Heaven's Gate | 1980
As a film, Heaven’s Gate is not the disaster that legend would have it, but it lost serious money and all but finished United Artists. The whole story is recounted in Stephen Bach’s fascinating book Final Cut.
It does look gorgeous, the care and detail are astonishing but the whole film doesn’t hang together.
The prologue, set at ‘Harvard University’, was an afterthought. In order to film it, Michael Cimino insisted on yet another $3million on top of the already bloated budget, after principal photography had already finished.
It gets worse.
The opening sunrise shot features Tom Tower, the Gothic-style belltower of Christ Church College, designed in 1682 by Sir Christopher Wren.
This actually works, since Harvard’s Dunster House Tower is actually a copy of the building.
The band marches to the graduation ceremony under Hertford Bridge (popularly known as the Bridge of Sighs) crossing New College Lane to connect the two Hertford College buildings.
It’s heading to the Sheldonian Theatre, Broad Street, where the Reverend Doctor (Joseph Cotten) gives the address. The Theatre was also designed by Wren, in the late 1660s, and is normally used for University ceremonies, lectures and concerts. There are guided and self-guided tours for the public.
The alfresco dance uses the spacious Victorian Quad of Mansfield College, Mansfield Road.
The major location for the movie, though, was east of the city of Kalispell, in Flathead County, central Montana. The town of ‘Sweetwater’ was a huge set built over the parking lot on the east shore of Two Medicine Lake, about 100 miles east of Kalispell on US Route 2. The two mountains in the background across the lake are Sinopah Mountain and, in the distance, Painted Teepee.
North Fork is described as an area of “reduced visitation”, home of rare wildlife reached only by private vehicle on unpaved roads. Predictably, the production ran into problems with alleged disruption of the fragile ecosystem.
The site, at the junction of 6th Street and Pine Street, is just about recognizable but there have been big changes. The railroad has gone and the elevated section of I-90 now cuts through the area. This necessitated moving the historic old Northern Pacific Railroad Depot 200 feet. Thankfully this was preserved and now houses the Railroad Museum.