Michael Cimino, who won two Oscars for directing and producing and seminal 1978 film The Deer Hunter, has passed away. Cimino was believed to be 77-years old though there appears to be conflicting reports on his exact birth date. One of the titans of the 1970s American New Wave, Cimino’s The Deer Hunter is one of the most celebrated American films of all-time. Heaven’s Gate, Cimino’s ambitious follow-up project, however continues to serve as a cautionary tale and halted Cimino’s stock as a commercial filmmaker and put distributor United Artists in financial ruin.
Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux tweeted the news Saturday.
Michael Cimino est mort, en paix, entouré des siens et de ces deux femmes qui l’aimaient. Nous l’aimions aussi. pic.twitter.com/emPv4nj5cZ
— THIERRY FREMAUX (@THIERRYFREMAUX) July 2, 2016
Cimino was born in New York City. His first Hollywood credits were contributing to the screenplays of the 1972 science fiction film Silent Running (directed by Douglas Trumball) and the 1973 Clint Eastwood-Dirty Harry vehicle Magnum Force. He made his directorial debut with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), a film which starred Eastwood and Jeff Bridges (in a role that earned him an Oscar nomination) before moving onto the The Deer Hunter in 1978.
As a precursor to Heaven’s Gate, executives at Universal weren’t initially optimistic about The Deer Hunter as filming amassed a lengthy production schedule and went over-budget, some of which was accounted for Cimino’s determination to shoot in real locations as opposed to studio lots. While controversy over specifics and tone of the Vietnam War drama came into question (and still do in some circles), The Deer Hunter came out as one of the most widely admired films of the 1970s, helping to further cement the legacies of actors Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazele and Meryl Streep in the process. The film also took home five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director.
It was Heaven’s Gate that cemented Cimino’s reputation. Eventually released in 1980, it’s the film that has come to represent the fall from grace from the filmmaker-friendly Hollywood of the 1970s. The production, itself a victim of the newly structured United Artists, saw its budget swell and swell and stayed in production for nearly a year. The book Final Cut, written by former UA executive Steven Bach, chronicled the entire affair and the ramifications that faced the industry in light of Heaven’s Gate; reportedly Cimino himself decried the book “a work of fiction.” Heaven’s Gate, which starred Kris Kristofferson, Jeff Bridges and Christopher Walken, only earned $1.5 million at the box office, but time and further cuts of the film have found stronger critical reaction to the period western.
Since then, Cimino has only directed four features – Year of the Dragon (1985), The Sicilian (1987), Desperate Hours (1990) and The Sunchaser (1996). He wrote a 2001 novel called Big James and two years later collaborated with Francesca Pollock on the book Conversations en miroir.