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Heaven's Gate?

The Meat Market -- Overheated
The Meat Market -- Overheated
Copyright: <a href=''>trubach / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Heaven's Gate (1980) is the only film I can think of that warrants a Senatorial investigation. It would not be a waste of taxpayer money. Certainly the 1890s were every bit as interesting as the 1990s, when the Cold War ended and the world straightaway began to focus on a new world order. The story, taken from real life, concerning the Johnson County War, is fascinating. As far as the mostly bad reputation the final result garnered, fairly or not, there is nothing to add. But the film raises several issues worth going into, as far as these go. They are of genuine substance. For instance, the struggle for power, or, in some cases, merely life itself, deserves a closer look. I can see this film as a semi-realistic rendering of a piece of American history, unique in many ways within the context of movies that deal with the past. But I can also see it in ways never intended, such as the dismantling of the USSR. I can visualize in my own mind's eye breakaway anti-Russian forces squaring off with the Old Guard. Various peoples in communist satellite countries were as disgusted as the immigrants depicted in the movie, whose voyage to America, then America's hinterland, came down, ultimately, to a matter of dodging bullets.

People always wreck everything, don't they? In 1890s Wyoming, why don't they just lie down, give up, and sacrifice everything so that men in finely woven coats from prestigious schools back east, if not overseas, can make their millions and maintain an outward visibility that cannot fail to impress much more than a ragtag collection of poor Europeans who do not have a clue? One hundred and twenty-five are selected to meet the needs of a proscription as if modeled on ancient Rome. Emperors were keen on taking the lives of wealthy citizens to confiscate their property. But the men on this list have nothing. Nonetheless, they are capable, motivated, and unafraid of hard work. Thus they pose a threat to an Association of ranchers who consider themselves above the law.

The doomed are called thieves. There is some truth to the charge. In old Wyoming, few stores allow buying on credit. Clearly, there is nothing flawed or fainthearted about the story. Once again, reality proves stranger than fiction. At some point, the preyed upon decide not to be shot down in cold blood, organize, and fight back. Nevermind the critics, including this one. Even an armchair moviemaker knows that it takes more to create an epic than to merely follow a script with the camera on. I have my own ideas as to what turned off the ticket-buyer and how, if it were possible, to turn him or her back on. But I also want to at least introduce another avenue of explanation, purely theoretical. The whole film medium might be overrated; it could be much more limited than it sometimes seems. Not everything translates into its audio-visual terrain.

Stated otherwise, the subject matter might have been too large and could not be captured. It is that way with a lot of topics that creativity attempts to tackle. To my mind, Emile Zola's novel, The Debacle, is another example, though this might not be the mainstream verdict. His anti-war depictions do not make the same impact he made with other difficult themes. Then again, some movies and books are successful that also fail to measure up, except that they are more likable, usually due to elements of distraction more than the chief focus of attention. All in all, the arts are probably not going to prove mankind's salvation. They generally point in the right direction, since they incorporate ethics and morals. The best works are always meaningful. But without receptivity on behalf of the viewer, reader, or audience, they are only lifeless objects.

As an intellectual exercise, one could devise a hundred variations on the material upon which Heaven's Gate rests using the very same characters and text. Maybe those investigative Senators referred to above could siphon off enough money from PACs to bring about a re-make. I wouldn't mind. I'd definitely see it. The 1890s were horrific from various points of view, involving all sorts of human rights violations. The Johnson County War is an instance that should not be forgotten and dismissed, the way the past is so often treated, in order to move more completely into the more modern, brave new world. Further, what future awaits to really justify such a cavalier attitude? Where are we going anyways? Nowhere! All this gadgetry is so much idiocy, a level toward which advanced technology, in my opinion, will eventually reduce us. Stated otherwise, in 2014, one can look back upon 1914, 1814, et cetera, to draw conclusions that might actually prove helpful in the present. But looking forward exclusively? To, say, 2114? What are the odds?