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Critical Reassessment: 'Heaven’s Gate' And 11 More Films That Have Been Reconsidered Over Time

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist December 5, 2012 at 2:18PM

A few weeks ago, "Heaven's Gate" hit Blu-ray and DVD again in new, restored and extended thanks to the good folk at Criterion. It's only the latest sign of the rehabilitation of Michael Cimino's, an epic Western that famously brought down its studio, virtually ended the director's career, and became so synonymous with disaster that Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" was nicknamed "Kevin's Gate" by wags when it seemed that it too was headed for failure.
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One From The Heart
“One From The Heart” (1982)
With some of these selections there's been an undercurrent of “Yes, not that bad, but, hey, not really that good, either.” But none on this list sums it up so succinctly as “One From the Heart,” and the thing it is most known for, its soundtrack. Bluntly, it features Tom Waits (always relevant) and Crystal Gayle (known for having long hair.) Shot on heavily stylized interior sets made to look like the Vegas strip, this film is all neon and deep colors and Nastassja Kinski wearing wispy clothes in a giant martini glass. Francis Ford Coppola isn't afraid to go put a stylistic stake in the ground (he'd do so again with “Rumble Fish” and with “Tetro”) and “One From The Heart” is, indeed, a visual treat. The characters don't quite gel, however, and it is no wonder that this movie didn't connect with audiences. A $26 million budget netted around $640,000 domestically, forcing Coppola to declare bankruptcy. (Some of that money went toward then-new video editing technology that enabled a live camera-mounted feed and the ability to “call shots” like a TV director, look at live playback and have blueprint assemblies made instantaneously.) The two-disc DVD came out in 2003, a re-release hit select cities in 2004 (the San Francisco Chronicle called it “an integral piece of the oeuvre of one of America's great directors") and a Blu-ray comes out this week with the new Coppola box set.

Ryan's Daughter
“Ryan's Daughter” (1970)
Sir David Lean's run of big fat friggin' epics had no equal. “The Bridge on the River Kwai” followed by “Lawrence of Arabia” followed by “Dr. Zhivago” showed that he could bring gorgeous imagery and exuberant drama back from any corner of the globe. At least until he went to Ireland. Reteaming with 'Lawrence' and 'Zhivago' writer Robert Bolt for a loose adaptation of “Madame Bovary,” “Ryan's Daughter” is 195 minutes of Super Panavision 70 mm footage of Robert Mitchum and a bunch of other guys standing around in wool getting wet. Okay, that's not an accurate description, but it's how we emember it. In 1970 Vincent Canby accused it of substituting grandeur for depth and Roger Ebert said it was “less than met the eye.” In 2006 it got the double-disc DVD release with Lean's original cut (206 rainy minutes!) and the Film Society of Lincoln Center has programmed it for a New Year's Eve screening as part of its “See It in 70mm” series. David Kehr's accompanying blurb on FilmLinc's website (from a review written in 1985, so ahead of the curve reassessment-wise) trumpets “crazy mismatches in scale contribut[ing] to the film's sense of romantic delirium.” So maybe it might be worth giving this another shot.

Sorcerer
"Sorcerer" (1977)
Ever-controversial filmmaker William Friedkin has been fighting on behalf of his winningly grimy remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 film noir "The Wages of Fear" from its initial 1980 production to present. His still ongoing lawsuit against Paramount Pictures for ownership of the film is a testament to how sticky the film's legacy has become. But like Clouzot's film before it, Friedkin's movie is brimming with the over-the-top pulp realism and vicious sense of humor that makes it so spectacular. A key influence on Stephen Soderbergh's "Che," Friedkin's film follows a team of desperate Nicaraguan migrant workers that offer to ferry a shipment of unstable dynamite 200 miles across the jungle. Roy Scheider stars in a role that Friedkin originally wanted to cast Steve McQueen in, and that Scheider was later reluctant to talk about (Friedkin reportedly removed a subplot that made Scheider's character look more sympathetic). But the film is as over-sized as it is because Friedkin is effectively making three different films: the first is a spy thriller, the second a docudrama about the gruesome and inhumane conditions Nicaraguan peasants live in, and the third is a sweat-and-blood-covered ticking-clock thriller. The results are almost as immediately gripping as Clouzot's original, though never quite as engrossing.  In fact, Friedkin, a great admirer of Clouzot's "Les Diaboliques," has recently said that while he's satisfied with the film, he himself doesn't think it could ever touch "Wages of Fear."

Zabriskie Point
“Zabriskie Point” (1970)
Hungry freaks, daddy. MGM throws a bunch of money at some crazy Italian “artist” (Michelangelo Antonioni) in the hopes of getting the kids all worked up. Sam Shepard collaborates on the script (but travels to Europe by sea because he's terrified of flying.) The result is a movie that's half Marxist blathering and half naked hippies rolling around in the dirt. Then a cantilevered modern home explodes and Wonder Bread wrappers float by the camera in slow motion. It was a box office disaster that the squares hated (naturally) but the kids by and large rejected it, too, because it seemed to come a little too late. Few critics were kind. It never sank into total obscurity, though, for a number of reasons. Despite having no stars (the leads were bonafide revolutionaries, man) the soundtrack featuring Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and others had some choice tracks, so it was a ubiquitous curiosity at video stores forever. In the mid-1990s a nice print showed up at New York's Anthology Film Archives and suddenly people were paying more attention to the cinematography (the way the billboards of LA are framed are, indeed, something special) than to the subtle-as-a-battle-mace dialogue. Once again our friend Dave Kehr leads the voice of revisionism, this time in the New York Times in 2009. For the release of the Blu-ray he writes the film has “grown stranger and more compelling with the passing years. What once seemed like a bluntly didactic fiction from the European left (beautiful young idealists brought down by the Man) now looks politically ambiguous and artistically elusive.”

Honorary Mentions: Other films you could consider in the same category include "The Shining" (which saw Shelley Duvall nominated for a Razzie), the coolly-received 'Blade Runner," Scorsese's "New York New York," Hitchcock's "Marnie" and "Frenzy," Coppola's "The Outsiders," Brian De Palma's "Dressed To Kill" (and indeed, much of the director's work, which maintains a fervent critical following), Friedkin's "Cruising," John Boorman's "Zardoz," Ken Russell's "The Devils" and even "Bonnie & Clyde," which was initially dismissed, only to get a second win soon after thanks to Pauline Kael, among others.

And then there's more recent fare that's starting to get re-evaluated: David Fincher's "The Game," Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut," Terry Gilliam's "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas," David Cronenberg's "Crash," the Coen Brothers' "The Ladykillers" and even Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret." What films, older or recent, would you like to see get a second shake of the critical stick? And which films from this year do you think will get a reappraisal in decades to come? Weigh in below.

- Jordan Hoffman, Simon Abrams, Rodrigo Perez, Kevin Jagernauth, Oliver Lyttelton

This article is related to: Features


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