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I've been a cautious fan of Michael Cimino's much maligned November 1980 mega-flop 'Heaven's Gate' since I saw a rare beat-up old print of the "1st Director's Cut" at the NFT in June 2011, as part of their Jeff Bridges season. It was in terrible shape, with a washed out and faded image and a damaged and almost unlistenable soundtrack. Despite that, it was clear that this wasn't the utter train wreck that reviews would have you believe. There was wonderful material in there but the overiding impression I got, is of a Director in-love with that material and unable to countenance cutting even a frame of it. This cut was pulled from cinemas after a disastrous week at Cimino's own insistance, he asked for more time to cut the film again. The film was just far, far too long with characters allowed to walk in silence for minutes from one side of the screen to the other, without any kind of strict editing in evidence.
Then I heard about the "2nd Director's Cut" and tracked down a copy on the rare 'La Porte Du Paradis' French DVD. This is the 2.5 hour cut that Cimino spent a further 6-months editing. It was, as of April 1981, Cimino's preferred final and definitive cut, featuring scenes recut in a different order and many alternate angles and takes.
Fast forward to November 2012 and Criterion worked together with Cimino on restoring 'Heaven's Gate' in glorious HD. But 30 years later, no doubt indulged by Criterion, he did not restore his "2nd Director's Cut". He restored the full "1st Director's Cut" (Almost frame-for-frame), now claiming this was his original vision. The Blu-Ray booklet contained hardly any mention of the film's troubled production or it's disastrous reception, probably to give the film a fresh start for viewers today. What was also omitted from the booklet was any mention at all of the "2nd Director's Cut". It is merely mentioned in one line that there was a later and shorter cut and this new cut is Cimino's cut, leaving the unknowing reader to conclude that the studio cut the film down, to make it more commercial and to try and claw back some money, as is so often the case.
After getting the Criterion Blu-Ray for Christmas that year, I was amazed at how stunning the film looked and I could perhaps sympathise with why Cimino found it so hard to cut the film down. However I tried several times throughout 2013 to do a heavy fanedit, which I intended to call 'The Johnson County War'. But everytime I would get stuck halfway through, it was so hard to choose what should saty and what should go. On the third attempt I gave up, promising one day I'd cut this thing into shape and make the material shine.
Fast forward again to April 2014 and semi-retired Film Director Steven Soderbergh posted his own fanedit of Heaven's Gate' on his blog. He dubbed it 'Heaven's Gate: The Butcher's Cut', cleverly alluding to a notorious film term, evoking the opening scene and the simple fact that he had sliced it exactly in half length-wise. He seems to have done what I couldn't yet bring myself to do and been merciless, ruthless, creative and most importanty discaplined with his edits. Sadly he based his cut on what looks like a bad DVD transfer of the already bad looking print I saw back in 2011.
History waffle over, on to the project details...
I'm going to try to recreate Soderbergh's fantastic cut using the Blu-Ray as the source. If possible I will reproduce it frame-for-frame. I think this is the cut that this film has always deserved, so it needs to be seen properly at the same quality as the "1st Director's Cut". Plus, spurred on by how excited I am by Soderbergh's cut, I'm also going to try to remake Cimino's lost/erased-from-history "2nd Director's Cut" in HD. I will also base this on the Blu-Ray but for any alternate takes and angles, I will have to fall back on SD footage and upscale it the best I can.
Two fanedits for the "price" of one! :lol: