More on Heaven's Gate & reply to Louis G. and JBM was Re: Heaven's Gate
g.maclennan at qut.edu.au
Mon Jun 17 01:24:38 MDT 1996
At 08:16 PM 6/14/96 -0400, you wrote:
>Heaven's Gate, made at a cost of more than $50 million, was the most
>expensive movie since Cleopatra when it was released in 1980. This, I
>suspect, was the real reason for the critics' hostility ("like taking a
>three hour tour of your living room," was Vincent Canby's ungenerous
>verdict), along a general feeling that Michael Cimino's previous work (The
>Deer Hunter) had been vastly overrated thrown in. Quentin Tarantino is
>today very much in the position that Cimino was then--overexposed by one or
>two films (Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs) and suffering from a surfeit of
>self-generated publicity, which in turn always raises expectations.
>Woody Allen has recently suffered from the same formula. Indiscreet
>politics was probably the least of "Heaven's" problems.
>After all, Tree of the Wooden Clogs was probably the most lavishly praised
>film of 1980, and that, of course, that had a very strong left-wing bent.
> Louis Godena
Interesting though I am not convinced, Louis. BTW this has to be one of the
few times lately that I have disagreed with one of your posts.
Now the argument is that H.G.'s was unpopular because it attacked some
treasured myths . You seem to be saying that it was unpopular because it
was an undisciplined mess. Who is to say? But if we take Will Wright's
thesis seriously then the popular Westerns i.e. box office successes were
those that mirrored/reflected/ amplified some dominant myths.
I myself accept this and when I looked at Heaven's Gate the sheer nihilism
of its ending almost overwhelmed me. But for a bourgeois, nihilism is almost
a decent response to the evils of capitalism.
Now re Unforgiven. This is your typical postmodernist mixture of sub
types. I think there is an element of the Revenge Western one of the
subtypes of the Classic Western. Here the hero sets out to take revenge for
some evil. His actions take him out of society but in the end he is
reconciled. There is also a strong suggestion of the Professional Western.
The Clint Eastwood character, Will Munny, and his partners work for money.
This is always emphasised in the Professional Western. But they are not
pretty nor very profiicent at aspects of their job. They make a botch for
instance of the assassinatiion of the young cowboy.
My reading of this is that the film is placed neatly between the
individualism of the Classical/Revenge Western and the collectivism of the
Professional Western. Here however the experts are in crisis. Surely this
reflects the growing disillusionment with the prescriptions of the
planners/experts/ economists in society?
The individualism when it does emerge in the final shoot out is a
particular ugly and bloody version of this philosophy. I think the final
exchanges between Munny and the Sheriff (Gene Hackman) are very interesting.
Sherif: You be Will Munny out of Missouri, the killer of Women and Children.
W.M. Yes I have killed women and children and just about everything living
and crawling on this earth and I have come to kill you Little Bill, for what
you have done to Ned. (From memory)
I always pooint out to my students that this is an excellent statement of
the realities of American Foreign Policy. They have indeed killed almost
every life form to boost their power.
But I am also interested in the Guilt theme behind this exchange. Munny
has nothing to offer but death. The utopia is no longer believable. He is
almost like Richard III. A bottled spider. Guilt by the way cropsup in most
of Eastwood's later films and makes them very interesting. White Hunter:
Black Heart is especially intriguing in this regard.
So why was Unforgiven so popular. Well because it deals with so many of
the dominant myths and concerns of contemporary America and therefore the
contemporary world. For a main stream Hollywood Film it came actually
fairly close to some of the realities of the West. For example the role of
English Bob as a hired assassin of the Railroad Companies is hinted at, but
it is not made clear why he was hired to kill the Chinese workers
(strikers?) But for honesty and darkness of vision Heaven's gate is vastly
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