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Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists

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Heaven's Gate is probably the most discussed, least seen film in modern movie history. Its notoriety is so great that its title has become a generic term for disaster, for ego run rampant, for epic mismanagement, for wanton extravagance. It was also the film that brought down one of Hollywood’s major studios—United Artists, the company founded in 1919 by Douglas Fairbanks, Heaven's Gate is probably the most discussed, least seen film in modern movie history. Its notoriety is so great that its title has become a generic term for disaster, for ego run rampant, for epic mismanagement, for wanton extravagance. It was also the film that brought down one of Hollywood’s major studios—United Artists, the company founded in 1919 by Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, D. W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin. Steven Bach was senior vice president and head of worldwide production for United Artists at the time of the filming of Heaven's Gate, and apart from the director and producer, the only person to witness the film’s evolution from beginning to end. Combining wit, extraordinary anecdotes, and historical perspective, he has produced a landmark book on Hollywood and its people, and in so doing, tells a story of human absurdity that would have made Chaplin proud.


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Heaven's Gate is probably the most discussed, least seen film in modern movie history. Its notoriety is so great that its title has become a generic term for disaster, for ego run rampant, for epic mismanagement, for wanton extravagance. It was also the film that brought down one of Hollywood’s major studios—United Artists, the company founded in 1919 by Douglas Fairbanks, Heaven's Gate is probably the most discussed, least seen film in modern movie history. Its notoriety is so great that its title has become a generic term for disaster, for ego run rampant, for epic mismanagement, for wanton extravagance. It was also the film that brought down one of Hollywood’s major studios—United Artists, the company founded in 1919 by Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, D. W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin. Steven Bach was senior vice president and head of worldwide production for United Artists at the time of the filming of Heaven's Gate, and apart from the director and producer, the only person to witness the film’s evolution from beginning to end. Combining wit, extraordinary anecdotes, and historical perspective, he has produced a landmark book on Hollywood and its people, and in so doing, tells a story of human absurdity that would have made Chaplin proud.

30 review for Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists

  1. 5 out of 5

    Terri

    “Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called 'Ego'.” - Friedrich Nietzsche This witty book was recommended to me by another fellow film buff as one of the best books on Hollywood from a studios stand point. It was written by the late United Artists senior vice-president, Steven Bach, about one of the most expensive flops in movie history. It is the story of how a thirty-five year old director named Michael Cimino approached United Artists and Steven Bach with the idea of doing a seven million “Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called 'Ego'.” - Friedrich Nietzsche This witty book was recommended to me by another fellow film buff as one of the best books on Hollywood from a studios stand point. It was written by the late United Artists senior vice-president, Steven Bach, about one of the most expensive flops in movie history. It is the story of how a thirty-five year old director named Michael Cimino approached United Artists and Steven Bach with the idea of doing a seven million dollar (medium budget) American western film, inspired by Wyoming's 1892 Johnson County War. Mr. Cimino who had just finished directing the academy award-winning “The Deer Hunter” and the studio was very pleased with him. So VP Stephen Bach gave the go-ahead based on the studio's past dealings with him. The film called “Heaven's Gate” had a excellent ensemble cast with Jeff Bridges, Kris Kristofferson, John Hurt, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Hubbert and many other fine actors. It was based on a dispute between land barons and immigrants in Wyoming. They started shooting in April, 1979 and was scheduled for a Christmas release that year. Quickly things started going terribly wrong, starting with endless retakes, and the budget began to climb and climb. The director, Michael Cimino, had a vision that the film would be a massive epic now and he pushed it nearly four times over its planned budget. Stephen Bach writes of a first screening (the film is now five hours long) and realizes with absolute horror that it was a terrible mess of a film. Unfortunately, on general release in April 1981, the critics hated it. Critic of the New York Times, Vincent Canby, wrote: "Heaven's Gate fails so completely you might suspect Mr Cimino sold his soul to the devil to obtain the success of The Deer Hunter and the devil has just come around to collect.” The public hated it. Of its 1979/1980's $44 million dollar cost, only $1.5 million was recovered at the US box-office. Stephen Bach and other executives were fired and it forced the famous studio, started in 1919, United Artists to close down its doors forever. My main complaint about the book is director Michael Cimino is the main villain and the author the unwitting victim. In retrospect, it was also the United Artists executives who were at fault for not providing strong leadership or even having the experience to rein in to a director who was clearly in over his head. However it is an entertaining read and I loved reading about how Hollywood dealt with this disaster. Four Stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kirsti

    I read lots of books about the movies . . . but this one's my favorite. I read lots of books about the movies . . . but this one's my favorite.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Roz Milner

    A long look at the chaotic making of Heaven's Gate and the downfall of a Hollywood studio, Stephen Bach's Final Cut is absorbing, detailed and messy. After all, the downfall of United Artists is often blamed on the singular failure of Gate, but as Bach's book shows, there was a lot more it than just that. The book offers several points where had UA acted differently, they might still be in business. They range from everything from the unique contract they gave Gate writer and director Michael Cim A long look at the chaotic making of Heaven's Gate and the downfall of a Hollywood studio, Stephen Bach's Final Cut is absorbing, detailed and messy. After all, the downfall of United Artists is often blamed on the singular failure of Gate, but as Bach's book shows, there was a lot more it than just that. The book offers several points where had UA acted differently, they might still be in business. They range from everything from the unique contract they gave Gate writer and director Michael Cimino to a string of executives leaving the company to a number of risky but high-yield bets failing on them. They weren't just gambling on Gate being a success: they were hoping it'd be part of a number of successful movies. And nothing quite panned out. But maybe it wouldn't have made a difference if these pictures did get made and were successful. UA, as Bach paints it, was a chaotic organization, headed by a CEO who didn't inspire his underlings and was marred by in-fighting between executives, who constantly complained about being undercut and conspired against. It's sometimes hard to keep track of who's who in Final Cut because so many people quit, get fired or just change jobs. Those coming to Final Cut looking for a detailed look at the making of Gate will be a little disappointed. It's a book about how one of the major players in Hollywood fell apart and was sold. It's not a behind-the-scenes look at a movie, although it does have the occasional glance, like Cimino banning people from the set, working long hours and shooting millions of feet of film and relentlessly battling executives over his schedule and budget. All in all, Final Cut is a fascinating look at the inner workings of a movie company: how it interacts with the bosses, with directors and producers and how, in so many words, the sausage gets made. Recommended for film fans.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    A largely self-serving account in which Bach tries to remove himself from blame at a time when "Heaven's Gate" was seen as the last word in movie failures. Ironically, "Heaven's Gate" stands up today as a major, underrated film whose failure says a lot more about changing tastes in the blockbuster era than it does about Cimino's ambitions. A largely self-serving account in which Bach tries to remove himself from blame at a time when "Heaven's Gate" was seen as the last word in movie failures. Ironically, "Heaven's Gate" stands up today as a major, underrated film whose failure says a lot more about changing tastes in the blockbuster era than it does about Cimino's ambitions.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Drew Raley

    Self-serving first-person account of a slow-motion train wreck, written by a studio exec whose claim to fame was devaluing the studio to the extent that King Kong Kirk Kerkorian could snap United Artists up at fire sale prices. That the film in question is an eccentric near-masterpiece,replete with stretchy pacing, sound cues that are mixed inadequately, and performances pitched at varying extremes, is a minor miracle. HG is imminently watchable stuff, and is neither a great nor even good film, Self-serving first-person account of a slow-motion train wreck, written by a studio exec whose claim to fame was devaluing the studio to the extent that King Kong Kirk Kerkorian could snap United Artists up at fire sale prices. That the film in question is an eccentric near-masterpiece,replete with stretchy pacing, sound cues that are mixed inadequately, and performances pitched at varying extremes, is a minor miracle. HG is imminently watchable stuff, and is neither a great nor even good film, but it is a gorgeous white elephant of ambition. Its flaws are the cracks where the circumstances of its fraught production peek through, and the viewer glimpses the processes that wrought such a four hour beast. Bach's book, by contrast is a sober account of those processes, the exigencies and economics of filmmaking, and the dreams of the moneymen as hostages to the dreams of the artists. Bach emerges as a sensible fellow in hindsight; no doubt during production he must have appeared a combination punching-bag/marshmallow, so thoroughly was he roughed up by Cimino throughout casting, production, and editing. A true survivor's story, as well as a primer in career destruction and property devaluation. Blame Cimino for making his film, but blame United Artists for failing to know its business. Cimino was punished for breaking the only two rules that matter: 1) don't spend all the money, and ; 2) don't take all the credit. Bach lost his job at the top of UA, and UA lost its cache under MGM. The book, while excellent, is an artifact of the film, which while misguided approaches brilliance too many times to dismiss and remains an oddball epic. Please read the book to savor the bitter flavor of defeat, but more importantly watch the film to see the thoughtfulness beneath the murk and the scope of one man's vision. A loopy and disjointed vision of a film whose flaws are as energizing as other films' successes. Or don't. It's four hours long fergodsake!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Frank Edwards

    After seeing a reissued "director's cut" version of "Heaven's Gate," the movie so expensive to produce and so poorly received by the critics in 1980 that it destroyed Michael Cimino's reputation as a director and led to the demise of United Artists, I sought out this book by one of the United Artist producers involved in the project (and who also lost his job in the aftermath). It's a fascinating story. How could Ciminio--who had just come from making "The Deer Hunter," which netted him Academy After seeing a reissued "director's cut" version of "Heaven's Gate," the movie so expensive to produce and so poorly received by the critics in 1980 that it destroyed Michael Cimino's reputation as a director and led to the demise of United Artists, I sought out this book by one of the United Artist producers involved in the project (and who also lost his job in the aftermath). It's a fascinating story. How could Ciminio--who had just come from making "The Deer Hunter," which netted him Academy Awards for best picture and best director--have created such a mess? "Heaven's Gate vastly exceeded its budget, was visually spectacular but had a poor sound track and story itself verged on incoherence at times. Why did United Artists let him do it? This book tells the story in great detail and Steven Bach was a fine writer. The most interesting parts, however--the Cimino story--gets lost from time to time in Bach's efforts to paint a comprehensive picture of United Artist's glorious history (it was founded by Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks) as well as describing the Hollywood system of movie making in general. I found myself skipping parts. But, that being said, it's a great read and a fabulous story of hubris and Hollywood finances.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Adrian

    I think Bach, the author of this, overestimated the fascination non-movie executives would have for business deals that movie executives make, but it's certainly extremely well written and perceptive about movies. What really makes this book interesting is the film that it's about. I saw the full 3 hour 39 minute version of 'Heaven's Gate' on MGM recently - and so picked up the book - and there's no doubt in my mind that it's a major work, one of the most beautiful movies ever made. It throws up I think Bach, the author of this, overestimated the fascination non-movie executives would have for business deals that movie executives make, but it's certainly extremely well written and perceptive about movies. What really makes this book interesting is the film that it's about. I saw the full 3 hour 39 minute version of 'Heaven's Gate' on MGM recently - and so picked up the book - and there's no doubt in my mind that it's a major work, one of the most beautiful movies ever made. It throws up the ancient question of 'do you need to care about the characters to enjoy a film?'. I didn't remotely care about any of them but for me the 3 and a half hours flew by because the film is so alive. This conundrum is articulated really well in the book - Bach is fully aware of the visionary nature of the work he is sanctioning, but he's also in horror at the level of indulgence required to produce such a singular vision, and he can't find the mental equilibrium required to get a handle on the situation. And so Cimino - one of the most mysterious men in Hollywood history - pursues his vision all the way. There's no doubt the result is worth seeing, and the book is good too.

  8. 5 out of 5

    adam

    FINAL CUT deserves its reputation as a canonical work about the movie business. Author Steven Bach was an executive at United Artists in the 70's, when UA was arguably the best-run studio in Hollywood. TransAmerica Bank acquired UA in the late 1970's on the basis of that success, but unfortunately all it took was one bad gamble to bring the whole thing down. That would be director Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE project-which I've never seen and apparently is actually pretty good, but in any even FINAL CUT deserves its reputation as a canonical work about the movie business. Author Steven Bach was an executive at United Artists in the 70's, when UA was arguably the best-run studio in Hollywood. TransAmerica Bank acquired UA in the late 1970's on the basis of that success, but unfortunately all it took was one bad gamble to bring the whole thing down. That would be director Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE project-which I've never seen and apparently is actually pretty good, but in any event went five times over budget, bombed at the box office, and managed to drag down everybody associated with it. Imagine a horrific train wreck that happens over two and a half years; this book gives the blow-by-blow. Bach is actually a very smart author, and he does not spare himself part of the blame for HEAVEN'S GATE's failure, although he saves the sharpest barbs for Cimino's pathological and egomaniacal behavior. Lots of great 70's-era Hollywood anecdotes and inside-baseball about the film trade make this an engaging and worthwhile read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    The most notorious review of Michael Cimino's historical epic Heaven's Gate was one of the first. Vincent Canby, the renowned New York Times film critic who had just two years prior championed Cimino's The Deer Hunter as the work of "an original, major new filmmaker," was unsparing in his criticism of Heaven's Gate, calling it "a forced, four-hour walking tour of one's own living room," "a ship that slides straight to the bottom at its christening," and, most memorably and damningly, "an unquali The most notorious review of Michael Cimino's historical epic Heaven's Gate was one of the first. Vincent Canby, the renowned New York Times film critic who had just two years prior championed Cimino's The Deer Hunter as the work of "an original, major new filmmaker," was unsparing in his criticism of Heaven's Gate, calling it "a forced, four-hour walking tour of one's own living room," "a ship that slides straight to the bottom at its christening," and, most memorably and damningly, "an unqualified disaster." It is perhaps the most notorious bomb in the history of American cinema. Steven Bach was an executive at United Artists during the tortured creation of the film, and in Final Cut, he delivers an engrossing, all-encompassing timeline of the film that would near-singlehandedly kill the New Hollywood movement, permanently damage the career of its director, and bring United Artists, one of the most revered studios in the world, to its deathbed. It's an astonishing work, one of humor and insight and great candor - Bach never once downplays the role he had in enabling Cimino, nor does he gloss over the warning signs he ignored in bringing the picture to UA in the first place. More than once he draws parallels to another infamously troubled United Artists production, Apocalypse Now, and one of the lessons of the book may be that lightning never strikes twice; UA dodged a massive bullet when Apocalypse was a resounding success, after all. Perhaps some within the company thought the studio would get lucky a second time. That this book exists at all shows where that led them. Final Cut manages to fulfill the needs of several possible audiences. For rubberneckers, it spares none of the gory (literally, in some cases) details of the film's production. Forty-plus years after it landed in theaters, many of the most eyepopping anecdotes - the woefully overrun budget, the glacial pace of the shoot itself, Cimino's insistence on getting everything just so and losing the forest for the trees - are well-known, but they can still shock looking back on them today. In fact, one of the most surprising quotes was from Bach himself, who told Cimino in Paris that Isabelle Huppert was so uninspiring as a leading lady that audiences would wonder why Kris Kristofferson and Christopher Walken "are fucking her instead of each other." Books like The Disaster Artist owe a spiritual debt to Final Cut in this sense, and here Bach sets a high bar. For cinephiles, it's an extensive inside look at a film's life cycle, from pre-production to post-release and everywhere in between, as well as a history of United Artists (one chapter, crucial to the context of what's to come, is devoted entirely to the origins of the studio) and a running log of its last few years in business. Indeed, some of the most impactful sections of the book have nothing to do with Heaven's Gate, instead focusing on Bach's first viewings of two of its most important latter-day releases: Manhattan and Raging Bull. The sense of wonder he conveys in describing both is heartfelt and sincere, a stark and necessary contrast to the slow death march of his current assignment. And for film historians, it's a crucial testament of a very specific moment in American filmmaking, one where auteurs like Cimino, Coppola, Allen and Scorsese held serve over the studios. In today's film landscape, what Bach describes throughout might as well be ancient history. In that sense, the book takes on an almost elegiac quality. What was most moving to me was how Bach documented his own evolving relationship with the film as a work of art. From the moment he read the screenplay (much of which is reproduced at length about halfway through), he was a believer in Cimino's vision. Through the early days of the production, despite the mounting crisis the shoot was becoming, the actual product was something he never lost faith in; more than once he described the footage that returned from Kalispell to UA as "like David Lean decided to make a western" to any curious parties (including, amusingly enough, an anonymous director all but stated to be Lean himself). But by the time the film finally premiered, all Bach could see when watching (and watching, and watching again) was "the waste, the arrogance, the indulgence...the perfection money can buy, the caring that it can't." Fittingly, though, the last chapter focuses on the positive reevaluation Heaven's Gate would receive in the years following its disastrous initial reception, one which has only grown even more fervent since the publication of the revised edition of Final Cut in 1999. It has become, somewhat ironically, a repudiation of the film's tagline: "what one loves about life are the things that fade." Bach closes the book arguing exactly this, saying "what one loves about life are the things that last, because those who care see to it that they do." It's still something of a debate whether Heaven's Gate has become one of these "things"; there's no doubt in my mind that Final Cut is just that.

  10. 5 out of 5

    David Jennings

    I picked this up on the strength of its reputation and an interest in Heaven's Gate as a film. I guess I wanted to get inside the movie, find out what it was aiming for. To begin with, then, I was thrown, because soon after the start we are back in 1919 with the founding of United Artists. Skipping forward through the book, I could see that director Michael Cimino is barely mentioned before page 80, and the development of Heaven's Gate only really gets under way after page 120. I nearly put the I picked this up on the strength of its reputation and an interest in Heaven's Gate as a film. I guess I wanted to get inside the movie, find out what it was aiming for. To begin with, then, I was thrown, because soon after the start we are back in 1919 with the founding of United Artists. Skipping forward through the book, I could see that director Michael Cimino is barely mentioned before page 80, and the development of Heaven's Gate only really gets under way after page 120. I nearly put the book aside, but I stayed with it because Bach puts across the history with elan. And I'm really glad I did. Perhaps that history is a bit like the wedding scene in The Deer Hunter: you're thinking, Why are we spending so long on these details, and how much more before we get to Vietnam? But when you arrive at 'Vietnam'/Heaven's-Gate-saga it's a richer, more meaningful experience with the prologue. (Similarly the subplots — from Wood Allen's Manhattan, Scorsese's Raging Bull, a couple of James Bonds and Streisand's Yentl — add spicy seasoning throughout the book.) And what a saga, told with a sympathy for all the main characters that is extraordinary coming from one of the participants whose career was unceremoniously skewered on the stake of HG. Bach makes clear that Cimino and fellow production executive David Field refused to have anything to do with this book. Perhaps to compensate for this, Bach gives them great respect. Yes, Cimino's excesses and high-handedness are laid out in chapter after chapter. So is the admiration that production staff and actors have for him. With the exception of billing UA for the irrigation of one of the locations which Cimino had recently bought for himself, Bach clearly believes that the director was motivated by nothing other than making the very best movie he possibly could. And all the principals share this motivation. There are so many second chances, so many moments where you feel it might have been possible to pull the project back from the brink. But a combination of hubris, poor communication (by accident and by design), and simple coincidence conspired to prevent this. This makes for a deeply human story of the failure of grand schemes, wherein all involved keep their dignity if not their jobs. There's a single-minded obsessiveness required to pull off creative work, particularly at scale. Bach had the job of trying to make this sustainable — as in, not haemorrhaging money — and you’re left feeling that his mistake was, if anything, to be too sympathetic. In the end I agree, too, with his assessment of the film: Not only the filmmaker but the film, too, was "out of control"… Characters and story with sacrificed to the filmmaker's love of visual effect and production for their own sakes. The "look" of the thing subsumed the sense of the thing and implied a callous or uncaring quality about characters for whom the audience was asked to care more than the film seemed to. So not quite what I was expecting or desiring, but a beautifully written book that is perhaps more surprising and enriching. What I'd really like next is Isabelle Huppert's unexpurgated account of this story, but I know that's not going to happen…

  11. 5 out of 5

    John M.

    This is a Stephen Bach’s memoir of his last two years as a production executive at United Artists. It’s not simply the tale of “Heaven’s Gate”, the critical and commercial flop that eventually sank UA It’s also about the other people and projects he encountered during these years. For me, he spent too much on the latter and not enough on the former. While I was mildly interested in hearing about Truman Capote drinking Tab from a champagne flute, I wanted to know more about the magnificent mess t This is a Stephen Bach’s memoir of his last two years as a production executive at United Artists. It’s not simply the tale of “Heaven’s Gate”, the critical and commercial flop that eventually sank UA It’s also about the other people and projects he encountered during these years. For me, he spent too much on the latter and not enough on the former. While I was mildly interested in hearing about Truman Capote drinking Tab from a champagne flute, I wanted to know more about the magnificent mess that became “Heaven’s Gate.” Bach does take us from the deal to “Gate’s” disastrous theatrical release. In between, he tells us about the intervening events that led to UA’s demise: Cimino’s insistence on casting the unknown French actor Isabelle Huppert as the female lead, the Montana-based production that went wildly over budget and schedule (Cimino shot a MILLION feet of film), and the four-hour New York premiere that touched off a critical feeding frenzy that all but doomed the theatrical release. I never felt that Bach adequately explained how UA let Cimino run this project 34 million over budget only to produce a well-photographed muddled mess. For sure, Cimino was an arrogant perfectionist. No doubt he thought he was bullet-proof after winning best picture and director Oscars for “The Deer Hunter”. Bach certainly makes the case that Cimino was difficult to deal with. However, these things don’t entirely explain how UA let Cimino get away with it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Phil Segal

    If you're looking to hear about what happened during the making of Heaven's Gate, don't look here. This is more of a history of United Artists/diary of Steven Bach's time there, and while he was involved in Heaven's Gate, it wasn't very closely and it was all on the deal making end of things, not the movie making one. It is fairly illuminating as a look into the business end of the movie business and Bach isn't a bad writer but one can only read about so many meetings and at a little over 400 pa If you're looking to hear about what happened during the making of Heaven's Gate, don't look here. This is more of a history of United Artists/diary of Steven Bach's time there, and while he was involved in Heaven's Gate, it wasn't very closely and it was all on the deal making end of things, not the movie making one. It is fairly illuminating as a look into the business end of the movie business and Bach isn't a bad writer but one can only read about so many meetings and at a little over 400 pages, nearly 200 of which go by before filming starts on Heaven's Gate, maybe he should throw less stones about editing things down to a reasonable length. Still, if you want a book about the business of film production that actually focuses on the business of film production and not lurid personal stories like The Kid Stays In The Picture or You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again, Final Cut has some solid value and is plenty readable.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lars Aumueller

    A book for cinephiles, "Final Cut" impresses not just in its marvellous wealth of behind-the-scenes detail but in its deep objectivity. I was expecting to read a book lambasting writer-director Michael Cimino and his film, and while it at times does that, the portrait that emerges is of a very gifted yet uncompromising (for good and bad) director and a film that became a flashpoint in the media not only for itself but for an entire industry. Of course, my own view of the book is colored by the f A book for cinephiles, "Final Cut" impresses not just in its marvellous wealth of behind-the-scenes detail but in its deep objectivity. I was expecting to read a book lambasting writer-director Michael Cimino and his film, and while it at times does that, the portrait that emerges is of a very gifted yet uncompromising (for good and bad) director and a film that became a flashpoint in the media not only for itself but for an entire industry. Of course, my own view of the book is colored by the fact that I think "Heaven's Gate" is an unqualified masterpiece, but "Final Cut" is a constant reminder that most art has to be by nature a compromise between an esoteric clashing of ideas and a reaching out to a public that craves to be entertained.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Paul Lyons

    Disappointing expose on the making of the 1980 Michael Cimino epic box office bomb HEAVEN'S GATE. Although author Stephen Bach was Senior Vice President of Production at the studio that made HEAVEN'S GATE: United Artists, and had been with the studio through the many trials and tribulations of making the movie, "Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists" serves as only a cursory account of what really happened. What happened, per the author, Disappointing expose on the making of the 1980 Michael Cimino epic box office bomb HEAVEN'S GATE. Although author Stephen Bach was Senior Vice President of Production at the studio that made HEAVEN'S GATE: United Artists, and had been with the studio through the many trials and tribulations of making the movie, "Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists" serves as only a cursory account of what really happened. What happened, per the author, was a series of fearful miscalculations that led to a strong-willed, enigmatic, brilliant Oscar-winning director getting his way to the point of a 220-minute, $44 million dollar (over $100 million dollars today) western that the New York critics hated, that the general public didn't care for, nor had a an interest to go out to the theater to see. Half of the blame goes to Stephen Bach and the other United Artists executives who allowed it to happen. The other half of the the blame goes to the ambitious yet egomaniacal writer-director Michael Cimino, who is portrayed in the book as a talented yet irresponsible and uncooperative spoiled child. Despite Stephen Bach's position at United Artists, his responsibilities on HEAVEN'S GATE were at a considerable distance. Yes, he and UA exec David Field green-lighted the picture, and made decisions about production issues. Yes, Bach had meetings and phone calls with writer-director Michael Cimino. Yes, he had at least one visit to the HEAVEN'S GATE set, and had a say in post-production. But the fact is, Bach was mostly based in NY, then later LA, while the production was shot in Montana, Idaho, and England. He was not the day-to-day executive on the picture, nor did he have time to do so. As a result, only about 60 percent of "Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists" actually has anything to do with HEAVEN'S GATE. Perhaps for lack of material, Bach instead devotes the rest of the book to the history of United Artists, and the motion picture industry in general, as well as his dealings with Woody Allen and Barbara Streisand, in addition to his time spent on projects with Peter Sellers, Truman Capote, and Gay Talese that ultimately never got made. What the drama involved with purchasing the screen rights to Talese's non-fiction book "Thy Neighbors Wife" had to do with HEAVEN'S GATE is a mystery to me. On a positive note, some of "Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists" is engaging and entertaining in its insider look at the movers and shakers circling around and within Hollywood. When Stephen Bach is focused on HEAVEN'S GATE, and goes into detail about how this or that happened, the book shines. Where "Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists," fails is in Bach's over-indulgent, intellectual, overly-literate prose, which displayed the characteristics of a disciplined scholar looking at history from a detached distance. This is all well and good EXCEPT for the fact that the author himself played a part in that very same history, and had an inside information as to what went on. Bach seemed torn between literary aspirations, historical study, and just writing about what had happened as he experienced it. The result: a book almost as misguided and indulgent as HEAVEN'S GATE itself. What a shame.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michael Zuzel

    Readers looking for a day-by-day account of how Michael Cimino created one of the most infamous films in history may be disappointed. Author Bach rarely visited the film set, and Final Cut is less the story of the movie than a history of his time at United Artists, of which the Heaven's Gate imbroglio was the most significant, but far from the only, major event at the studio. Still, as a look at the sausage-making side of the movie business, at least as it existed in the 1970s and '80s, Final Cu Readers looking for a day-by-day account of how Michael Cimino created one of the most infamous films in history may be disappointed. Author Bach rarely visited the film set, and Final Cut is less the story of the movie than a history of his time at United Artists, of which the Heaven's Gate imbroglio was the most significant, but far from the only, major event at the studio. Still, as a look at the sausage-making side of the movie business, at least as it existed in the 1970s and '80s, Final Cut is compelling and satisfying.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mick Meyers

    An interesting in depth analysis of not only the making of heaven s gate there is background history in united artists.not my sort of book quite a bit of number crunching,the author has researched the subject to the nth degree.give it a try it just wasn't for me. An interesting in depth analysis of not only the making of heaven s gate there is background history in united artists.not my sort of book quite a bit of number crunching,the author has researched the subject to the nth degree.give it a try it just wasn't for me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Duncan

    One of the top ten greatest books about Hollywood.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bob Box

    Read in 1987. Fascinating look inside the making of Heaven's Gate and the ruination of United Artists studios. Read in 1987. Fascinating look inside the making of Heaven's Gate and the ruination of United Artists studios.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    VERY inside baseball stuff here, but once you get into it, it's pretty interesting. VERY inside baseball stuff here, but once you get into it, it's pretty interesting.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Strömquist

    "Well-written and absolutely fascinating book giving an insight of how the production of a single movie (by a company large enough to consider it, if not a minor, at least only one in a series of investments) could spiral out of control, ultimately bringing about the end of the company. Described in one sentence as above, this sounds unbelievable, but the book tells the tale. The book also has merit for a movie fan as it contains a lot of information on the production of some of the most memorab "Well-written and absolutely fascinating book giving an insight of how the production of a single movie (by a company large enough to consider it, if not a minor, at least only one in a series of investments) could spiral out of control, ultimately bringing about the end of the company. Described in one sentence as above, this sounds unbelievable, but the book tells the tale. The book also has merit for a movie fan as it contains a lot of information on the production of some of the most memorable movies (and a lot of really forgettable ones). For myself, the early eighties was the absolute golden age of movies and therefore this book delivers so much to me. Mine is an earlier edition subtitled "Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven's Gate", not "Art, Money...". As far as I can tell a second foreword only was added to the new one."

  21. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Unique amongst books I have read about cinema, this executive's view of the industry - and a particularly notable episode in its history - is fascinating. Bach was clearly an extremely intelligent and thoughtful man, and the reputation I had known of this book as being self-serving regarding his role in the Heaven's Gate debacle seems rather wide of the mark. In the final analysis, he accepts his own culpability in allowing the picture to run out of control and cogently defends his view that the Unique amongst books I have read about cinema, this executive's view of the industry - and a particularly notable episode in its history - is fascinating. Bach was clearly an extremely intelligent and thoughtful man, and the reputation I had known of this book as being self-serving regarding his role in the Heaven's Gate debacle seems rather wide of the mark. In the final analysis, he accepts his own culpability in allowing the picture to run out of control and cogently defends his view that the finished film was a failure on the most fundamental level. He even reserves, towards the very end, some kind words for Michael Cimino. My view of the book's merits are in no way diminished by the fact that, having fairly recently seen the full 'Director's Cut' of Heaven's Gate on the big screen, I consider it to be a much better film than Bach himself allows.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Thinking about this fine, self-examining memoir of being a producer on Cimino's Heaven's Gate. Cimino died today. Bach died seven years ago. What I remember from it is Bach's utter insistence that Cimino's choice to cast Isabelle Huppert in the lead role was a disaster; Huppert never had a Hollywood career, but she's an icon in France. And that Bach is wonderfully, self-dramatizingly ambivalent about Cimino's insistence to shoot Heaven's Gate on location in Yellowstone. On this issue Bach just k Thinking about this fine, self-examining memoir of being a producer on Cimino's Heaven's Gate. Cimino died today. Bach died seven years ago. What I remember from it is Bach's utter insistence that Cimino's choice to cast Isabelle Huppert in the lead role was a disaster; Huppert never had a Hollywood career, but she's an icon in France. And that Bach is wonderfully, self-dramatizingly ambivalent about Cimino's insistence to shoot Heaven's Gate on location in Yellowstone. On this issue Bach just knows he's wrong and can't shut up about it. Like Bach, I was also ambivalent about Cimino, hated his Deer Hunter even though I knew it wasn't as bad as I told everyone it was. Heaven's Gate helped sink UA but I remember Bach's fastidious explanation as one of the books about the movies I best recall.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Shea

    This book, and "The Devil's Candy" by Julie Salamon, are almost companion pieces to each other. (The Salamon book covers the fiasco that was Brian DePalma's adaptation of "Bonfire of the Vanities".) While deconstructing 2 of the most infamous flops in modern film history both books elicit commentary from a wide variety of voices -- studio heads all the way down to the set PAs involved. While there is plenty of blame to be spread around, the wunderkind directors involved deservedly receive their This book, and "The Devil's Candy" by Julie Salamon, are almost companion pieces to each other. (The Salamon book covers the fiasco that was Brian DePalma's adaptation of "Bonfire of the Vanities".) While deconstructing 2 of the most infamous flops in modern film history both books elicit commentary from a wide variety of voices -- studio heads all the way down to the set PAs involved. While there is plenty of blame to be spread around, the wunderkind directors involved deservedly receive their fair share, especially Michael Cimino, who was fresh off the success of "The Deer Hunter". His career was one of many sunk by the film. I read these 2 books back-to-back one weekend. It was a weekend well-spent.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    If I re-read any book, that puts it in the 99th percentile. I first read this book back in 1995 just before sitting through all 3 hours and 40 minutes of Heaven's Gate, which this book covers. Steven Bach was the United Artists executive in charge of the infamous 1980 production. What's amazing is that I was rooting for the studio executive and not the auteur. I know this is simply his side of the story but when you have final cut and you make Heaven's Gate, I don't care about your side of the s If I re-read any book, that puts it in the 99th percentile. I first read this book back in 1995 just before sitting through all 3 hours and 40 minutes of Heaven's Gate, which this book covers. Steven Bach was the United Artists executive in charge of the infamous 1980 production. What's amazing is that I was rooting for the studio executive and not the auteur. I know this is simply his side of the story but when you have final cut and you make Heaven's Gate, I don't care about your side of the story. The tragedy here is that director Michael Cimino almost single-handedly brought down not only United Artists but the director era for at least a decade. This book is a must read for anyone interested in movies, studio politics, ego, and drama at every turn.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jack Herbert Christal Gattanella

    About the making of the "unqualified disaster" Heaven's Gate, but also a window into how filmmaking was in the 1970's... and how it actually really was pointing towards (or just in) the kind of studio blockbuster-franchise mentality we are in now; at UA they were more 'independent' minded, and of course reading about Manhattan and Raging Bull is incredible especially as Bach is fair to all sides (he even tries, though just can't, see the good in Cimino's film). But there's also Rocky 2, the Jame About the making of the "unqualified disaster" Heaven's Gate, but also a window into how filmmaking was in the 1970's... and how it actually really was pointing towards (or just in) the kind of studio blockbuster-franchise mentality we are in now; at UA they were more 'independent' minded, and of course reading about Manhattan and Raging Bull is incredible especially as Bach is fair to all sides (he even tries, though just can't, see the good in Cimino's film). But there's also Rocky 2, the James Bond franchise, the remake of Body Snatchers, and others. It's a glimpse into Hollywood excess, but also just the system itself. I'd assign this if I were teaching a class about the history of cinema.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    I can't tell if I find the numerous detours -- about Bach's own career, about all the famous people he's dealt with, about the precise and overwhelming details of his "retirement" from showbiz, however related they are to the overall story -- excessive or actually interesting. And I can't tell if I'm annoyed he didn't get more dirt from the set of Heaven's Gate. That said, it's an invaluable look at conglomerate-era moviemaking, plus the rickety act of creating art through commerce. Also, look m I can't tell if I find the numerous detours -- about Bach's own career, about all the famous people he's dealt with, about the precise and overwhelming details of his "retirement" from showbiz, however related they are to the overall story -- excessive or actually interesting. And I can't tell if I'm annoyed he didn't get more dirt from the set of Heaven's Gate. That said, it's an invaluable look at conglomerate-era moviemaking, plus the rickety act of creating art through commerce. Also, look ma! A book about the end of '70s-style risky Hollywood filmmaking that not only doesn't whip Jaws and Star Wars, but never even mentions them!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Matt Lohr

    Be warned that this book is only maybe about half about the making of HEAVEN'S GATE. It's just as much about the general ups and downs of United Artists' fortunes during Bach's stint as head of production. Some of this material is quite interesting; some of it much less so. Bach's a good writer, and that helps pretty much all the way through. But I wanted more on-set material, more location info, more (dare I say it?) gossip. For a good supplement to this, find the TV documentary inspired by thi Be warned that this book is only maybe about half about the making of HEAVEN'S GATE. It's just as much about the general ups and downs of United Artists' fortunes during Bach's stint as head of production. Some of this material is quite interesting; some of it much less so. Bach's a good writer, and that helps pretty much all the way through. But I wanted more on-set material, more location info, more (dare I say it?) gossip. For a good supplement to this, find the TV documentary inspired by this book, which is ALL about HEAVEN'S GATE and interviews major players like Vilmos Zsigmond and Jeff Bridges, who are barely mentioned in the book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amar Pai

    I wanted another Devil's Candy , but got some movie exec kvetching about contracts and managing "talent" instead. The very definition of inside baseball. And unlike Devil's Candy, which masterfully chronicled the unraveling of Bonfire of the Vanities, the movie this book is about-- Heaven's Gate-- is a complete cipher. I mean, whoever heard of Heaven's Gate? (Exactly!) Read Devil's Candy instead. (Or don't. I'm not the boss of you) I wanted another Devil's Candy , but got some movie exec kvetching about contracts and managing "talent" instead. The very definition of inside baseball. And unlike Devil's Candy, which masterfully chronicled the unraveling of Bonfire of the Vanities, the movie this book is about-- Heaven's Gate-- is a complete cipher. I mean, whoever heard of Heaven's Gate? (Exactly!) Read Devil's Candy instead. (Or don't. I'm not the boss of you)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    A kind of literary journalism/memoir that one doesn't quite see anymore. Affectless yet POV driven. Score-settling without ever seeming so. You really do understand how someone could wake up one morning and think H.G. was gonna be an amazing picutre, then wake up a year later wondering what went horribly, horribly wrong. Loads of fun even if you think Deerhunter was total bullshit. Which it is. Was. Whatever. A kind of literary journalism/memoir that one doesn't quite see anymore. Affectless yet POV driven. Score-settling without ever seeming so. You really do understand how someone could wake up one morning and think H.G. was gonna be an amazing picutre, then wake up a year later wondering what went horribly, horribly wrong. Loads of fun even if you think Deerhunter was total bullshit. Which it is. Was. Whatever.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    I *love* this book. Bach didn't worry about making himself or others look good, or losing face, or causing offence, and he's an excellent writer with a great sense of pacing and narrative arc. It's an honest and compelling account of everything falling apart. The book makes clear how high the stakes are, and I found all the history of the studio absolutely fascinating too. To this day, I look at Isabelle Huppert and think 'face like a potato', which always makes me laugh. I *love* this book. Bach didn't worry about making himself or others look good, or losing face, or causing offence, and he's an excellent writer with a great sense of pacing and narrative arc. It's an honest and compelling account of everything falling apart. The book makes clear how high the stakes are, and I found all the history of the studio absolutely fascinating too. To this day, I look at Isabelle Huppert and think 'face like a potato', which always makes me laugh.

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