various ideas and plans but thanks to the notoriety surrounding Heaven’s Gate he became an untrustworthy figure in Hollywood circles, though he did have his supporters. If he had been able to continue his career in the way he wanted, who knows how many other masterpieces he could have made. But he leaves us with a small body of work that is impressive on so many levels, from his early screenwriting credits all the way through to his contribution to the portmanteau movie To Each His Own Cinema (2007). Again, whatever your point of view regarding the man and his work, one thing’s for certain: he’s not a director who’ll be easily forgotten.
1 – Silent Running (1972) – screenplay
2 – Magnum Force (1973) – screenplay
3 – Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) – screenplay/direction
4 – The Deer Hunter (1978)
5 – Heaven’s Gate (1980)
6 – Year of the Dragon (1985)
7 – The Sicilian (1987)
8 – Desperate Hours (1990)
9 – The Sunchaser (1996)
10 – To Each His Own Cinema (2007) – segment, No Translation Needed