Michael Cimino and his third film, Heaven's Gate, is a byword in the film industry for creative extravagance.
The troubled production behind the film has since passed into legend, and whereas before with Apocalypse Now, the ballooning budget and egomaniacal vision didn't result in universal acclaim or praise. Instead, Heaven's Gate destroyed a long-standing movie studio and effectively ended Cimino's career.
Despite the incredible setbacks caused by Heaven's Gate, Cimino went on to direct a total of four films after Heaven's Gate and was even attempted to get a Michael Collins biopic off the ground.
Cimino had all but retreated from public life in his later years and only reappeared for an Italian film festival some time ago. Cimino passed away yesterday evening, aged 77.
Here's an overview of his best work.
7. THE SICILIAN (1987)
After the unbridled success that was The Godfather, Mario Puzo was offered $1,000,000 for the rights to his fictionalisation of the Sicilian folk hero, Salvatore Guilano. Cimino was brought into direct and, naturally enough, fought with producers on just about every aspect of the film. Cimino's contract stated that, provided he got the film in under 120 minutes, he had final edit on the film. Instead, Cimino turned in a 150-minute version. When he was ordered to cut out thirty minutes, Cimino removed a key scene from the film which rendered it completely invalid. The whole thing went into a lawsuit, which Cimino lost. The resulting film became another failure and currently rests at 13% on Rotten Tomatoes.
6. DESPERATE HOURS (1990)
The one thing that comes out of almost all of Michael Cimino's films is that the behind-the-scenes politicking and in-fighting is, very often, more interesting than the films themselves. So it goes again with Desperate Hours, another disappointment for Cimino and his second-to-last film ever made. Like The Sicilian, the film was taken away from Cimino during post-production and badly cut and edited by producers - which, in turn, led to disappointing box-office results and a barely watchable film.
5. SUNCHASER (1996)
Cimino's final film about an oncologist who's kidnapped by a juvenile offender and taken to a mystical lake with healing powers, the stories surrounding Sunchaser eclipse the film in every possible way. The film's editor, Joe D'Augustine, gave a fascinating interview to Vanity Fair in 2002 where he described the sheer weirdness that was Michael Cimino. "I was led into this dark editing room with black velvet curtains and there was this guy hunched over. They bring me into, like, his chamber, as if he was the Pope. Everyone was speaking in hushed tones. He had something covering his face, a handkerchief. He kept his face covered. And nobody was allowed to take his picture."
4. YEAR OF THE DRAGON (1985)
Year of the Dragon is often overlooked when talking about crime and noir films. While it's true, the film does have a lot of stereotypes about Chinese-American culture, it's more concerned with showing these stereotypes as what they are - exaggerations by outsiders. Mickey Rourke, in arguably one of his best roles, plays a tough New York police chief who vows to crush organised crime in Chinatown and squares off against a ruthless young upstart from the Triads. It's heavily stylised and, when compared to say Ridley Scott's Black Rain, it's far more enjoyable. Worth a watch.
3. HEAVEN'S GATE (1980)
During the intermission of the New York premiere of Heaven's Gate, Cimino turned to his publicist and asked him why nobody was drinking the champagne laid out for guests. "Because they hate the movie, Michael." It's hard to truly quantify just how much of a disasterpiece Heaven's Gate was. In modern times, it'd be like Christopher Nolan's next film absolutely tanking at the box-office and destroying a studio along with it. The hatred that Cimino received after the film's release undoubtedly warped his mind and his reputation was left in tatters. Yet, it's one of those films that deserves to be watched in its full, intended glory. It's a sweeping, glorious mosaic about the birth of a nation and, even to this day, is especially important with regards to how Americans view immigrants.
2. THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974)
If you've ever watched Midnight Run or, indeed, any road movie about two different characters learning to deal with one another along the way, they owe a debt of gratitude to two films - Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid and Thunderbolt & Lightfoot. Whereas Sundance had the light, effortless charm of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Thunderbolt had a gruff Clint Eastwood and an undeniably chipper Jeff Bridges. Oh, and a cannon. A giant cannon that Eastwood used to blow up safes with. Fun, effervescent and brilliantly shot, Thunderbolt And Lightfoot's one of those cult action comedies that doesn't get half the attention it deserves.
1. THE DEER HUNTER (1978)
After the success of Thunderbolt And Lightfoot, Cimino was offered endless amounts of work - all of which he rejected. Instead, he opted for an ambitious Vietnam War-epic about a group of steelworkers who have to rebuild their lives in the aftermath. Keep in mind that the Vietnam War was still unbelievably fresh in people's minds and to aim a camera squarely in its direction was controversial, to say the least. As almost all of Cimino's work, it ran over budget, there were lawsuits, there was accusations by cast that he was unbearable to work for and that he shot an insane amount of film. In all cases, these were true - especially the amount of film shot, which totalled close to 600,000 feet. In the end, it paid off and The Deer Hunter is one of the most popular and well-loved war films ever made.