Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A couple of documentaries about big budget failure


Watched a couple of documentaries. One was about the making of Heaven's Gate. The director, Michael Cimino, told someone that he would tell the studio what they wanted to hear then do whatever he wanted. Apparently, his plan from the start was to spend as much money as he could on his western. He didn't care that it started out with a seven million dollar budget. It ended up costing over $35 million.

This was not long after the head of United Artists and their top executives left to form Orion Pictures. The fellows left in charge of UA weren't terribly experienced. They wanted to prove themselves. United Artists was raking in money off the James Bond movies and some other series they already had going. But they wanted to do something new. So...in the wake of Cimino's winning an Oscar for The Deer Hunter, they wanted to make a movie with him. I don't know why they thought a western was a good idea.

Executives knew they had a big problem, but they thought the movie would probably be really good even if it cost a fortune, and they already spent this much on it----should they keep going and spend even more or simply write off the fortune Cimino already wasted?

I don't know. Heaven's Gate, it turns out, was considered pretty good in Europe. In America, critics hated it, although their reaction came in part from all the news reports on its problems during production.

Cimino was a jackass. Now he's in his 70s and appears to have had extensive plastic surgery (he says he just lost weight.) His appearance has changed to the point that there are rumors he had a sex change.

He's made several movies since then. He managed to stay on schedule and on budget on them, apparently, but his other weaknesses as a director have become more evident.



Then I watched Lost in La Mancha, about Terry Gilliam's attempt to make a film based on Don Quixote. He mentions at one point that it could be cursed, like "the Scottish play", something that's just bad luck. There have been other attempts to film the story and none of them have succeeded.

According to Wikipedia, Gilliam has documentaries made about the production of his movies so that, if things go horribly wrong, there will be a record of it from his point of view, so the world won't think he's another Michael Cimino.

In this case, the movie was going to be the most expensive movie funded entirely by European sources ever made (I don't know if that includes the Soviet production of War and Peace) but things went badly from the start of production. The star turned out to have a herniated disc and had to leave, it turned out that they were filming next to a NATO bombing range (they went ahead anyway and decided to dub the sound) and there was a huge rain storm and flash flood the first day of shooting which permanently changed the looks of the location. They tried to keep going somehow, but they had to pull the plug after spending $15 million.

These things happen.

In the documentary, they kept referring to Gilliam's Baron Munchausen movie, which did go way over budget and gave people the idea that Gilliam was out of control.


I never liked Gilliam's movies that well. I think I expected them to be funnier since he was a Monty Python guy. I should watch them again.

He should have directed the Harry Potter movies. His criticism of Steven Spielberg I heard in YouTube is interesting:
"Spielberg, and the success of most films in Hollywood these days, I think is down to the fact that [they're] comforting, they tie things up in nice little bows, gives you answers, even if the answers are stupid. We go home and we don't have to worry about it. The Kubricks of this world and the great filmmakers make you go home and think about it.

"...There's a wonderful quote in the book that Freddie Raphael wrote about Eyes Wide Shut---it was called Eyes Wide Open---and he's talking to Kubrick about Schindler's List and the Holocaust, and he says, 'The thing is that Schindler's List is about success; the Holocaust was about failure.' And that's Kubrick. Spot on.

"Schindler's List had to--we had to save those few people. Happy ending. A man can do what a man can do, and stop death for a few people. That's not what the Holocaust is about. It's about complete failure of civilization that allows six million people to die."

In the documentary on Heaven's Gate, they kept referring to Cimino having directed Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, produced by and starring Clint Eastwood. Cimino stayed on schedule and on budget. He had no choice because Clint Eastwood was there. Eastwood didn't like wasting time. If they were taking too long to set up a shot, he would tell them it was good enough, let's just do it, and they had to beg him to do retakes.

Eastwood has said that filmmakers are going for a level of perfection that really isn't necessary.

On the other hand, I was watching Reel Geezers on You Tube, movie reviews by a pair of elderly film industry retirees. They reviewed Eastwood's Gran Torino. One didn't think it was that good and that the problem was that they didn't do retakes and they didn't do enough to help the younger cast members with their performances.

I don't know if Clint Eastwood is just thrifty, or if he doesn't have the sensitivity to know that his movies could be a lot better, although retakes would have been wasted on Cimino. He wasn't interested in actors, just in the visuals. His background was filming intricately choreographed TV commercials. His thing was arranging actors on the screen. If it ever seemed that he did more than that, it was by accident.


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