Hollywood regularly mutilates films. Michael Cimino’s Door to Heaven, which turns 40, is one of them. Back on a work that killed the career of a huge filmmaker, whom we had met in 2013.
In 1979, Michael Cimino is the most courted filmmaker in Hollywood, after the Oscar harvest carried out by his absolute masterpiece, Voyage au bout de l’Enfer. Barely two years later, he becomes a real outcast. What happened in between? La Porte du Paradis, which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its theatrical release in France on May 22.
To be honest, some still do not forgive Cimino – when even the filmmaker left us in 2016 – this cruel demystification of the American West, nor for having caused the bankruptcy of the United Artists, the legendary studio founded by Charles Chaplin, DW Griffith and Mary Pickford, due to its multiple budget overruns.
Throughout the filming, Michael Cimino demonstrated a perfectionism bordering on megalomania. There were already four days behind schedule after five days of shooting, because it was not uncommon for the filmmaker to take 50 takes of the same scene.
In the end, the shooting took place over 165 days. Cimino went so far as to redo the spacings between the buildings in a street because their spacing was not the right one, or repaint a meadow that he deemed not green enough … Rumors quickly swelled, like the one in which we accused him of spending $ 50,000 on cocaine on the set.
The editing was just as epic since Cimino, possessing the “Final cut”, posted an armed guard in front of the editing room who was ordered not to let anyone in fromUnited Artists. The studio was horrified when it discovered the very first cut of the film, resulting from 220 hours of rush, lasting 5:25. Cimino even explained that he had made a concession by cutting already 15 minutes in it.
The length of the film was unusable anyway, and Cimino forced the edit back to 219 min. This cut was only screened once at the New York premiere on November 19, 1980. Critically assassinated, the film hit theaters six months later, in a 149-minute cut. But the damage was already done: the bad publicity and murderous reviews of the premiere had already ruined the film’s career.
In 2013, we had the pleasure and honor of talking at length with the immense filmmaker, who came to France to accompany the release of his accursed masterpiece, in a version put together by him. “It’s not a restoration, it’s a reconstruction!” he let us go, as if to better underline the mutilations made on his work of astonishing and overwhelming beauty, which remains, 40 years after its release, one of the greatest films of American cinema.
This exchange was also for him the‘opportunity to come back to the violent criticisms made of his film at the time, especially the American critics, but also to evoke his influences, without forgetting of course to slip a few words on his previous film, Journey to the end of Hell. Magic of a meeting where time seemed to us suspended.