Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Heaven's Gate (1980) >>

Print Resources

Bach, Steven. Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven's Gate. New York: W. Morrow, 1985.
This book begins with background information on the history of film. Bach then discusses the challenges with getting the movie into production before actually saying anything about the film itself. He follows director Michael Cimino through the entire filming of the movie and keeps a journal of his experiences in good times and in bad. He doesn't paint Cimino as a hero or a villain in the film-making world, just another director trying to make a good movie. The text includes short explanations for the development of the movie's characters.
Bliss, Michael. Martin Scorsese and Michael Cimino. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1985.
This text describes the film careers of these two directors. One chapter is devoted to the making of Heaven's Gate and Bliss's defense of Cimino's film. He uses excerpts from articles written by harsh critics but then turns them around and points out why the film reviewers were wrong or at least why their comments were unfounded.
Brown, Richard Maxwell. "Western Violence: Structure, Values, Myth." Western Historical Quarterly 24.1 (1993): 5-20.
This article examines violence in western history and details the era from 1850-1920. From bandits to cowboys to Native Americans to Chinese railroad workers, Brown discusses the unrest in the developing west. He praises Heaven's Gate for siding with the losing team. He appreciates that Cimino steers away from the classic western hero.
Burns, Mickey. "'Heaven's Gate' Takes a Swing: Slamming the Capitalist Patriarchy." Cineaction n46 (1998): 48-55.
Burns takes a contrary approach to Heaven's Gate's critics and berates the public for needing to be "led by the hand, told up front what's happening and why, all without having to think." While some critics accuse Cimino of not understanding his own plot or the relationships between his characters, Burns insists that their interactions are more realistic because they don't have to describe their backstory. Viewers have to pay attention to what's going on; the film may be short on dialogue (for its length) but that just means that when the characters do speak, you should listen. Burns then continues to discuss the political themes within the movie, from a patriarchal society to the total acceptance of everyone in the roller skating scene, to the controversy between the immigrants.
Davidson, Levette J. "A Ballad of the Wyoming ‘Rustler War.'" Western Folklore. 6.2 (1947): 115-18.
The refrain: "God bless poor Nate and Nick / Who gave their precious lives / To save the town of Buffalo, / Its brave men and their wives. / If it hadn't been for Nate and Nick / What would we have come to? / We would have all been murdered by / Frank Canton and his crew."
Greene, Naomi. "Coppola, Cimino: The Operatics of History." Film Quarterly 38.2 (1984-1985): 28-37.
Greene compares such movies as Heaven's Gate to the opera in its flair for theatrics and its insistence on good and evil characters. The movie is filled with violence and emotion. In addition she discusses the fact that the film destroys the grandeur and hope of the settling of the west. The movie emphasizes class battles rather than heroism like many other Westerns.
Harmetz, Aljean. "How a Film Studio Died Outside of ‘Heavens's Gate.'" New York Times 31 Jul 1985: C15.
United Artists executive Steven Bach takes partial responsibility for the fate of Heaven's Gate but also attempts to relieve himself of some of the blame.
LeDoux, Chris, and Garth Brooks. "Johnson County War." American Cowboy. Liberty Records, 1994.
Song: "Oh, Powder River, you're muddy and you're wide, / How many men have died upon your shores. / When you brand a man a rustler, he's gotta take a side. / There's no middle ground in this Johnson County War."
Lindroth, James. "From Natty to Cymbeline: Allusions in Cimino's 'Heaven's Gate.'" Literature/Film Quarterly 17.4 (1989): 224-30.
Lindroth finds allusions to a number of characters from other stories and events to compare to those in Heaven's Gate. He sees the Roman gods in the scene with Ella's rape (and many other scenes) and the Great Gatsby in Jim on his Rhode Island steamer. The roller skating rink is Eden and Ella is Eve.
Lindsey, Robert. "'Heaven's Gate' Accents Studios' Woes." New York Times 6 Jan 1981: C9.
Lindsey criticizes Hollywood for allowing directors with one good movie under their belts to have an unlimited budget and total freedom to make a new movie. Heaven's Gate is the focus of his article, but he compares it to similar fiascos of the day.
Maslin, Judith. "Film view: Tales of Hollywood Are Incredible but True." New York Times 28 July 1985: 15-16.
Maslin does a pretty standard job of lamenting the downfall of United Artists and accusing Michael Cimino of toppling the company. Unlike most other critics and scholars, she portrays Cimino's career as still going strong despite the horrible movie. She blames a lot of the failures of Heaven's Gate's on the extreme arrogance of its director.
McGee, Patrick. "The Multitude at Heaven's Gate." From Shane to Kill Bill. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. 216-34.
McGee discusses the origin of the western and the different styles of the western film. He covers a number of topics from the Johnson County War (Shane, The Virginian, and Heaven's Gate) to John Wayne to Wyatt Earp. McGee manages to analyze the film without promoting or condemning it, simply examining what is at hand.
O'Neal, Bill. The Johnson County War. Austin: Eakin Press, 2004.
This text gives the history surrounding and including the Johnson County War. It includes copies of many authentic photographs from the time period along with modern-day pictures of Wyoming. Along with the historical information is a section regarding the book-writing and film-making process associated with the war.
Prial, Frank J. "'Heaven's Gate' Tries Again at Cannes." New York Times 21 May 1981: C25.
Cimino's retry at the Cannes Festival led to little more success. This article briefly discusses some of his out-of-control requests and ridiculous expenses during filming.
Pym, John. "Almost Anarchy: Afterthoughts on Heaven's Gate." Sight and Sound 51.1 (1981-1982): 20-24.
Pym points out two "fatal" flaws in Heaven's Gate: Billy Irvine upsets the balance of the film, and the Eastern European immigrants must justify themselves in the film. He also explains certain points of film-making such as the choice of Oxford to represent Harvard, the use of circles in the movie, and the atmosphere at the Sweetwater General Store. Although he never praises the film, Pym clearly respects some of Cimino's characters and artistic choices and his decision to leave the movie without a happy ending.
Wood, Robin. "Two films by Michael Cimino." Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan -- and Beyond. [1986] New York: Columbia UP, 2003.
The book discusses film-making in the 1970s-1990s from a number of different aspects including horror films, portrayal of women, sexual tension, and a few specific works. Among these films is Heaven's Gate. Wood addresses the monetary and wandering plot complaints of many critics but also includes a more in-depth analysis of the characters in the story. He also focuses on individual scenes and explains them.

See Also

Bach, Steven. "Once upon a Time in the West. American Film: a Journal of the Film and Television Arts 10 Jul/Aug 1985: 46-51.

Calder, Jenni. There Must Be a Long Ranger: The American West in Film and in Reality. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1975.

Clarke, Roger. Story Of The Scene: The Inside Scoop on Famous Moments in Film. London: Methuen, 2009.

Gomber, Drew. "The Ballad of Nick and Nate." Ruidoso News 1 Dec 2006.

Heaven's Gate Issue" of American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), November 1980.?

Lindroth, James R. "The Subjective Insert: Tradition And Memory in Two Contemporary Films." Perspectives On Contemporary Literature 9.(1983): 114-23.

McElrath, Frances. The Rustler: A Tale of Love and War in Wyoming. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1902.

Murray, William. "Failure of an Epic." New York Times 28 July 1985: 7.7.

Prince, Stephen. American Cinema of the 1980s: Themes and Variations. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2007.

Rollins, Peter C. The Columbia Companion to American History on Film: How the Movies Have Portrayed the American Past. New York: Columbia UP, 2003.

Schaefer, Jack. Shane. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949.

Wister, Owen. The Virginian.

Wister, Owen. The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains. New York: Macmillan, 1902.

Woolland, Brian. "Class Frontiers: The View through Heaven's Gate." The Book of Westerns. Ed. Ian Cameron and Douglas Pye. New York: Continuum, 1995. 277-83.

Video/Audio Resources

Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate (2004) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdcRiPLp4oU&feature=PlayList&p=8E6F2DDE8D9801B0&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=17
Directed by Michael Epstein, this 90-minute documentary is partly based on the 1985 book Final Cut by Steven Bach. The film contains interviews with many of the characters from the Heaven's Gate set from actors to the cinematographer. The entire movie is available in eight sections on YouTube.
Heaven's Gate clip: Champion loves Ella http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HF6tjUovsZY
Champion and Ella talk in the kitchen, then Champion sits by the sleeping Jim.
Heaven's Gate clip: Champion and Averill Fight Over Ella http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOZDyq9Xm1o&feature=related
Fighting over a woman.
Heaven's Gate clip: The Cavalry Breaks up the Final Battle http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIe0dmF68yM&feature=related
Surrounded. The end of the fight.
Heaven's Gate clip: The Famous Roller Skating Scene http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiNlthlz1d8&feature=related
The roller skate dance.
Heaven's Gate clip: The Final Scene, Back East http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0wwuAck9ws
On the yacht. Newport, Rhode Island, 1903.
Heaven's Gate clip: The Plight of the Immigrants http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-H5obvA0Qqs&feature=related
Nathan D. Champion and the masses. Champion shoots the rustler through the sheet-like covering.
Heaven's Gate Trailer http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/21985/Heaven-s-Gate/trailers
Yes, the trailer.

Online Resources

Ledoux, Chris. "Johnson County War." http://www.elyrics.net/read/c/chris-ledoux-lyrics/johnson-county-war-lyrics.html
The chorus of Ledoux's "Johnson County War" song: "Oh, Powder River, you're muddy and you're wide, / How many men have died upon your shores. / When you brand a man a rustler, he's gotta take a side. / There's no middle ground in this Johnson County War."
Wilkie, David. "The Ballad of Nate Champion." http://mobile.mystrands.com/track/10055666%3Bjsessionid=905F898E6D07ECD790E31B1FC1650F7D.mob1
"Here's to Wyoming / Here's to buffalo / And here's to Nate Champion . . ."
Wood, Robin. "Michael Cimino." Film Reference. http://www.filmreference.com/Directors-Bu-Co/Cimino-Michael.html
Facts and brief analysis of Cimino's career.