Heaven's gate

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at qut.edu.au
Thu Jun 13 19:54:03 MDT 1996

I finally got around last nite to  following up on Louis P.'s recommendation
to watch this film.  I  am glad I did and I thank him for drawing my
attention to it.

It is truly a remarkable movie.  It is  on one level quite mad as an
exercise in anti-commercialism in a commercial industry.  Who would  have
thought to make a Western as late as 1980?  The genre was well and truly
dead by then.  Moreover Cimino's vision had nothing to do with the Classical
western or the variation of the Professional Wester.

The Classical Western revolved around a strong lone individual leading the
weak but decent people to the promised land.  It was a triumph of good over
evil.  The  professional variation had to do with a group of clever
sophisticed men & women, generally outside the law.  The key opposiiton was
no longer between good and evil but between the clever and the stupid.  The
"heroes" were often  outlaws or they worked for money.  the big thing was
they were good at  their job.  Sort of like some alienated computer
programmers I have known.

In his book Six Guns and Scociety, Will Wright traces the change from the
Classic to the Professional Western to the change from laissez-faire
politics with its emphasis on the individual to Keynesian planning with its
emphasis on the group of experts.

What was lost along the way was the vision of the possibility  of a utopia
within capitalism.  Without this utopian core the Western simply died.  the
revival in recent time can be explained to some extent as a postmodernist
need to revive all genres all fashions.  the Western had died out and
therefore had become something of an exotic commodity.

But back to Heaven's Gate.  Not only is there no utopia here, we get the
very nightmare that American society is.  One key moment for me was when a
whore went out to the dunny and she screamed out, "christ. this place! You
cannot even have a shit without stepping in it!"  20th Century Capitalism
caricatured with extreme succinctness.

The movie by contrast sprawls everywhere.  It is full of the most self
indulgent  of longeurs.  But it does deal with the horror of class relations.

The ending too is resolutely dystopic.  the female lead is assassinated.  On
the battle field the peasants are massacred, and afterwards one of their
militants blows out her own brains.  Reality is too much.

The film ends with the hero back within the fold of the bourgeoisie.  We see
him on a yacht, held fast in a marrriage which has travelled through silence
and boredom to a true hell.

To sum up, this is an amazing but flawed film which I am sure  one day will
be rediscovered and accclaimed as a classic.



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