Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...
BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL
In the annals of Hollywood fiascos, few have been as spectacular as director Michael Cimino's. Just two years after winning Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for The Deer Hunter in 1979, Cimino tanked with his third film, Heaven's Gate, a 3½-hour western epic that film critic Pauline Kael labeled "a numbing shambles." The movie's failure prompted the sale of United Artists and has overshadowed the director's career to this day. In the 15 years since, he has written screenplays and directed sporadically. Now 56, Cimino, who is single and divides his time between homes in Los Angeles and Long Island, N.Y., is trying again with Sunchaser, a psychological thriller starring Woody Harrelson.
How did the Heaven's Gate debacle affect your life?
It was really a great trauma, as everyone knows. Since then I've been unable to make any movie that I've wanted to make. I've been making the best of what is available.
How do you cope?
I've thought often of John Ford. He would keep in shape by taking endless studio assignments so that when The Quiet Man, the film he most dearly wanted to do, finally came along, he was ready to make the most of it.
Why did you pick Woody Harrelson to play the wealthy doctor in Sunchaser?
For one thing, Woody's studied chemistry. Unlike a lot of people, he can actually pronounce deoxyribonucleic acid. And he has absolute physical courage. We were on a mountain top at 14,000 feet, and I found him doing a handstand on a narrow ledge. I said, "Wood! You could've gotten killed." He just smiled and said, "It's not my time, man."