the “2-film” rule

So I was listening to some podcast while huffing glue and the two hosts introduced an interesting concept: if a film director makes two unquestionably great movies, then they belong in the canon of great directors.

It seemed like a sound enough argument. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a hundred more times: it is extraordinarily difficult to make ONE good film. If a filmmaker can make one good movie, then replicate that impact in a subsequent film, then it’s obvious that the director knows what he/she is doing.

But the more you think about it, you come across some problems: specifically what it means to be “great”, or even a “Director”. Because if this criterion were true, then we find that a few questionable directors would belong in this canon.

Some examples:

Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Stop Making Sense)

John McTiernan (Predator, Die Hard, Hunt For Red October)

George Lucas (Star Wars, American Graffiti, THX-1138)

Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator)

Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Dirty Dozen)

William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist, Sorcerer)

Etc, etc, etc

While there are a bunch of notable films on those director’s resumes, would any of those directors be considered “great”? (IMHO, I would say “yes” for Friedkin, Aldrich, and McTiernan. “No” for the others.)

A “three film” criteria would fix this: Ford, Hitchcock, Wilder, Lean, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Coppola, Scorsese, Tarantino, and Spielberg would easily hurdle this barrier. But what about directors that made ONE unquestionably great film?

The Deer Hunter is arguably the greatest film ever made. And it was the only great movie that Michael Cimino directed.

But here’s another example: Orson Welles.

Citizen Kane IS unquestionably the greatest movie ever made. Now name another movie he made that had a similar impact? The Magnificent Ambersons? Touch of Evil? The Lady From Shanghai? Sure, they were good to VERY good. But were they Citizen Kane…or even Deer Hunter…great? Yet every cinephile would undoubtedly place Welles as one of the greats in film history.

And what about the niche directors…David Lynch, Paul Verhoeven, John Carpenter, Sergio Leone, and even Paul Schrader, etc etc? I’d argue that it’s these directors that have the greatest influence on younger audiences.

What about the directors that aren’t auteurs? Some operate more as “CEOs” in their craft. George Lucas is one of these guys. Ridley Scott is too (and Spielberg to some extent). My personal fav is John Sturges, who directed such bangers like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Bad Day at Black Rock (a forgotten classic).

So I don’t know, the “two film” rule doesn’t seem to work (neither does the idea of a “canon”). It’s all too subjective.

As a side not, I didn’t mention very many European directors or auteurs of other nations. That’s obviously my American bias. Like it or not, cinema is the one (and only) contribution that the US has uniquely made to the arts. Nevertheless, these filmmakers deserve a shoutout. The Japanese, Korean, and Italian directors have a distinctiveness that I greatly appreciate and I regret not mentioning more of them. The Mexican film industry is criminally underrated. British directors, at least with their mainstream work, mimic their American counterparts. Tarkovsky, Costa-Garves, Wim Wenders Fellini, Herzog, and Pasolini are all incredible as well.

But the French New Wave sucked.

deer Hunter is the greatest movie ever made

Along with Tourette’s Guy and Randall Dale Adams, Michael Cimino is my spirit animal.

And The Deer Hunter is Cimino’s finest hour. Nay…the finest hour in film history.

I always love it when filmmakers buck tradition. Now I love James Bond as much as the next guy. But honestly, I’m glad they killed Bond in the latest movie. I hope they do it in every Bond movie going forward. Don’t give the audience what they want. Give them what YOU want.

And The Deer Hunter does that.

So why does no one mention it as one of the great classics of 70s cinema…up there with The Godfather, Taxi Driver, and Apocalypse Now?

Michael Cimino probably has something to do with that. His notorious flop Heaven’s Gate ruined his reputation forever. But as I mentioned, Cimino doesn’t give the audience a rewarding cinematic experience.

There’s a wedding scene that takes 9 hours for fuck’s sake.

But I’ve said this once and I’ll say it a thousand times: The Deer Hunter is not a film. It’s a fever dream.

You know…you’ve had those dreams that were so powerful that you feel forever changed when you awake. But you can’t explain it to others.

So you don’t talk about it again.

That’s the Deer Hunter.

That’s why it sort of gets lost in the shuffle when the subject of greatest movies ever made is discussed. You can’t explain it.

What’s it about?

It’s about coming back from Vietnam.

But is that what it’s really about?

I suppose it’s subject is of family, of friendship…of surviving…and it’s all loosely held together by a plot of three friends going to Vietnam, getting separated, then coming home.

When the the Deer Hunter is brought up, it’s usually in reference to the Russian Roulette scene. And that is a DAMN GOOD scene, perhaps the most tense in all of film. But the ending is perfect.

Is it meant to be sarcastic? Hopeful? Pessimistic?

It all ends ambiguously and unresolved.

Much like a dream.

Michael Cimino might have been a one hit wonder, but damn…

Michael Cimino, American Hero

Orson Wells, John Huston, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan….

Michael Cimino.

Legend

GOAT

The director of the Deer Hunter (1978), who immediately after hoisting the Academy Award for Best Director began work on dismantling a major movie studio by staring production on the Heaven’s Gate (1980)…the greatest Hollywood flop of all time.

The Deer Hunter, Cimino’s magnum opus, is without question one of the great American films. That is if we can call it a “film”. It’s more like a fever dream. Characters drunk as shit drive from Pennsylvania to Washington state, shoot a deer, and drive back…all within 48 hours. Robert DeNiro torches a guy. And the three main characters are forced by a bunch of racist caricatures to play Russian Roulette. It’s an undeniably powerful film that accurately captures the American psyche post-Vietnam.

With the success of the Deer Hunter, Cimino had carte blanche in Hollywood to do whatever he wanted. He chose Heaven’s Gate, produced by United Artists, a story about an obscure dispute in Wyoming in the 1800s and staring a hot, Hot, HOT Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, and Isabella Huppert (John Hurt’s hot too I guess). It was to be the greatest western of all time, solidifying Michael Cimino as one of the great auteurs.

When production started, problems instantly arose. Doing his best Kubrick impression, Cimino demanded take after take from his actors. He’d delay production to get the perfect shot of the Montana landscape where the film was shot, or demand that sets be torn down and rebuilt to exact specifications. He’d also charge the studio absurdly high rent to film on land that he allegedly owned (respect). The budget soared and United Artist was getting nervous.

Was it all worth it?

Lol, no.

Heaven’s Gate infamously flopped. Critics hated it. And it financially ruined United Artists (the James Bond franchise, arguably their most lucrative property at the time, would ultimately bail them out).

Despite attempts by internet and European critics to say it’s secretly a “masterpiece” 40 years after its release, Heaven’s Gate simply…doesn’t…work. The film looks like shit (sorry Vilmos Zsigmond fans), scenes go on longer than they should, and obviously Michael Cimino was feeling himself a little too much. If wasting money and being pretentious is an art form, then yes, Heaven’s Gate is a masterpiece.

Michael Cimino changed Hollywood. Gone were the days when auteurs ruled Hollywood. It wasn’t until John Landis killed three people (later acquitted) on the set of the Twilight Zone that Hollywood finally put the kibosh on artistic freedom.

Cimino would go on to direct some crap in 1980s, but his legacy was secure. That’s not worth nothin’, and I believe that’s worth honoring.

Michael Cimino passed away in 2016.

While I regard The Deer Hunter to be his finest work, one can’t forget the time Cimino, horribly disfigured by plastic surgery, roasted and mocked the entire crowd at Locarno Film Festival.

Legend