Has any other filmmaker had a career trajectory quite like Michael Cimino’s? After winning Best Picture and Best Director for his second film, 1978’s devastating “The Deer Hunter,” the writer/director was given carte blanche for his third. “Heaven’s Gate” was the result, and though it torpedoed Cimino’s career and nearly destroyed United Artists, in recent years it’s come to be appreciated as the sprawling, moving drama that it is. Jeff Bridges, who starred in that film as well as “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” has written a remembrance of Cimino, who died on Saturday at 77.
In a Facebook post, the Oscar winner recalls first meeting Cimino on the set of “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” which he starred in alongside Clint Eastwood — and felt hugely unprepared for. Fortunately, the first-time director was ready with a pep talk that’s stuck with Bridges in the more than 40 years since: “After not too long a pause, Mike looked at me, and said, ‘You know that game Tag?’ ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Well…You’re it,’ Mike told me. He went on to say that this guy, Lightfoot, was no one other than me, that I couldn’t make a mistake, or a false move, even if I wanted to. I’ve never forgotten that bit of direction that that young director gave me on his first movie, that gift of confidence.”
He also has fond memories of “Heaven’s Gate,” even if most critics, industry insiders and moviegoers didn’t at the time. “The many months of shooting in Montana were a one of a kind movie making experience,” Bridges writes. “When ‘Heaven’s Gate’ came out, many critics called it a flop, a disaster. Well…that’s just their opinion, man. To me, and many others, it’s a masterpiece, and grows in beauty each time it’s seen.”
“Michael Cimino was a splendid filmmaker,” he adds at the end of his post. “Getting to work with him was a great pleasure and honor, and a real stroke of luck, a blessing. I’ll miss you, Mike. Thanks for tagging me, man.”