- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

‘Gate’ revisited

“Gigli,” “Ishtar” and “Waterworld” have nothing on “Heaven’s Gate,” the mother of all film flops.

The Trio channel’s newest documentary dissects the corpse of that 1980 debacle this weekend with “Final Cut: The Making of ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and the Unmaking of a Studio.”

The special, narrated by Willem Dafoe, airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on Trio, to be followed by a broadcast of the film itself.

What’s lost in the avalanche of bad press surrounding the film, says “Gate” star and country singer Kris Kristofferson, is whether the picture itself was any good.

Money “is all anybody talks about,” he says. It’s an irony not lost on the actor, because “Gate,” based on actual conflicts between cattlemen and immigrant farmers in the late 1800s, casts him as an idealistic sheriff trying to protect the vulnerable farmers from whom the actor calls “the money people.”

Director Michael Cimino’s film came on the heels of his triumphant Oscar winner “The Deer Hunter,” at a time when the auteur seemingly could do no wrong. The film’s commercial and critical failure is said to have mortally wounded its studio, United Artists. It did the same to Mr. Cimino’s career, which would never regain its pre-“Gate” cachet.

“I felt so sorry for Michael,” Mr. Kristofferson says. “I didn’t think about how it affected me.”

The actor’s stock sank in Hollywood, and it took years before casting agents began calling again upon his wrinkled visage with any regularity.

The creative blow was just one of many the star absorbed in the early 1980s.

“I was just struggling to keep my head above water,” he says. “Everything fell in on me. My family broke up. My record company went bankrupt. My manager died, and my agent dies as well,” he recalls.

Mr. Kristofferson first gained fame as a country singer and songwriter (“Me and Bobby McGee,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night”). He emerged as a squinty, countercultural romantic ideal in the mid-‘70s in a series of denim-clad screen roles (“Blume in Love,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”).

In his spare time, he whips up conspiracy theories, and “Heaven’s Gate” affords plenty of material.

“I’ve never seen a film with 100 percent critical lambasting, which leads me to believe people got bought,” he says. “The same people today are stopping the release of the Michael Moore film,” he says of the forthcoming “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which appears to be headed for a release far wider than the norm for a politically-themed documentary.

The powers that be lined up against the film, in part, he suspects, because it became a symbol of a studio letting the artists run the asylum. “I don’t agree with the notion that creative people shouldn’t have control of the finances,” he says. “Usually, it seems to be set up so that the money people are making the creative decisions. It’s not always to the benefit of the audience.”

‘Arrested’ kudos

Fox’s “Arrested Development” has already won over the critics, so it’s no surprise that the freshman comedy earned a leading five nominations for the 2004 Television Critics Association’s annual awards, Reuters News Agency reports.

Perennial favorites HBO’s “The Sopranos” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” snagged four nominations each, with another freshman series, HBO’s “Deadwood,” and the HBO miniseries “Angels in America” next on the list, raking in three apiece.

HBO led the network pack with a total of 14 nominations, followed by Fox with nine and NBC with five.

Joining “Arrested Development,” “The Sopranos,” “The Daily Show” and “Angels in America” in the top category of program of the year was NBC’s hit reality show “The Apprentice.”

The winners, selected by the TCA’s 200 members, will be announced July 17 at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, with Bill Maher tapped to open the ceremony.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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