By Dr. Zaius
Monday, July 4th, 2016 at 10:00 am
Oscar winning director Michael Cimino has died. Director Thierry Fremaux tweeted the sad news on July 2nd. It is believed Cimino was born February 3rd, 1939. I say “believed” because Cimino is one of the most bizarrely controversial figures in Hollywood history. Nearly everything about him was a mystery from his age, to his appearance thanks to plastic surgery, and there were even questions about his gender identity as the years went on. One thing that cannot be denied, Cimino left a mark on Hollywood history with an Everest-like climb and a meteoric crash.
With only two writing credits to his name, Cimino wrote and directed his first feature film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in 1974. The film starring Clint Eastwood earned an Oscar nomination for Jeff Bridges (Best Supporting Actor). His big break came in 1978, when he co-wrote and directed The Deer Hunter. The film tells the story of Vietnam through the lens of a small factory town in Pennsylvania, and its impact on the lives of the people there before, during, and after the war. It was nominated for 9 and won 5 Academy Awards including Best Director for Cimino, Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken, and Best Picture of the year. Maybe more impressive than the successes of The Deer Hunter was the spectacular failure of his next project, 1980’s Heaven’s Gate.
According to Steven Bach’s book Final Cut, Heaven’s Gate was so bloated and over budget, it ended up bankrupting the famed United Artists studio. Variety quotes Cimino as calling Bach’s book “a work of fiction.” But Bach’s claims of production costs rising to over $44 million, and the film’s take of only $4 sealed Cimino’s fate as a big time studio filmmaker. No matter which side of the story you believe, Cimino’s career was deeply impacted by the failure of Heaven’s Gate as he went on to direct only four more films in his career including 1985’s Year of the Dragon, and 1987’s The Sicilian.
After completing his final full length film in 1996 with The Sunchaser, Cimino turned to writing publishing his first novel, Big Jane in 2001. Though a controversial figure, Michael Cimino left a mark on cinema that will not be forgotten. The Deer Hunter was ranked 79th on AFI’s original list of 100 Greatest Movies. Heaven’s Gate has become a historical curiosity for people interested in filmmaking. Michael Cimino left no survivors, he was 77.
Trailer for Michael Cimino’s film starring Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Savage, George Dzundza, Chuck Aspegren, Joe Grifasi, Rutanya Alda, Mary Ann Haenel, Mady Kaplan, Richard Kuss, Pierre Segui, Shirley Stoler, Amy Wright