Michael Cimino, director of the Oscar winning film The Deer Hunter (1978) and the notorious Heaven's Gate (1980), died on July 2 2016. A cause has yet to be determined.
There is very little known for certain about Michael Cimino's early life. He varied in the dates he gave for his birth, including February 3 1943, November 16, 1943, and even February 3 1952. Many sources give his date of birth as February 3 1939. He grew up in Long Island, New York. Michael Cimino attended Michigan State University, where he earned a degree in graphic arts. He then went to Yale where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree and then a graduate degree.
After graduating from Yale, Michael Cimino went into advertising. In 1965 he shot an ad for Pepsi set at Disneyland, using the then current "Pepsi Generation" slogan. He shot a rather famous ad for United Airlines with the tag line "Take Me Along" in 1967. He also shot commercials for Eastman Kodak, Kool Cigarettes, and L’Eggs.
After several years in advertising he left to take up screenwriting. He co-wrote the science fiction classic Silent Running (1972) with Deric Washburn and Steve Bochco and the Dirty Harry movie Magnum Force (1973) with John Milius. He wrote the screenplay for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), which also marked his directorial debut. He followed Thunderbolt and Lightfoot with the Vietnam War film The Deer Hunter. The Deer Hunter won five Academy Awards, including Beset Picture Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (for Christopher Walken), Best Editing (for Peter Zinner), and Best Sound.
Unfortunately, Michael Cimino's next film would very nearly end his career. Heaven's Gate ran over its shooting schedule by a year and ultimately cost four times its allotted budget. Worse yet, upon its release Heaven's Gate was almost universally panned by critics and proved to be a disaster at the box office. Costing $44 million, it only took in $3.5 million.
Michael Cimino's career never quite recovered from Heaven's Gate. He only directed a few more movies in his career. Year of the Dragon (1985), The Sicilian (1987), Desperate Hours (1990), and The Sunchaser (1996) were released to negative reviews and largely indifferent audiences. His last work as a director was the segment in the portmanteau film Chacun son cinéma ou Ce petit coup au coeur quand la lumière s'éteint et que le film commence (2007).
Following the failure of Heaven's Gate Michael Cimino's reputation never recovered. Some critics even questioned whether The Deer Hunter deserved the Oscars it won. That having been said, I think in some respects Michael Cimino may have been judged too harshly. Oh, there is no doubt that Year of the Dragon, The Sicilian, Desperate Hours, and The Sunchaser are rather poor movies, to say the least, but then I think The Deer Hunter is still a fine movie and Heaven's Gate, for all its faults, has its good points. Quite simply, Michael Cimino had a gift for visuals. Even at his absolute worst, Michael Cimino's films are beautiful to look at. And while it does not seem quite so apparent in his later films, Mr Cimino had some talent as a screenwriter. He co-wrote Silent Running and Magnum Force, and wrote Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Deer Hunter. All four films could be considered classics in their genres. While Michael Cimino will probably always be remembered for Heaven's Gate, it was not the sum total of his career.