quinta-feira, 19 de abril de 2012

Interview with Michael Cimino

by Bill Krohn

Michael Cimino was the major absence of our first “Made In U.S.A.” issue, published last April. He was, however, part of our list of American filmmakers to meet first (He was a “seeded player”, in the same way as many of the others). We weren’t able to meet then because he was absent from Los Angeles, somewhere in Montana, undergoing location-scouting (something which he especially likes, as his words here show, and which is an integral part of his cinematic vision: to rediscover the American cinematic landscape). His producer, Joann Carelli, had promised us his consent and the interview was scheduled after our publishing, with Bill Krohn, Cahiers’ correspondent in California. To elaborate on things, the interest with which we held Michael Cimino, going in to this meeting, was vague, without doubt not fully established in our minds. It was founded more out of a curiosity that lies in finding a filmmaker destroyed through a monumental failure, and victim of a cabal on part of American critics such as one has rarely seen in all the history of cinema, than in a passionate, genuine aesthetic or cinephilic interest. Of course, all-the same, Heaven’s Gate found here a response more than favorable. The viewing of the longer version confirms and amplifies this sentiment. If it remains then that Cahiers wasn’t familiarized with the films of Cimino, then it’s explained in part by the trouble provoked by The Deer Hunter during its release. We thought, naively and perversely, that the failure suffered by the filmmaker offered the occasion for a long and frank discussion with the press during which Cimino would risk speaking truthfully. The text of the interview carried out by Bill Krohn more than reached our expectations. More than that: here is one of the most passionate interviews ever published in Cahiers. Not only did we discover a true filmmaker, but we penetrated, at the closest and most deep spot, the interior of his vision of things, of his conception of cinematic work, and of his morals.

And if the pleasure you obtain from reading his remarks is as intense, it is without doubt that they raise definitively the problem which became ours when this interview wasn’t even yet a plan. In this period of mutation for the American cinema, Michael Cimino embodies a certain permanence of classical cinema, and of the morality which accompanies it, removed from all cinephilic regression and of all nostalgia.
- S.T. [Serge Toubiana]


Cahiers: How did you become a director?

Michael Cimino: I never learned film.

Cahiers: Do you watch films?

M. Cimino: I watch films in fits and starts: lots of films during a short period of time, then none for a long time; I don’t have the urge to watch films constantly. The only experiences which, in my opinion, I’ve truly picked up something, as concerns my cinematic work, is the rhythms of comedy. I studied theater during a certain number of years in New York, and I think that all my writing comes from that. If you demanded which influences I have been subjected to, I’ll say, among others, Ford, Minnelli and Degas, Kandinsky, Turner: moreso painters than filmmakers. I don’t know where my desire to make films comes from; I don’t have any idea about it. It seems to me that to make films is to pose questions rather than to be capable of giving the answers. It’s why interviews are so difficult: one doesn’t really have the answers, you pose questions, and it works only to thicken the mystery. I have never been capable of responding in a satisfactory way to the question of the origin of films: I don’t know where my films come from – the same; I don’t know why such-and-such American landscape can, at a certain point, become an obsession. Can one really know what, in Monument Valley, obsessed Ford? Of course, visually, it’s impressive, but why? For what reason does he return there? Why make so many films in the same place? I think he himself wouldn’t have an answer to that question. When you talk of obsession, of mystery, to questions, this appears horribly pretentious: yet it’s the sheer truth. So, you use a façade, you say: “I simply try to be like Ford, to tell an interesting story, about interesting people.” You require a defense of some kind.

Cahiers: You use the word “obsession”. Have you had in your life other elements that have taken the shape of an obsession?

M. Cimino: There is always that need to feel that you’re doing your possible best. On a certain level, this is what the creator feels, whether he is a maker of furniture or a maker of arms: it is the feeling of all who work with their hands. Even the details of a rifle, which are nothing but mechanical, if they are made carefully, with attention, become beautiful, satisfying. It is very gratifying to see something well-made, whatever it may be: it touches a nerve of feeling in everyone; it touches something in human nature. It makes one feel good, it gives a feeling of peace, in some way. It’s a thing which we all desire, which we all need; and everyone, in their own manner, uses this need, when one arranges their house, when one personalizes their car, their office, we all try, in some manner or other, even if we end up making mistakes.

Cahiers: How did you spend the Sixties?

M. Cimino: Vietnam was such a dominant fact over the milieu, up to the end of the sixties, that it would be difficult to find anyone that wasn’t affected by that war. When I recall it, I essentially feel a grand optimism and a grand anxiety, inextricably tied up in each other. It oscillated daily, and with a certain malaise between those two feelings. People seemed to set out in every direction, at once geographically and spiritually. I remember criss-crossing the country alone, in a car: I recall the sky, the night; I was stranded, one night, in some part of North Dakota, on a road flat as the eye could see; I got out, it was the dead of winter, it was terribly cold, everything was silent, and I walked. The sky looked unreal, incredibly unreal, and, I don’t know, I remember falling in love with that road, in someway falling in love with the “journey”, and I never stopped.

Cahiers: I ask the question because of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Jeff Bridges is amazing in that film. Lightfoot is probably the most complete character you’ve ever created, and he is the expression of that period.

M. Cimino: We all love to explore, discover things, new places. There lies in the act of exploring, hitting the road, the discovery of something about the true order of things. We all have bit of this sentiment in us; some use it, others don’t. I believe it is characteristic of Americans, and without doubt of the Western. I really love that character, but I love all my characters, like old friends. When I happen to re-watch my films, it’s as if I’m watching a film by friends; it never comes to mind that I’m watching the actors playing a role, I have the impression of watching a film from a vacation relating to an event which I participated in without seeing myself, although I sense my presence. It’s like the drawing of a moment in which one shared. I smile when I think of Jeff. In fact, he dominated the film a bit more than expected.

Cahiers: I was surprised that Clint Eastwood, who was not only the star of the film but also the producer, showed himself to be so generous toward another actor.

M. Cimino: Clint was well aware of what had happened, but he loved it so much that he could only watch it evolve, like on watches a natural element evolve, without wanting to interrupt it. In fact, if I remember well, the crew sent me a spokesperson to ask me to reconsider my idea of having him die at the end of the film; we were pretty much halfway through shooting… they told me: “We love him so much right now, could we save his life, please?”. Clint revealed himself to be very generous.

Cahiers: For starters, very few actors of that importance allow themselves to be led by a first-time director.

M. Cimino: “I don’t sell a screenplay unless I direct it myself”: it was my condition, and I was ready for it. But I think Clint was happy during the shooting, he seemed to take great pleasure at seeing the film and follow its stages. Before starting, I said to Jeff: “You have a job to fill. You must make Clint laugh in this film”; that’s exactly what he did!

Cahiers: It’s a film which shows that which many films of the era tried to show: the relationship between generations – which, at that moment, had become problematic.

M. Cimino: Of course, the characters of Eastwood and George Kennedy talk about their experience in Korea, and their attitude is in large part that of that generation; Jeff was a headache, for them. They don’t situate themselves in the current majority of American society, far from it; but Jeff was the bearer of change. Now that I reconsider it, it seems that Eastwood had a very brief moment of loving life, when he let himself go: for an instant, he gives himself to the illusion that he can be free, that he can regain that which he had before. That which we remember the most is the moments of freedom, of loving life. It is, in part, the subject of the film; it contains moments of that kind.

Cahiers: It has other aspects which are more “mainstream”; after all, it is a “genre” film. But it gives the impression of being a major film, not because of its budget, but because the range of its references. Foremost, simply because of the range of territory it covers, you truly have the impression of having seen the land, having experienced the places we pass through. In a sense, it is another film about people who search for America, or the idea of America.

M. Cimino: That pleases me; I wanted one to get a sense of America, I wanted one to experience the land, to see it, to feel it.

Cahiers: Where did you film?

M. Cimino: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was entirely shot in Montana, but in very different places; we traveled a lot, especially around the Great Falls; in the banks of the Dearborn and the Missouri; in the fields of wheat, east of Great Falls. The schoolhouse, with its single room, is an exact replica of a school found on the other side of the mountains, to the west. It was so pretty, where we built it, that we had trouble keeping the tourists away during shooting. It was at Wolfcreek, just outside of Helena. We filmed in a small town north of Great Falls, Fort Benton, which is the furthest west that one can go on the Missouri, where industrial equipment and goods arrive from St. Louis by steamboat. The old photographs of Fort Benton show hundreds of steamboats along the banks; one would think that Fort Benton would have became a metropolis. It is in this small town that Clint, sitting under a tree with Jeff, recounts his past. Fort Benton has a very rich history in the development of the West. It is there that they unloaded all the merchandise, to then pile them on the wagons which followed the path of the Oregon Trail, or scattered about in other directions. It was one of the regions where they exploited the goldmines, at Monarch Pass, to the east of Great Falls, the length of the Missouri, etc. It is a limitless open country. It is in large part the region of Charlie Russel: south of Great Falls, there is a bar where many of his paintings are found, from a certain era; and if you continue south of Great Falls, you’ll recognize many figures he represented in his paintings; the territory seems very familiar. I found the land east of the Great Divide very fascinating, because it is there that the Great Plains encounter the mountains. It is very steep; no hills you could climb on-foot, particularly above Interstate 2, north of Browning, which is a reserve for Blackfoot Indians. If one looks to the east, one can see practically to the Dakotas, and the mountains rise from all around. The east is dry and flat, and to the west, lies the Pacific. I found that it was a place of much contrast; the climate is completely different in the eastside and the west. What more could you ask for: some of the most beautiful mountains in the world, the rivers, the pines, the lakes, the plains; all that one could desire.

Cahiers: What brought you to this place besides what you had in mind before shooting?

M. Cimino: It surpassed my hopes in a number of ways. It revealed itself to be much more mysterious than I hoped it to be. I found it to be unreal: and each time that one glanced at the peaks in Glacier National Park, in every season, but especially in winter, when they are white, early in the morning, it is impossible not to feel a… an extraordinary contentment. In the presence of those mountains, all mountains in this case, - when one approaches them, one feels their spirit rise up, one begins to feel good; I don’t know from where this comes from, but it can’t be an accident that the Indian tribes of the Old World, who lived in the presence of tall mountains, made them, in some manner or other, gods. One must love a place to be able to show grand landscapes on the screen. Nobody showed and made one feel Monument Valley like Ford, although many tried. But him, he loved it, and if he was there and one could pose the question, “Why?”, I am certain that he couldn’t articulate a response, except to say that he deeply loved that place. When one loves a place, it shows in the images one makes.

Cahiers: There are other things, which are maybe tied up in that, like all the flags.

M. Cimino: There are a lot of flags in all the films…

Cahiers: This is also an era where we saw the American flag on people, on car-bumpers, in places where it wasn’t intended, with slogans like “America, love it or leave it.”

M. Cimino: I could never do that; it’s too noble a symbol. I think that even at the end of Heaven’s Gate... it’s curious, despite the circumstances, despite the ending, one feels at the same time a certain nobility in that flag. It’s crazy, but its how it is; it transcends, in some way, that moment; I suppose it’s because it is an extraordinary symbol of hope; even at that moment, in Heaven’s Gate, it still seems to me like a symbol full of nobility, despite what happened, despite the genocide, as if even that couldn’t degrade it; it is still beautiful, the imagery is clear, brilliant, there’s no mistaking it. One can’t confuse that flag for any other. And to me, seeing that flag flapping in the wind, in that place, it’s a little magical.

Cahiers: Where did you film The Deer Hunter?

M. Cimino: There exists a real Clairton, in Pennsylvania, but we didn’t use it except for the name. The town, in the film, is one complied from seven or eight places, taken from several states. The church is in Cleveland, as well as the supermarket; the interior of Lenders’ house is in Steubenville, the exterior of Angela’s house is found in Follansbee, in Virginia; the bar, interior and exterior, is found in Mingo Junction (Ohio) the same as the exit to the steelworks, the parking lot. The interior of the steelworks is in Cleveland. It is therefore truly a composite place.

Cahiers: How did you go about creating a place when it doesn’t quite exist? Do you send people, do you look at photos?

M. Cimino: This place exists in your head, so you are in search of that you would like to find. I do most of the work myself, because I take pleasure from it. For The Deer Hunter, I was going to do one job prior to the others, but in the end, you say to yourself that you must do it all yourself. One learns a lot: one meets people that one would never have met otherwise, one gets to know the country better, also; that enriches the film, in some ways. The story of the two cups happened to a girl who worked for me looking for exteriors: she had helped at a wedding where two cups came, in the same circumstances; I immediately reused this anecdote, she was terrific. That wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t traveled endlessly. The majority of things, you find them completely by accident. I didn’t know that there was this marvelous church over there, I glimpsed it from afar, by accident, from the highway, and the hills are so beautiful! In fact, I found this church and that while starting Thunderbolt and Lightfoot on a really cloudy day, all of the sudden, the sky cleared up, and there it was! I believe that this research is an integral part of the film: the time spent watching people, talking to them, hitting the road, sleeping in those towns, walking down those streets. You notice things, some consciously, others involuntarily, that otherwise… It really approaches the work of an actor, you absorb a number of details; you notice a lot of things which, in a certain way, find their way back into the film.

Cahiers: Did you construct the important sets, for the American half?

M. Cimino: Yes, all the interior of the bar is a set.

Cahiers: Is it a reconstruction?

M. Cimino: No, it was from half-a-dozen details, pretty much, drawn from photographs essentially. The exterior existed, but the interior, nothing but plaster! So we entirely constructed the interior set, but it doesn’t show. We designed it down to the floorboards, nothing is real, it was constructed that way; the curve of the ceiling, the walls, the floor due to time were reconstructed. The trailer was entirely built according to photographs which I took, and the motel also, along with its sign. The door and the exterior of the steelworks were built.

Cahiers: So that’s what you do when you can’t find the place that you’re looking for.

M. Cimino: Sometimes you find the right place, but not the structure that you need. There, for example, everything was perfectly arranged, the railroad, the bar, etc., it couldn’t better, except that it didn’t have an entrance. So, we simply copied the entrance of another steelworks, which was found in another town, and we brought it there. The rest was perfect, the underground passage, etc., it was only missing the entrance, so we built it. We built a cabin in the mountains. We had it prefabricated in Pittsburgh, and delivered up to Washington. We assembled it, painted it, then removed it and put it in a truck, then transported it to the mountains.

Cahiers: Do you work a lot in the studio?

M. Cimino: No, I never film in a studio. We work around real existing places, and we modify them. You try to work, as much as you can, from what you find. For example, in Heaven’s Gate, we needed the train to run through the town, and there are very few cities, in the West, where you can find that combination. In that occasion, I had location scouts looking, and then I went, in my turn, to see if it would work. Surprisingly, very few towns like that actually exist! We had to get our train from Denver, Colorado, because such trains don’t exist. We worked as much as we could with what we found, and then we idealized them.

Cahiers: Why do you consider it so important to work on location?

M. Cimino: There is a current which flows when you film on location that you can’t get easily in a studio: you get off at night to go home, you don’t work on the weekends, it’s almost deskwork. Some like that; me, I like to feel far from home, that satisfies me; you get qualities from it, textures, which are doubly difficult to get in studio. And then, in studio, you don’t have real people, you have professional extras, which is completely different. In each of my films, we used a lot of locals and a small number of actors. The state of mind of people who live over there has never been truly shown in films. They brought an exceptional characteristic to the film. In the wedding scene, for example, in The Deer Hunter, these are the actual parishioners; it was very difficult to find that current, that life, from people who had the habits of an extra; you could obtain a perfectly satisfying result, but not the same result. Those people were really Russian-Americans, who actually spoke the language, actually danced those dances, who had spent all their lives in that community, had certain facial expressions. You couldn’t create that in professional extras.

Cahiers: Were you already familiar with that milieu and those people?

M. Cimino: No. I knew people like that, and I grew up with people from that milieu. I was a groomsman in a wedding similar to that one; I was very young, and in fact, my grandmother frequented a Polish church, one the Pope went to when he came to New York. It’s the Polish community that I know, not the Italian. I was therefore accustomed to these sounds, and I think that the music of Russian weddings is the most extraordinary that one can find. Of course, we could have reconstructed that church in Hollywood, New York or London, but it would be difficult to find the same people. This contact is an inestimable contribution for the actors.

Cahiers: Why did you want to make a film about Vietnam?

M. Cimino: One is always drawn to confronting the war when one has lived through that generation. People like Capra, Ford and Hawks dealt with WWII; the following generation, the Korean War; and us, we are grappling with the problem of Vietnam, it’s our point of reference. It’s an inevitable and natural consequence of our belonging to that generation.

Cahiers: It sounds like you’re talking about a form of therapy.

M. Cimino: One shouldn’t talk about films like its therapy. I don’t like that word. The principle subject of Ford, it seems to me, was the civil war and its consequences; that pervades his work. I think that the United States changed more profoundly during the Civil War, and after, than during WWII: there was certainly many more technological inventions during the World War, major material changes, but for that which concerns our mentality, the Civil War had a deeper impact. The Civil War and that of Vietnam resemble each other; both of them were concerned with the problems of race, which was never really central to WWII. Japan was certainly involved, but it wasn’t a war which distinctly opposed a different culture: it was principally the West against itself. In Vietnam, we found ourselves embroiled in the civil war of others. It is very interesting; the majority of profound changes that took place in our society came from our civil war, and a hundred years later, we were thrown into a foreign civil war. It was we who changed more than the Vietnamese. That conflict was a thousand years old, we didn’t change it, but our presence changed us a lot.

Cahiers: Which bridges the two events: it’s that our participation in Vietnam started a sort of civil war here, but this isn’t what you wanted to deal with. You focused on the people who went to fight in Vietnam, and on the effect of the war on them. In The Deer Hunter, you don’t mention the national division which the Vietnam War provoked.

M. Cimino: No, it was a fully deliberate choice. It is interesting to note that Heaven’s Gate starts just after the period of the Civil War: in fact, in the longer version – but this vanished from the shorter version – Joseph Cotton, at the end of his speech, uses these words: “When our hearts and minds…”; its taken from a speech which was made after the Civil War. They are very similar periods to one another, where we strived for reconciliation. In Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Lightfoot, after all, is killed by Kennedy, a soldier, and in his mind, he has this feeling of having participated in a war. I believe his last words are: “I feel like we’re heroes,” as if they came back from hell, which is the case. But, during the war, people of the type depicted in The Deer Hunter, were ignored by the media; in general, we belittled them, we treated them stupidly, like reactionaries, like fascists, it was unjust. I found, and I find in general, in that environment, a lot more intelligence and sensitivity regarding what happens in the world; and I find that in general, the people of Los Angeles and New York who wrote about the war navigate between these two cities, plus Paris and Saigon, and it is very rare that they reach these people, they don’t know them; they have narrow opinions about them, and don’t look further. After the war, and up till the end, these people showed themselves to be more capable than them in changing opinions that they professed beforehand; they had a bigger intellectual adaptability. A lot of people from New York are still fixed on the war; none of that which happened in these seven or eight years has changed their opinions. And of course, for a lot of people who write about the war, this became the center of their life. They don’t want to go beyond it; they’re hung up on that period, they’ve become reactionaries. That which isn’t at all like the case of that environment is what interests me: I found a lot more flexibility and honesty in those who went to the front. I found that they had more courage for adapting themselves to changes in their life, in their family, in the country, than the people who didn’t go but write about the war. That isn’t to say that there weren’t great journalists, people of great courage, for taking very difficult positions from the start of the war. A number of diplomats, Foreign Affairs officials, took the position very early, saying that it was a situation without an exit, and furthermore, wrong. Doing that, a lot of people ruined their careers. A lot of courageous people spoke up early on, and were buried, ignored. But in general, American journalists were wrong for pushing around the public, and they did not reach people on the subject of the war; I think they still feel guilty. They wait lasted until Walter Cronkite changed his mind: they waited for somebody to make the move for them, and when that was done by a visible figure like Walter Cronkite, they followed. This explains in part the anger of critics against The Deer Hunter, which in some ways encroached on their territory; I think that journalists felt that they were fooled by the administration, by McNamara, by Johnson, that they were had; they were, for too long, without any critical sense; I believe that still torments them and it was what mattered to them when they changed their positions. Nobody attached any importance to it.

Cahiers: What research into the war did you conduct for the film?

M. Cimino: Joann Carelli conducted a lot of research from private television channels, in New York. She and her assistant saw perhaps thousands of meters of film shot during the war. There was a great amount of material, because the films arrived daily, at the end of the war. She gathered a certain amount of documents which we kept in our library of newsreels – some had already been shown, but the majority were never broadcast on television. It was very important work, which took several months. I forgot how much we finally assembled, but it represented several hours of film.

Cahiers: Where did you film?

M. Cimino: We filmed in Thailand, on the River Kwai, near the Burmese border; we wanted to film near the Cambodian border, but we couldn’t find a suitable river over there; they were all too shallow that year; so we went west, next to Burma. We lived and filmed over there during monsoon season. The rest was shot in Bangkok, and around Bangkok. Thailand was the best solution, because we also had to show Saigon - and in Bangkok, we used the streets, like Pathong, to represent an area of R&R; the architecture of Saigon is very close to that of Bangkok, the people really resemble each other.

Cahiers: Now that I know a little of how you work, I would say that it was a bold artistic move to depict, in the central scene of the film, events which never really took place: the Russian roulette… You had taken great care over the historical details of the war, and smack in the middle, you introduced purely imaginary events.

M. Cimino: This has already been so controversial that I’m tired of talking about it. A lot of people say that this really happened, and many say the opposite. Some journalists allege to have witnessed similar scenes; some people recounted seeing such games, but among women; some have sworn and still swear that it never happened. I find that all beside the point. What is important is that it’s very difficult to find the means to express, in a film, that dominant aspect of war: it’s what the majority of people could tell you; it’s the waiting. Each time there’s a firefight, it disappears; it’s extremely fast; but there is a terribly long period of waiting before; waiting for an event, waiting to be overtaken, waiting for a random shot. How do you show that type of tension, how do you make the spectator feel it? It’s a simple problem: how can I communicate to a public, in telling my story, what exactly this tension is? By making people wait five hours in a foxhole, with background sound of explosions? On the level of mise en scène, this isn’t very good… You have to find a means of communicating it, in a clear and vivid manner. Yet, contrary to what happened during WWII, the people of our generation were under the influence of Vietnam seven days a week, through this damned news. We were saturated with images of the war. Nothing like the people who, during WWII, saw the newsreels at the cinema each Saturday, so that each film made the war become an experience fresh and vivid. The contrary happened to us: our imagination was saturated, it had too much information. So we started to minimize it, ignore it. The problem was the following: how to communicate the tension, the experience of combat?

Cahiers: My favorite moment is when De Niro recreates the game of Russian roulette…

M. Cimino: What he tells Stanley is that he's killed; what he tries to do is teach Nick, in some way, to make sure it isn’t repeated. He tries to free Nick and the others from their romantic ideas, their illusions. There is a very short shot in that scene of a deer that he doesn’t shoot – you’ll notice that, when they argue, in the car, there is a nearly subliminal shot, only eight or nine frames, of a young deer; De Niro sees it take off like an arrow, none of the others see it; but he doesn’t fire on it; he could have done it, the shot was easy. If others had seen it, they would have all probably fired. But I think he’s not fully prepared for the events that happen. During the hunt, he talks about “one shot”; he attaches a lot of importance to it. In Vietnam, he doesn’t use a gun; he uses a flame-thrower and destroys a North Vietnamese soldier, in a way that would have been terrifying, unthinkable for him beforehand. He’s still the same person, but he has become conscience of a thing, in that war, which he wasn’t prepared for. We see a North Vietnamese soldier throw a grenade into a trench filled with women and children. It’s something shocking for a character like De Niro, and for us. Then you see De Niro kill him with the flame-thrower, not clean, not one shot… he shields their escape by emptying his cartridge… So he also changed a lot.

Cahiers: I understand that some criticized Meryl Streep’s character in this film.

M. Cimino: They criticized the fact she wasn’t very independent. It is interesting to notice at which point the articles about The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate reveal, for the majority of critics, a deep – how do you say – “petit bourgeois.” They wouldn’t recognize a real worker if he popped out of their toasters. That a girl like her, in a small town like that, where everyone knows everyone, where everyone knows what you do, where everyone talks about it, would leave her father’s to go live, in a trailer, with those two guys, and stay after only one of them returns! That shows that she is a character with a very strong will; one must be very strong to act thusly, in a community like that, where religion plays a very important role. A large part of those same critics couldn’t accept the roller-skating scene in Heaven’s Gate. It’s unimaginable; there were people who thought that this scene was made because skating became fashionable! They refused to accept the fact that this activity existed in that period, and that often cattle-drivers went out on the rink, got drunk, and began skating; there weren’t any women around so these guys were sometimes very tired, but they continued. It was a very popular activity. They couldn’t understand: “If these people were so poor and so oppressed, why were they allowed to dance?” But it’s what the poor could do better than anything else: they didn’t have the money needed for other entertainment. It’s still true today, the whole world over. In the favelas of Rio, in La Boca in Buenos Aires, what do the poor do on weekends? They dance, for god’s sake; it’s from them that dances come from, not the upper classes. I was astounded, appalled, to see that that kind of ignorant criticism could exist. You show them farmers in the new world: they demand to see them crawling, not having fun. You show them an oppressed class: they demand to see people oppressed every second of the film. It’s disconcerting.

Cahiers: Why do you think The Deer Hunter was a world-wide hit?

M. Cimino: I was surprised by the rest of the world’s reaction. Everywhere, the emotion of the audience was the same as here. I never dared dream of that success, mainly because the film dealt with Vietnam. Maybe it’s because it shows ordinary people, who, like other ordinary people, have a lot of courage in them, that particular kind of courage which galvanizes us; people without a doubt identified themselves with them, they identify themselves with those that resemble themselves; the fact that it’s about a different culture, the fact that it’s about Vietnam, wasn’t ultimately important; it was simply a war, about ordinary people faced with disaster, and reacting with a lot of courage. What happens to this small group, this small family – because this small group of friends forms a family – is shared by everyone. The tragedy of growing up, growing old, the tragedy of marriage, of war; every culture experiences that. This is what people identified with, and this has nothing to do with Vietnam.

Cahiers: What attracted you to the story of the Johnson County War for Heaven’s Gate?

M. Cimino: The history of the West, in general, is inspiring, it overflows with events; it’s a source of constant fascination. The episode of this small war, when I came across it, fascinated me, I really don’t know why. Maybe it was above-all else the death list, drafted in due form, sanctioned by the central and federal government. It’s what always interested me; knowing how one makes decisions which bring about the death of people. McNamara, Kissinger and the others; this group sits at a table and makes political decisions concerning Vietnam – more bombs or more troops? Their decision always entails the death of thousands of people. The decisions of war were made with the best reasons in the world, no doubt; lawful reasons like protecting the peace, protecting economic and political systems. I believe they are always made with those intentions, and calmly too! A group of men, sitting around a table, in a hotel suite, in the middle of eating breakfast or lunch, eating some choice food off of fine china, in a pleasant setting, calmly discussing how many people to kill…

Cahiers: I read what Asa Mercer wrote about the war; it’s a book (“Powder River Invasion”) which the French like to call very “committed”. It’s a book of reminiscences, written to clear up the attitudes of certain people and find out who was on the right or wrong side. You often come across words like “the shame”… It’s a book which one is surprised to find in the history of the West.

M. Cimino: No, you find a lot of writing of that type. It’s not so exceptional in itself; but when you come across it, you’re amazed.

Cahiers: Some didn’t make note of it, but it seems to me that you were faithful, on a number of points, to the description of events given in the book. In fact, a number of details which the critics reproached you for came from the book.

M. Cimino: People used Heaven’s Gate to vent so many things, particularly the critics. Firstly, they rejected the material reality of the film. Yet our perception of the West is molded more by films than by the actual history of the West. The same people who we think of as very cultivated have the idea that the West was something like what films have shown us. What they have seen, or what they remember, is what they are accustomed to; bad, rushed movies, where there were never any extras in the background, the street were always empty, because it was simply cheaper to do so. I’ve listened to people tell me: “Why telegraph poles; did they even have electricity in that period?”; “Why are the streets so full of people; what are these people doing?” Have you ever seen a photograph from the era? Paradoxically, it’s one of the periods of American history which has the most photographic documentation. It coincides with the sudden blossoming of photography. The photographers captured everything in photos, and we had a very complete documentation of the era from looking only at photos. What they always show is an enthusiasm in these towns in development and construction; the stiffness of buildings, of people, of clothes; but the activity, the energy, the crowds which flocked to the major streets, the businesses; we have never shown that. We are used to seeing the sets from films, not real places. We are used to Old Tucson, which has been used maybe 150 times for 150 different films; it’s been thirty years of seeing the same town, without knowing it. My artistic director on Heaven’s Gate, who was also that of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, built, I believe, the original Old Tucson, and he worked on it again about thirty times, changing and remodeling it over the course of years. What they created, in fact, is a cinematic reality instead of a historic reality. People didn’t want to confront this idea, so they began by rejecting the material reality shown: the crowds, the businesses, the telegraph poles, the skates, people’s clothes, and the formalism in the nineteenth century manner of speaking. In the film, there isn’t a single building, a single interior design, that wasn’t inspired, in one way or another, by photographs from that era. Each element of the wardrobe, both the principals’ and the extras’ costumes, was designed in part by photographs, and yet all of that was completely rejected. Even the music was rejected; some think that the music of the West was born in the head of some god, as is; I wanted music which was as it was then; it was the beginning of what we know as modern Western music, but they still didn’t have it fully established; it was still close to its origins: for example, the skating music has Cajun feel to it; the rest of the music consists of Russian, Ukrainian, German and Polish folklore; “The Blue Danube” was a popular song in that era. But they threw all that aside.

Cahiers: Did you try to do as in The Deer Hunter, to show a reality which has been masked by its representations?

M. Cimino: Exactly. But The Deer Hunter was easier to accept, because it was contemporary, and it’s a reality which is still part of our visual baggage. Even to this day, we still recognize that small-town life very well. In Heaven’s Gate, it’s a question of going a hundred years backwards, and people can’t compare that period with what they have seen in other films; not with what they know, but what they’ve seen. Yet it was different from what they had seen up until then. This wasn’t the confirmation of something accepted, it was new. I’m talking about critics. When you read books on this period, on the war, even the clothes, the wardrobe, the hats of the mercenaries – there is a photograph of this group of mercenaries, with their names underneath, like a class photo; they are all wearing hats and they exactly resemble those in the film. The costumes, the ties are the same. The group in front is sitting, those behind them are kneeling, and the furthest group is standing. Even the death of Nate Champion: “Why did they shoot so many times?” – They found the real Nate Champion with 26 bullets in his body, and it’s precisely what we redid with Christopher Walken, and even that wasn’t accepted. The rejection was total, even had the film stuck exactly to the historical facts.

Cahiers: What alarmed me in the film, and which I later found in Mercers’ book, is that Champion died like a hero, guns by his side, just as you depicted, while writing his last testament.

M. Cimino: I used exactly what he put on paper.

Cahiers: You said somewhere that you weren’t so accurate concerning the war: that can maybe lend to the confusion.

M. Cimino: Yes and no. In other words, there were many elements which were very accurate. Likewise, for Vietnam, we worked in details for the hospital, the row of refugees on the road, the way which De Niro dressed, and the embassy sequence. We tried to be very accurate in what we did, in general; on the other hand, we took the liberty to use reality as we pleased, to not be left chained to the events down to the letter. But I don’t believe that we distorted reality enormously, whether in The Deer Hunter or Heaven’s Gate. I think that in spirit and tone they reflect a certain reality, a certain truth.

Cahiers: That also brings us back to what you said about places: how you find those that are suitable and how you idealize them. Could you maybe talk about the creation of towns: we have already spoken about Clairton; how did you choose a location for Sweetwater?

M. Cimino: I know the region; I often went there, and I always had, in the corner of my mind, the intention of using it one day. The problem was I wanted a town which appeared to be in the mountains, and not with mountains in the background; a place which looked stuck in the middle of mountains. We were stationed in Kalispell, to the west of the Divide, two good hours from this town. There was no discernible town; we needed extras for the roller-skating, which had to be based near a populated place. I traveled a lot in Montana, Washington State, Colorado, Idaho; we had driven 20,000 miles in Colorado alone, crossing the mountains, trying to find landscapes, prospects which had yet to be used. I wanted to show places which weren’t visually exhausted, which we haven’t seen. We are accustomed to landscapes from the southwest, towns like Old Tucson which we’ve already seen, against our will, in 200 films. We have seen and re-seen those places; I wanted to give people the impression that they were in the West for the first time; I thought that it would be exciting for them. These places had never been photographed, never been used; they radiate very strong vibrations. That took a lot of work, because a lot of those places are found in the National Park, and you have to respect the ecology: thus the exteriors of Sweetwater, the entire town is built on a raised three-feet platform, so as to protect the grass that is underneath; few people know that; in fact, it was better, because when the wagons crossed the town, they made a brilliant sound, which they don’t naturally produce; I put mikes in the dust, under the roads, and when they make their mass entrance at the end, one hears a marvelous sound. That’s the exterior scenes: we built the interior sets at Kalispell and in that region; which means we had shot the interior scenes months before those in exterior. We had decided that the lighting would be very directional, with the exception of the skating, which is in a tent; we had to get dark interiors, filled with smoke. So we had to determine, three months in advance, precisely where the sun would be. I don’t think it has any mistakes, I believe it’s completely accurate. In the bar scene, for example, where the light comes from the south, through the front door, when you see the exterior, the sun is at the right place; people didn’t pay it any attention, but it’s accurate. It was a method of searching for new exteriors, a new look, something different. The work was difficult, because the places were separated by 200 miles, but I don’t think you notice it, like you don’t notice that Clairton is composed of seven or eight towns. The same in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, you don’t know that it takes place in the same state, you feel as if you travel the entire Northwest. It’s the reality of the film which is important, I believe; the illusion was successful, in general. These places were found searching, in car or on foot, not in helicopter, on mountain trails, on dirt roads. You see fucking all from a helicopter. You get a feeling from arriving at a place, from discovering it; you perceive it differently, if you find it by accident; when someone tells you to go see such and such place, it never works, you must find it yourself. In general, when you follow your intuition, you find the place then you know that it’ll work; you find what you need, if you really need it, you find it; it’s a question of faith; that’s it, its waiting. We always had trouble returning the cars that we rented; the renters always thought that the odometers displayed incorrect numbers; we took a car for a week, and it showed 10,000 miles; they believed that the meter was broken.

Cahiers: Were you inspired by photos while building that town?

M. Cimino: In part, yes. The church appeared in a photo, all the tents of the town also, with their leather dressing; the bar, all of it, interior and exterior; the interior of the skating-rink also is a very typical building, a framework with a tent over it. The name 'Heaven’s Gate" is purely imaginary, however.

Cahiers: Is it pulled from Shakespeare?

M. Cimino: Yes.

Cahiers: The interior appears completely unreal, above all because it’s so big.

M. Cimino: Those are the exact dimensions of the wedding hall in The Deer Hunter, 40 by 100, and the same amount of people, 200, with the band at one end.

Cahiers: The representation of immigrants like a community, at the skating-rink or the bar, is parallel to the opening scene, at Harvard: they are communities with their rituals, their order and their own social divisions.

M. Cimino: Yes. They have already started becoming all that which Averill (Kris Kristofferson) has rejected. Its one reason for Averill’s disillusionment: he sees that transformation, that evolution; he sees it in those divisions which already mark the community; the merchants are separated from the others; already, they want to adapt themselves to something as horrible as the death-list. It’s the natural order of things, they group together and distinguish themselves from others in their own way; they don’t dance to Strauss, they dance to their own music. A carriage doesn’t circle around 800 magnificent dances gliding through the lawn of a college; it navigates a small, overwhelmed main street of a village bordering a lake, in the middle of mountains. Averill doesn’t take into account the importance of material thing for those people, for Ella (Isabelle Huppert) particularly. He doesn’t take into account the importance of the gift which he gives her himself, what it means, what it really represents. After all, he rejects the material aspect of his world; he’s certainly an idealist, and I think his gift is more a whim than anything else, and she takes it as something more meaningful. The aristocrats who are idealists are always disappointed when the people which they hope to help express an interest in material things; they expect in some way to find the reflection of their own idealism, and they encounter it very rarely.

Cahiers: I suppose that’s the outcome of the optimism which we see at the beginning of the film. You without doubt know the famous essay by Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”, which talks about the closing of the Frontier, one year after the Johnson County War. Did you want to show the end of something in the film?

M. Cimino: In a literal sense, it was the end of one century and the start of another: so, yes, it was the end of one thing and the beginning of another. The America of 1900 was certainly very different from the America of 1870: Newport, in particular, could not have existed before: it required a particular combination of forces to produce that display of extravagant opulence. Do you know Newport, in Rhode Island? It doesn’t look like anywhere else; rows and rows of extravagant mansions. It was the place in America which contained the most wealth, and they flaunted it with the grandest ostentation; and it happened over the span of fifteen years! So it was the end of an era and the beginning of another.

Cahiers: I think that your decision to add an epilogue and a prologue situated the event in history. Furthermore, Averill talks constantly about aging. Perhaps because Heaven’s Gate deals, above all, with passed times.

M. Cimino: Yes, it’s a film about passed time, and about a man who reflects on passed time, on his journey, on his past. Often, it seems to us barely possible to have lived through so much, and to still be alive, to have survived. How was I able to pass through such turmoil, so many events, meet so many people, so many things, which rush by in a frame of time which appears, to me, so short? How did I get there, how did I accomplish what I did, how and why did I survive? What is real in all that and what did I embellish? What part of my relationship with others was real, or were they more or less imaginary? Did my life really take place as I remember it; if it was different, what was it? It’s the type of question you ask yourself when you think on your past. It’s as if all the film consisted of flash-backs from his meditation at the end, on the boat. He’s someone who felt pressed to do what he believed was right; at the beginning of his life, he felt obligated to do what Reverend Gordon (Joseph Cotten) proposed: to act responsibly, work hard, have a useful life, conduct oneself according to the church, give his heart and mind to his country. In the end, he’s not sure of what he’s done; he poses a lot of questions about what he’s lived through; he is drawn anew towards what he is familiar with, he returns towards his class of origin; like Fitzgerald said, he retreats back into his money – I believe those are his words. It appears to him, at that moment, on the boat, that it was impossible that all that could have happened: the more he thinks about it, the more the mystery grows in his eyes. All those people are literally gone, in fact; it’s not like they were still alive; they have all gone; and that amplifies the impression of the unreality of that moment; it is impossible to go back, to see them, to speak to them, to ask them questions… I think that boats have always been a refuge; the people who sail, who fly planes, always say that they are freed from problems up there or on the sea: it’s a relief; the problems appear much less real.

Cahiers: You feel, in this passage, that this which they call reality is put into question. It’s what also happens in the roller-skating scene, which you play out in the mountains. You spend the entire scene with the dancers, then Averill sends Bridges to go bring the carriage, and you have a close-up of Ella. Her facial expression has something of worry or melancholy. Then you come back to the interior and all the dancers are gone, without you having seen them leave.

M. Cimino: It seems important: at a certain moment, the people disappear to her, she returns to her head with thoughts of what is going to occur between them, what their relationship is going to become. She is intelligent enough, visibly, to understand that they are from two completely separate worlds. Like I already said, she interprets his gift in a completely different manner than he does. Now that you gave her more, she expects more; her expectations increase with the gift. It’s in human nature; the more you give yourself, the more you desire, the more you need. But she isn’t sure of him; he isn’t someone who really expresses his feelings.

Cahiers: The relationship between Averill, Ella and Champion is often ambiguous or difficult to decipher…

M. Cimino: That was part of my intentions, to keep that ambiguity, to let the spectator draw their own conclusions: about whom she'll end with, what she’ll do; it isn’t precise. It’s like real relationships, not like fiction, where nothing is left to the imagination. In life, in all love triangles, whether between three men, two women and one woman, two women and one man, you’re never sure of the equation, because it always changes; you never can tell.

Cahiers: To take another example, you never see the friendship between Averill and Champion: you can infer it, on the part of a phrase: “Mr. Averill is lucky to have a friend like you”, but you never see that friendship in the picture. Their rivalry for Ella, and the political situation, has already spoiled that friendship; in a sense, it is left aside from the picture. Why did you leave something like that aside? You also said that you didn’t want the spectator to know everything about a character when they see them for the first time, but only when the film ends. Can you elaborate on that?

M. Cimino: I don’t know what I can add to the question… I wanted to say something important: there are often moments where I think… just in the pleasure of making the film; you feel a joy using the means of expression; the pleasure it gives you, the pleasure it can give to others; particularly in the musical sequences. You should not leave aside the pure pleasure of the form in-itself; it’s like driving a good car: there is also a joy in pure speed. You don’t have to lose sight of it when you talk about the work of somebody, or of films in general. It is rare that the cinema, as a means of expression, is used to make one feel joy. Film is also its form, and it explains in part the pleasure that one gets watching the films of Kubrick; the control which he exercises on formal elements is completely remarkable.

Cahiers: I asked in fact a question about form, and it has to do, without doubt, with what you said about speed.

M. Cimino: I don’t know what else you can say on the subject, but that film seems to end very quickly, because it isn’t encumbered by that which encumbers the majority of films. With certainty, the characters explain themselves, they explain one-another, they explain the meaning of the story; they say what they feel, what the others feel, what you should feel. To return to your question about Champion, it didn’t seem, to me, to have been an important element of the story: if I thought it was, I would have shown it.

In The Deer Hunter, you miss, by all evidence, the Vietnamese point-of-view; it isn’t the subject of the film, why talk about it? It’s a deliberate choice. This isn’t to say that it’s the right choice, but that you consider such-and-such aspect secondary in comparison to such-and-such other. Maybe I expect too much understanding, too many deductions from people; it’s possible.

Cahiers: You also put so many elements into the film that you can’t see them all from watching it once, or even twice. I’m talking about the details in the appearance of things and peoples, the faces, the costumes; it’s all like a foreign language, because you have never seen it before. Yet they’re very significant details; for example, you notice that one character is better dressed than another, even if it’s only an extra.

M. Cimino: I loathe the word extra; it’s horrible, because you use people as you define them. Extras – foreign to the scene. For example, the big street-scene in Kalispell, when Averill arrives by train; you see that enormous crowd, very clearly: everyone does not have the same rank; all different social level and classes are represented in that street. The people – the extras – are arranged with great detail. Each extra was carefully chosen, dressed and even redressed if it wasn’t right; we cut the hair off some of them. We classified them, by such sorts of groups one could find in a station – there are figures of immigrants, of merchants; we divided the people into squads, into sections; there is a procession of masons in the streets. All the society of a town is visible in the street. It isn’t a concept; the idea is that you must be able to look at any part of that immense screen and isolate from it any small piece according to your choice – you should maybe try, the next time you see it, taking a small telescope and scanning the screen with it, examining and isolating small parts. I think that, whatever part of the screen you choose, you won’t be disappointed: you will find equally swarming activity everywhere. Why do that? The majority of people will go see the film once, although, in cases where a film is successful, many people go see it two or three times; it’s true, even for Heaven’s Gate: many people returned two or three times to see it; they also rewatched The Deer Hunter many times. It’s because, especially for a period film, you don’t want to violate people; you don’t want them to say, suddenly: “Oh my god, there’s a bus!” for example. In many major films, films which were successes – I’m not saying which – you see the extras, in numerous scenes, without know what they say, but it’s clear. They’re counting sheep; when they should be singing, it’s obvious they don’t know the words; or else they are completely irrelevant to the shot. That weakens the film, even if the public isn’t directly conscious of it, they notice it; it forms a deposit in them, and people, I believe, respond to films from that strata deposited in them. You threaten the film; you also threaten the credibility of characters, by lack of judgment. If you pay great attention to the place you film, you must do the same for the people you film. The effectiveness of The Deer Hunter comes from you accepting the reality of that community of people, and their environment. You can look at any part of the screen during the wedding reception; you’ll see everyone participating, everyone taking part in that event. It was done very carefully, not out of self-indulgence, but to make the story more credible.

Cahiers: There is nothing but credibility – everything is obviously very important: even if people don’t see all the details in that street-scene, on first viewing…

M. Cimino: There is even a hanging; they hang a man in the middle of all that activity!

Cahiers: …what’s important is that the details are there to be read, if someone wants to see them. The film doesn’t create the portrait of a socially homogeneous world, but of a very differentiated world.

M. Cimino: Take the example of a hundred-piece orchestra: if one bow is slightly twisted, it is easy to tell which person doesn’t realize it, by all means. But the conductor will hear it. But why should he nit-pick? The public, 99% of the time, won’t hear a thing. Why is Balanchine endlessly done, not only by the soloists, but all the ballet? The public only watches the center of the stage. People don’t ask themselves questions about choreography, the direction, and the composers. If a director does it, he passes for a narcissist. The big battle scenes of Kurosawa are, in general, worked to the smallest detail. We shouldn’t have to talk about it; it’s simply part of our work. See what happens in the American auto-industry: the sales of Japanese cars are always rising, while American sales continue to decline: because the people have that which they perceive as a better product, better made. The lack of taste in good work can have disastrous results for a country, for all of society; it doesn’t simply concern fabricated products, but our entire system of values. It is important to value good work and the pride from working.

Cahiers: It seems to me that the majority of criticism directed at the film concern the way it was made and the deliberate choices you made. For example, the soundtrack, in certain scenes, isn’t conventional: it is particularly striking in the scene next to the train, with Cully and Averill, where you listen with difficulty to what they say, you miss dialogue. It is all the more striking as it’s a scene with very important exposition.

M. Cimino: My position was very simple: if you are next to a locomotive, among all those people, all that noise, you must strain your ears to listen, and you miss parts of what’s said to you. We’ve all seen scenes in movies in airports, in subways or on trains, where you don’t hear a single sound, nothing but the dialogue: it’s only a picture of two people in the act of speaking! All other forms of life are suspended; we abandon that which was in progress all around. I wanted people to listen more attentively, listen perhaps in the manner which the characters must listen: they’ll bend down, they’ll work a little bit so as to catch everything, perhaps they’ll read their lips; I expect a lot from people. The public has become lazy; maybe that was going too far, but there is also a great density in the soundtrack, numerous details. The sound was also recorded as carefully as the visuals. If there’s a market on one side of the screen, you hear the appropriate sounds, just as, if on the other side, other activities happen. The soundtrack is very rich. People aren’t perhaps used to that, they expect the dialogue to be emphasized: I believe this comes above all from television. That leads us to this representation of intense activity: when a scene includes a whole place, it includes many people, therefore many sounds, all sorts of peripheral sounds. When Averill walks down the street, for example, to go to the store, you can remove the sounds, it’s very easy, you erase it, and you pass directly to the soundtrack of the store. I wanted you to feel what it was like to walk down a street in that period: to follow those noisy wagons, to cross all that activity, what you felt, what you heard. People made so much dust; my god, was it dusty! That makes the streets dirty… when hundreds of wagons go around, they raise dust. And very often, we took the time to record the background sound. In the store, for example, we recorded numerous conversations, with the intention of inserting them into the soundtrack later. This isn’t general background noise; you hear people, in a corner, argue over the price of a knife, discuss the merits of a particular rifle… each of those people are engaged in a very specific activity and you hear them.

Cahiers: That is the second time that you’ve said: “Maybe I expect too much from the public.” But you have received letters on the subject: what do they say?

M. Cimino: All the letters I received told me that people understand the film perfectly. They essentially spoke of the critical reaction. I didn’t receive a single letter saying: “I don’t understand”; the letters say the contrary, and they come from people of all ages and all walks of life; thoughts, well-written, some longer than twenty pages. Some people in New York took an airplane to come see the four-hour version; people moved in groups to go see it. It was very gratifying, in fact, to see that they didn’t believe what they read. Curiously, many cited Moby Dick, taking into account the initial reception that it had received. They all used the words “flowing” and “like a river.” Many said that they had seen the film two or three times and that they appreciated it more and more with each viewing. All wrote to me: “We hope that you aren’t discouraged.” Many knew that I worked on a modern version of The Fountainhead. They sent me quotes from The Fountainhead, from other novels about individualism. Nearly all said something on the subject.

Cahiers: Do you think people were offended by your political positions?

M. Cimino: I don’t see it as a political film. I don’t see The Deer Hunter as a political film. I really don’t like politics. They aren’t stories concerning politics, but stories about people, caught up in events, whatever its reasons may be. They reveal the event. Americans are very poor, on all levels, in that which concerns political statements. We don’t know how to make them, and when we do, we make them badly. We aren’t adapted to that.

Cahiers: They say you’re always trying something new, and your style evolved very quickly from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot to Heaven’s Gate. How do you see your current situation? For example, would you be interested in going back and making another “genre” film, where one finds what one expects, like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot still was; or will you make another film like The Deer Hunter?

M. Cimino: It will always be people who will interest me, I believe. It’s people who give you the urge to make movies, characters. You have an attraction to a character, if he’s interesting enough, that what’s important. I don’t see myself making a film because it’s from a certain genre, except a musical comedy; I would love to make a musical comedy, it provides a special pleasure which tempts me; I think it would take me to a state of pure joy which I dream about. I have already begun a story about Indians; in short, it’s a story of a boy who wasn’t entitled to his vision and because of it, he doesn’t have a name. To receive a name, he attains his vision, and when he has a name, he must earn it; it’s a story of the American plains, it takes place in the Dakotas and Montana. I have two other subjects on the West, on which I’ve been working for some time: they are all journeys in that genre. I hope to eventually make a film on the gangster Frank Costello.

Cahiers: Are you tempted to protect your rear-end, like Hitchcock said?

M. Cimino: We are all confronted with the reality of the film industry. You must have a sense of money to make films in our age. A failure doesn’t make your life easier. Hitchcock could make films to protect his behind, Ford also…

Cahiers: “Make one for them,” he would say.

M. Cimino: Even when Hitchcock made films for them, to protect his rear-end, they had something special. Making films isn’t easy; you always have spats, harassment: it’s an unpredictable profession. What’s important is that you and others continue to make films; up to the end, Hitchcock and Ford stayed true themselves, they worked late, like Huston right now, and it is amazing to see the energy that they retained after all the obstacles that they’ve overcome. When you think of what Cukor suffered, when he was fired from filming Gone With the Wind; he worked three years to prepare that film, he was consumed by it, he filmed several weeks, and then he’s replaced on a film which became the most well-known and most important of its era, it must have been a terrible blow! That shouldn’t have been as easy to experience as it looks in retrospect: not only did he made it through that period, but he continued to make marvelous films. His parking spot is next to mine, at MGM, and as I said once in an interview, I believe it was at Cannes: Selznick is dead, Thalberg is dead, Louis B. Mayer as well, and the guy who’s my neighbor at MGM is named George Cukor, he was still making films at MGM! It was true; he was making Rich and Famous. It’s very hard work. When I arrived here for the first time, I think it was because I had to meet Clint, I was invited to a party, I think it was Clint who asked me to go. I didn’t know what it was; I though it was going to be some sort of screening, he had said there was going to be an awards ceremony. I wandered around all corners, looking to recognize people; it was a tribute to David Lean, and there were only filmmakers; Hitchcock was there, I believe, Capra also, Huston; all those who were alive were there. We saw twenty minutes of film-clips from Lean, and, as I understood, Lean isn’t sensitive. I forgot who handed him the award; everyone stood up and I believe they gave him a ten-minute ovation, all standing: only filmmakers, no press, no television. It was an extraordinary moment, Lean cried. Seeing Hitchcock, Capra, Huston, Billy Wilder, Minnelli… he couldn’t find the words. Who were they applauding? Someone who had gone out there, as they had themselves: what a marvelous tribute! It was so sweet, so enthusiastic, so personal; it must have been a shock for him to see that bunch of old marksmen standing to applaud one of their own. They all know what it is to be booed.

(Interview conducted by Bill Krohn in Los Angeles, the 27th and 28th of April, 1982. Translated from the English by Francine Arakélian)

Entretien avec Michael Cimino, Cahiers du cinéma nº 337, junho 1982

3 comentários:

Diego Assunção disse...

God bless you for that. Há tanto tempo longe do cinema. Só um testemunho dessa grandeza para levantar o defunto. Obrigado mesmo, velho.

bruno andrade disse...

Vais à exibição do filme?

Diego Assunção disse...

Estava totalmente por fora. Fiquei sabendo da exibição em 35 mm ontem, pela lista da Cinética. Descobrindo de última hora, ficou inviável. Mas um dia ainda vou ver esse filme no cinema. Esse e "Era uma vez na América".

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