Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE

I might never have watched this powerful, majestic film if not for reading Dana Steven's review of it in SLATE five days ago. Very possibly, I might STILL not have got around to watching it, if I hadn't happened to check Netflix to see if they had it as a streaming option -- which they DID. The review talks about a sumptuous though overlong sequence early in the film of Harvard graduates waltzing, so I thought I would just take a peek. I do that with films often enough, watch the first few minutes to get a sense of its texture before deciding that I don't want to invest any hard-core time. With this one, I watched it begin, then I watched the entire waltz sequence and then I -- what can I say? -- was caught and mesmerized for the rest of the trip.

It's a very long movie, three hours plus, and I allowed myself to see it over the course of three days. But I remained engrossed all the way through.

This IS surprising because I am not especially interested in "frontier" films, in period dramas of the American West, or in an obscure battle between rich cattlemen and the wretchedly poor East European immigrants who came into conflict with them. The power of the film lies in its documentary feel -- the grit-in-the-eye chuffing of a real steam-engine, the glorious chaos of horses as the primary source of transport, the dirt and squalor of the past, with its outhouses and open fields and untarred roads -- it had an authenticity and a poignancy that punched the breath out of me. Wow. A hard, sad, angry film telling a story that no-one wants to hear.

Who makes such films any more? No-one. Apparently, because of its epic failure (the only thing I knew about the film was that it was such a vast disaster that both the studio -- United Artists -- and the director, Michael Cimino -- never recovered from it) the lesson everyone learnt is that (a) big budget films are only worth making if they're aimed at simple-witted jingoists who want to cheer and thump their chests at every opportunity and (b) cinematic beauty and artistic rigor is only acceptable if it's underwritten by conservative values, such as romantic fidelity, monotheism and patriotism.


Paresh Palicha said...

Thanks for writing about, will soon find it & see.

tom staley said...

Well, really, Manjula, I'd like to have tea and a conversation with you. Failing that, I'll get to my main reason for writing: I want to thank you so much for your wonderful short story, "Beads." I started reading your short stories after running into one in Delhi Noir. (I read Delhi Noir because I love Delhi, spent several years of my childhood there, in the 1950's, on a bicycle all over, then returned later as an adult who needed nothing more than the Delhi Diary (music performances) and the YMCA hotel to be happy.
I very much enjoyed your stories, but they were many of them, as tough as life, some shocking at the end after pleasing most of the way (the one that precedes "Beads" in Kleptomania--the soire so well layed out; I didn't see it coming at all.)
Your comment on "Beads" was that you included it "because I liked it," or something like that. Maybe that's the very truest criterion of selection of by an artist from her work! In Beads, it is very positive throughout. You fall in love with Farida right away (you write right to the point), and she's never very seriously threatened or hurt--rather, good things happen; and she is good ("at the right moment" she looks up at the other girl and says "You like to learn"..."I like.") Because you're writing for kids, you allow yourself to praise the world, your character triumphs, the description of her art/needle work at the end is suddenly abstact, obvious, profound, inspiring, written for the young, the ideal.
I intend to get hold of your cartoon work and books for children, maybe that's what I need from you.
Finally, for some reason I wanted to ask you, or suggest: have you read the late science fiction of Doris Lessing? Starting with Shikasta. There's about 6 or 7 volumes of it (also the novel I think titled Lara and Dan, a bit earlier, set 20,000 years in future, in Africa, a great intro to the science fiction). Also, her autobiography, first volume only, childhood in Rhodesia.
I'm also intending to get hold of your recent book on world without women. Sounds intriging.
About Farida: in 1995-6 I brought my 3 kids to India to go to the same missionary boarding school in mountains I went to in the 50's (happiest period of my life, and I'm not a Christian, just an admirerer of his teachings) so they could taste India as adolescents. I wanted to buy my daughter a shalwar kamiz (spelling prob. wrong) in Delhi. Long taxi ride to desolate suburb, house of moslem tailor. Admitted, carefully and politely watched. His daughter, a Farida, had designed and sewn a beautiful one, just right for Emily. Price, $30. I was blnded by my stay already, seemed to high, it was beautiful, as was the family and their girl. I left without buying, to dismay of them, of Emily, and myself, very quickly. Meeting your Farida, I'm so glad to see she perseveres.
My mother, in the '50's took me to a shop in Old Delhi where the moslem painter showed me several designs for a lampshade my mother was getting for me, paintings on the lampshade. I chose the traditional drawing of a cheetah leaping on the back of a fleeing deer, blood just bursting from the wound. Good mother, huh?
The tea we had was on a mountain trail stop, fresh ginger quickly ground before our eyes, sweet and uplifting.
Thanks again for your story, for "Beads," and the rest I will read. Best, Tom Staley, Bangor, Maine

marginalien said...

Thank you for your comments, Paresh Palicha and Tom Staley!

I apologize for having taken so very long to post them here. I usually get alerts by e-mail to tell me that there's a genuine comment but for some reason, that didn't happen.

Tom Staley, thank you for your very detailed response to BEADS. Tea and conversation sounds good!