What is a critic’s opinion worth? How much money in real dollars? What is a star out of five? What is it per vitriolic word?I understand that these idle gadabouts don’t actually create anything and that they are bitter and dissatisfied because they just, well, criticize, but there’s a number in there somewhere. The recent ballyhoo about Michael Cimino’s work, Heaven’s Gate, has given me pause. While the film is much like his masterwork The Deer Hunter in its majestic landscapes, focus on hypnotic ceremony, retributive violence, characters lost in a foreign land, love triangles and touching score, Heaven’s Gate was derided and Cimino vilified.
Dwarfed by the mountains in “The Deer Hunter”
Dwarfed by the mountains in “Heaven’s Gate”.
The film has been resurrected and re-screened as of late, and now has many on its side including Manohla Dargis in The New York Times, celebrating the “complex choreography and cinematography (as) seductive, at times stunning”, while others stick to the poo-poo trail like Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York) calling it, oddly, an “inert disaster”. The truth is that it doesn’t matter so much what Joshua and Co. say now. It’s 30 years ago that mattered. I would love to have seen Heaven’s Gate in its initial release in 1980, but I didn’t because the film only lasted a week…due to devastating critical opinion.
I have come to realize that this is not only a frustrating fact, but a crime. Having seen the film just now in the theater, I know that, like The Deer Hunter, it would have been a great boon to my developing psyche. And so back to my original question: What is a critic’s opinion worth? There’s a dollar figure in there somewhere. Whatever it is, I want my collateral damage.
I have to admit that it is hard to write my blog today. I cannot process in any way what happened yesterday in Connecticut. I don’t know how it is possible for someone to kill children one after the other, putting not one bullet into each tiny person, but several into every one of them, every last one. It makes me think that maybe the Mayans were actually right, that this really is the end of us, that the apocalypse has arrived, not with great storms and collapsing fault lines in the earth, but in us, dumb, staring at each other, wondering how we really got to this. And we did. The fact is that there are people – millions and millions of them – that will actually continue to support the right to bear arms as it is stated in the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They will say that guns don’t kill people, that people kill people, that guns have nothing to do with it. They will actually say that. And they will believe it. They will actually fucking believe it. That isn’t politics. That’s suicide, pure and simple. Guns don’t kill people? Really? How would that lunatic have killed 20 kids without his damned guns? How fucking stupid can you be? Anyway, yeah, the Pain and Guilt step of suffering grief, instructs that, as the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs – as tempting as they might appear at the moment. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase. Does it ever. But to get through all of this insanity, I recommend that you look within as much as you can bear and maybe listen to The Great Destroyer by the American group Low. When I go deaf/ I won’t even mind/ Yeah, I’ll be fine. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino) is required viewing, reminding us that war kills everything in body, mind and spirit. This one’s nothing but pain and guilt, horribly, beautifully so.. I also encourage you to delve into the writings of the great philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer: They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice…that suicide is wrong, when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person. And don’t stop at Schopenhauer. You must keep going. Read as much miserable philosophy as you can bear.
Most important of all, do something. Please. Sign a petition. Write a letter. Speak your mind, damn it! Fight these monsters right to the fucking end. Do it! Really, do it. Or else you have to just watch the world go to its damned and terrible end.
Movie endings are sadly predictable. No matter the genre – Drama, Comedy, Romance or Action/Thriller – the tendency is toward that moment of understanding, that smile of recognition that we’re all in this together, as seen in so many films such as Casablanca, Dumb and Dumber, When Harry Met Sally and Avatar. But there are those few that stand out – for better and much worse. At the head of the Much Worse would have to be Super 8 (Abrams, 2011), a misguided combination of E.T. and Close Encounters. Absolutely everything is resolved at the end: all characters touch and understand each other.They also all understand the alien which has terrorized their town and watch in loving awe as he departs to his distant world. (No, I am not exaggerating.) The Grey (Carnahan, 2011) is a close and terrible second. After watching the wolves terrorize and kill everyone else in his group lost in the woods, the audience tenses in anticipation as Liam Neeson finally straps all that broken glass to his knuckles to battle the mother of all wolves…and the film cuts to the credits. And not only that, the film actually cuts back to the scene, after the epic battle, both Neeson and the mother of all wolves dying in the snow. Other disastrously bad endings include Melancholia (Von Trier, 2011) – a giant planet crushes all life on Earth – A.I. (Spielberg, 2001) you think it’s finally over, and a title card appears “2,000 Years Later” – and Angel Heart (Parker, 1987) – when Mickey Rourke finally realizes that he’s the murderer he’s been chasing all along. (Not a few films have fallen into this self-made trap.) It’s not easy ending well, but there are certainly a chosen few worth mentioning. It is truly heart-wrenching to watch the final shot in Bicycle Thieves(De Sica, 1948) when the boy forgives his father for trying to steal and takes his hand. And it’s hard not to choke up in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Hughes, 1987) when Neal (Steve Martin) discovers Del (John Candy) alone at the train station and takes him home for Thanksgiving. The Deer Hunter (Cimino, 1978), too, has a gut-wrenching conclusion when the cast gathers for a funeral and sings God Bless America, despite the hell they have been put through with the Vietnam War. Another film that oddly stands out for me is Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (Hough, 1974). An obvious derivative of Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, 1967), the film chronicles a pair of wild thieves who, when they seem to have finally outrun the law, are suddenly crushed by a freight train. The end. One of the greatest Hollywood endings almost never happened. Being There (Ashby, 1978) is the story of Chance (Peter Sellers) who has lived in isolation as a simpleton only to be thrown into the world and become an adviser to the President and perhaps will be a leader himself. The final image is of Chance walking on water. We don’t know if this is because he is Chosen or he just doesn’t know any better, but it is a riveting moment. The producers hated the idea and told Hal Ashby to re-cut the film, which he promised to do…and instead actually delivered the film personally – with the ending intact – to the theaters for opening night. It was only after the positive audience response to this ending that the producers relented. This story itself has to be one of the best endings I have ever heard.