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Michael Cimino

Michael Cimino
Born (1939-02-03) February 3, 1939
New York City, New York United States
Education Yale University
(BFA Painting, 1961;
MFA Painting, 1963)
Occupation Film director · Producer
Screenwriter · Author

Michael Cimino ( ;[1] born February 3, 1939) is an American film director, screenwriter, producer and author. He is best known for directing, producing and co-writing the 1978 Academy Award-winning film The Deer Hunter and for writing and directing 1980's financial and critical failure Heaven's Gate, although now some critics have described the latter as a "modern masterpiece."[2]


  • Origins 1
    • Education 1.1
  • Early career 2
    • Commercials 2.1
    • Screenwriting 2.2
  • Film career 3
    • Thunderbolt and Lightfoot 3.1
    • The Deer Hunter 3.2
    • Heaven's Gate 3.3
    • Year of the Dragon 3.4
    • The Sicilian 3.5
    • Desperate Hours 3.6
    • Sunchaser 3.7
  • Trademarks 4
  • Unrealized projects 5
    • The Fountainhead 5.1
    • Crime and Punishment 5.2
    • Perfect Strangers 5.3
    • Untitled Porgy & Bess Project 5.4
    • The Life and Dreams of Frank Costello 5.5
    • Pearl 5.6
    • Conquering Horse 5.7
    • Footloose 5.8
    • The Pope of Greenwich Village 5.9
    • Legs Diamond Bio Pic 5.10
    • Born on the Fourth of July 5.11
    • Hand-Carved Coffins 5.12
    • The Yellow Jersey 5.13
    • Michael Collins 5.14
    • Collaborations with Raymond Carver 5.15
    • Full Circle 5.16
    • Santa Ana Wind 5.17
    • Paradise Junction 5.18
    • The Dreaming Place 5.19
    • Man's Fate 5.20
  • Books 6
  • Interviews 7
  • Praise 8
  • Criticisms 9
    • Colleagues 9.1
    • Critics 9.2
  • Conflicting stories on background 10
    • Age 10.1
    • Education and early career 10.2
    • Military service 10.3
  • Filmography 11
  • References 12
    • Annotations 12.1
    • Footnotes 12.2
    • Bibliography 12.3
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14


Michael Cimino was born in New York City on February 3, 1939.[3][a 1] A third-generation Italian-American,[5][6] Cimino grew up in Old Westbury, Long Island.[7] He was regarded as a prodigy at the private schools his parents sent him to, but rebelled against his parents by consorting with delinquents, getting into fights and coming home drunk.[8] Of this time, Cimino described himself as "always hanging around with kids my parents didn't approve of. Those guys were so alive. When I was fifteen I spent three weeks driving all over Brooklyn with a guy who was following his girlfriend. He was convinced she was cheating on him, and he had a gun, he was going to kill her. There was such passion and intensity about their lives. When the rich kids got together, the most we ever did was cross against a red light."[9]

His father was a music publisher.[8] Cimino says his father was responsible for marching bands and organs playing pop music at football games.[10] "When my father found out I went into the movie business, he didn't talk to me for a year," Cimino said.[8] "He was very tall and thin ... His weight never changed his whole life and he didn't have a gray hair on his head. He was a bit like a Vanderbilt or a Whitney, one of those guys. He was the life of the party, women loved him, a real womanizer. He smoked like a fiend. He loved his martinis. He died really young. He was away a lot, but he was fun. I was just a tiny kid."[10] His mother, a costume designer,[10] once told him after The Deer Hunter that she knew he was famous because his name was in the New York Times crossword puzzle.[8]

His nephew is novelist and screenwriter T. Rafael Cimino.[11]


Cimino graduated from Westbury High School on Long Island in 1956. After graduating, he entered Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. At Michigan State, Cimino majored in graphic arts, was a member of a weight-lifting club and a group that welcomed incoming students. He graduated in only three years with honors and won the Harry Suffrin Advertising Award. He was described in the 1959 Red Cedar Log yearbook as having tastes that included blondes, Thelonious Monk, Chico Hamilton, Mort Sahl, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and "drinking, preferably vodka".[12]

In Cimino's final year at Michigan State, he became art director, and later managing editor, of the school's humor magazine Spartan. Steven Bach wrote of Cimino's early magazine work: "It is here that one can see what are perhaps the first public manifestations of the Cimino visual sensibility, and they are impressive. He thoroughly restyled the Spartan's derivative Punch look, designing a number of its strikingly handsome covers himself. The Cimino-designed covers are bold and strong, with a sure sense of space and design. They compare favorably to professional work honored in, say, any of the Modern Publicity annuals of the late fifties and are far better than the routine work turned out on Madison Avenue. The impact and quality of his work no doubt contributed to his winning the Harry Suffrin Advertising Award at MSU and perhaps to his acceptance at Yale."[12]

At Yale, Cimino continued to study painting as well as architecture and art history and became involved in school dramatics.[13] In 1962, while still at Yale, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve.[4][7] He trained for five months at Fort Dix, New Jersey and had a month of medical training in Fort Sam Houston, Texas.[4][8] Cimino graduated from Yale University, receiving his BFA in 1961 and his MFA in 1963, both in painting.[4][8]

Early career


A still from Cimino's "Take Me Along" commercial[14]

After graduating from Yale, Cimino moved to Manhattan to work in Madison Avenue advertising and became a star director of television commercials.[8][15] He shot ads for L'eggs hosiery, Kool cigarettes, Eastman Kodak, United Airlines, and Pepsi, among others.[8][14] "I met some people who were doing fashion stuff-commercials and stills. And there were all these incredibly beautiful girls," Cimino said. "And then, zoom-the next thing I know, overnight, I was directing commercials."[8] For example, Cimino directed the 1967 United Airlines commercial "Take Me Along", a musical extravaganza in which a group of ladies sing Take Me Along (adapted from a short-lived Broadway musical) to a group of men, presumably their husbands, to take them on a flight. The commercial is filled with dynamic visuals, American symbolism and elaborate set design that would become Cimino's trademark. "The clients of the agencies liked Cimino," remarked Charles Okun, Cimino's production manager from 1964 to 1978. "His visuals were fabulous, but the amount of time it took was just astronomical. Because he was so meticulous and took so long. Nothing was easy with Michael."[14] It was through his commercial work that Cimino met Joann Carelli, then a commercial director representative, beginning a 30-year on-again-off-again relationship.[8]


In 1971, Cimino moved to Los Angeles to start a career as a screenwriter.[9] According to Cimino, it was Carelli that got him into screenwriting: "[Joann] actually talked me into it. I'd never really written anything ever before. I still don't regard myself as a writer. I've probably written thirteen to fourteen screenplays by [1978] and I still don't think of myself that way. Yet, that's how I make a living."[16] Cimino added, "I started writing screenplays principally because I didn't have the money to buy books or to option properties. At that time you only had a chance to direct if you owned a screenplay which some star wanted to do, and that's precisely what happened with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot."[5][17] Cimino gained representation from Stan Kamen of William Morris Agency.[18] He co-wrote two scripts (the science fiction film Silent Running and Clint Eastwood's second Dirty Harry film, Magnum Force) before moving on to film directing.[7] Cimino's work on Magnum Force impressed Eastwood enough to buy Cimino's spec script called Thunderbolt and Lightfoot for Eastwood's production company, Malpaso.

Film career

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Cimino moved up to directing on the feature Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974).[15] The film stars Clint Eastwood as a Korean War vet named "Thunderbolt" who takes a young drifter named "Lightfoot", played by Jeff Bridges, under his wing. When Thunderbolt's old partners try to find him, he and Lightfoot make a pact with them to pull one last big heist at Montana Armored. Eastwood was originally slated to direct it himself, but Cimino impressed Eastwood enough to change his mind. The film became a solid box office success at the time, making $25,000,000 at the box office with a budget of $4,000,000.[19]

The Deer Hunter

With the success of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Cimino says he "got a lot of offers, but decided to take a gamble. I would only get involved with projects I really wanted to do." He rejected several offers before pitching an ambitious Vietnam War film to EMI executives in November 1976. To Cimino's surprise, EMI accepted the film.[9] Cimino went on to direct, co-write, and co-produce The Deer Hunter (1978). The film stars Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage as three buddies in a Pennsylvania steel mill town who fight in the Vietnam War and rebuild their lives in the aftermath. The film went over-schedule and over-budget,[20] but it became a massive critical and commercial success,[21] and won five Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture for Cimino.[22]

Heaven's Gate

On the basis of his track record, Cimino was given free rein by United Artists for his next film, Heaven's Gate (1980). The film came in several times over budget. After its release, it proved to be a financial disaster that nearly bankrupted the studio. Heaven's Gate became the lightning rod for the industry perception of the loosely controlled situation in Hollywood at that time. The film's failure marked the end of the New Hollywood era. Transamerica Corporation sold United Artists, having lost confidence in the company and its management.[23]

Heaven's Gate was such a devastating critical and commercial bomb that public perception of Cimino's work was tainted in its wake; the majority of his subsequent films achieved neither popular nor critical success.[24] Many critics who had originally praised The Deer Hunter became far more reserved about the picture and about Cimino after Heaven's Gate. The story of the making of the movie, and UA's subsequent downfall, was documented in Steven Bach's book Final Cut. Cimino's film was somewhat rehabilitated by an unlikely source: the Z Channel, a cable pay TV channel that at its peak in the mid-1980s served 100,000 of Los Angeles's most influential film professionals. After the unsuccessful release of the re-edited and shortened Heaven's Gate, Jerry Harvey, the channel's programmer, decided to play Cimino's original 219 minute cut on Christmas Eve 1982. The re-assembled movie received admiring reviews.[25]

Year of the Dragon

Cimino directed a 1985 crime drama, Year of the Dragon, which he and Oliver Stone adapted from Robert Daley's novel. However, Year of the Dragon was also nominated for five Razzie awards, including Worst Director and Worst Screenplay.[26] The film was sharply criticized for providing offensive stereotypes about Chinese Americans.[10]

The Sicilian

Cimino directed The Sicilian from a Mario Puzo novel in 1987. The film bombed at the box office, costing an estimated $16 million[a 2], grossing $5 million domestically.[28]

Desperate Hours

Cimino directed a remake of the Humphrey Bogart film The Desperate Hours in 1990, starring Anthony Hopkins and Mickey Rourke. Rourke also appeared in Heaven's Gate and Year of the Dragon. The film was another box-office disappointment, grossing less than $3 million.[29]


Cimino's last feature-length film to date has been 1996's Sunchaser with Woody Harrelson and Jon Seda. While nominated for the Palme d'Or at that year's Cannes Film Festival,[30] the film was released to video.[31]


Cimino's films are often marked by their visual style[8][24] and controversial subject matter.[32][33][34] Elements of Cimino's visual sensibility include shooting in widescreen (in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio),[35] deliberate pacing[8] and big set-piece/non-dialogue sequences.[36] The subject matter in Cimino's films frequently focuses on aspects of American history and culture, notably disillusionment over the American Dream.[37][38][39] Other trademarks include the casting of non-professional actors in supporting roles (Chuck Aspegren as Axel in The Deer Hunter, Ariane in Year of the Dragon)[40][41]

Cimino frequently credits Clint Eastwood, John Ford,[42][a 3] Luchino Visconti and Akira Kurosawa[a 4] as his cinematic influences.[40][43] Cimino has said that if it wasn't for Eastwood, he would not be in the movies: "I owe everything to Clint."[40] Cimino also gave his literary references as Vladimir Nabokov, Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, Gore Vidal, Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, the classics of Islamic literature, Frank Norris and Steven Pinker.[44]

Unrealized projects

Since the beginning of his film career, Cimino has been attached to many projects that either fell apart in pre-production or were jettisoned due to his reputation following Heaven's Gate. Steven Bach wrote that despite setbacks in Cimino's career, "he may yet deliver a film that will make his career larger than the cautionary tale it often seems to be or, conversely, the story of genius thwarted by the system that is still popular in certain circles."[45] Film historian David Thomson added to this sentiment: "The flimsy nastiness of his last four pictures is no reason to think we have seen the last of Cimino. ... If he ever emerges at full budgetary throttle, his own career should be his subject."[38] Cimino claims he has written at least 50 scripts overall[10] and was briefly considered to helm The Godfather Part III.[46]

Among the Cimino projects that have stalled in development or given to other directors include:

The Fountainhead

Cimino's dream project has been an adaptation of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Taking its cue from more than the novel, it was largely modeled on architect Jørn Utzon's troubled building of the Sydney Opera House, as well as the construction of the Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York. He wrote the script in between Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Deer Hunter, and hoped to have Clint Eastwood play Howard Roark.[47][48]

Crime and Punishment

Cimino's other dream project has been an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.[8]

Perfect Strangers

Cimino spent a year and a half working on a script entitled Perfect Strangers, a political love story. "... It bears some resemblance to Casablanca (1942)," said Cimino, "involving the romantic relationship of three people. Someone called it a romantic Z (1969). I was very close to doing it. In fact, we'd already shot two weeks of pre-production stuff, but because of various political machinations at the studio, the project fell through. This was just before David Picker left. He was the producer. There were internal difficulties, that's all. Nevertheless, I'd spent a year and a half of my life on something. It had been a difficult time. My father passed away while I was writing the screenplay. I kept working ..."[49]

Untitled Porgy & Bess Project

One of Cimino's goals since first arriving in Hollywood was to make a film musical. One of his dream projects was a musical inspired by Juilliard pianist, as they struggle to mount a production of the opera.[48]

The Life and Dreams of Frank Costello

After Perfect Strangers fell through, Cimino spent two and a half years working with James Toback on The Life and Dreams of Frank Costello, a biopic on the life of mafia boss Costello, for 20th Century Fox. "We got a good screenplay together," said Cimino, "but again, the studio, 20th Century Fox in this case, was going through management changes and the script was put aside." Cimino added, "Costello took a long time because Costello himself had a long, interesting life. The selection of things to film was quite hard.[49]


Cimino wrote a biography on Janis Joplin called Pearl while working on the Costello biopic, both for 20th Century Fox.[8][49] "It's almost a musical," replied Cimino, "I was working with Bo Goldman on that one and we were doing a series of rewrites."[49] "All these projects were in the air at once," Cimino recalled, "I postponed The Fountainhead until we had a first draft on Pearl, then after meetings with Jimmy began Frank Costello."[49]

Conquering Horse

Cimino also wanted to write and direct an adaptation of Frederick Manfred's Western novel Conquering Horse, an epic, set in pre-white America, to have been shot in the Sioux language.[50] Conquering Horse was intended to follow the anticipated success of Heaven's Gate but was never realized after the failure of that film.[51]


In 1984, after being unable to finalize a deal with director Herbert Ross, Paramount Pictures offered the job of directing Footloose to Cimino. According to screenwriter Dean Pitchford, Cimino was at the helm of Footloose for four months, making more and more extravagant demands in terms of set construction and overall production. In the process Cimino reimagined the film as a musical-comedy inspired by The Grapes of Wrath. Paramount realized that it potentially had another Heaven's Gate on its hands. Cimino was fired and Ross was brought on to direct the picture.[48][52][53][53]

The Pope of Greenwich Village

Cimino was scheduled to work on Pope, which would have reunited him with actor Mickey Rourke from Heaven's Gate. After Rourke and Eric Roberts signed on as the leads, Cimino wanted to finesse the screenplay with some rewriting and restructuring. However, the rewriting would have taken Cimino beyond the mandated start date for shooting, so Cimino and MGM parted ways. Stuart Rosenberg was hired as a result.[54] The film, while receiving admiring reviews, bombed at the box office.

Legs Diamond Bio Pic

An article in The Hollywood Reporter about actor Leonardo Termo (Angelo Rizzo in Year of the Dragon) touched on how Termo and Mickey Rourke were friends, and how Termo had appeared in most of Rourke's films. The article says "The pair also were set to appear in a Cimino biopic at Embassy Pictures about "Legs" Diamond that never got made, with Rourke as the legendary 1930s gangster and Termo playing his bodyguard."[55]

Born on the Fourth of July

In the late 1970s, Cimino passed on an offer to direct Oliver Stone's adaptation of Midnight Express. A few years later, he met Stone again, who was optioning his screenplay for Born on the Fourth of July. Cimino was eager to make the film, going so far as to offer to work for nothing, even attracting Al Pacino for the role of Ron Kovic. The producers declined. The film was eventually directed by Stone himself in 1989, and the two would later collaborate on Year of the Dragon.[48]

Hand-Carved Coffins

Cimino attempted an adaptation of Truman Capote's Hand-Carved Coffins.[56]

The Yellow Jersey

Cimino was in talks to direct The Yellow Jersey, a bicycle racing drama with a script by Carl Foreman and starring Dustin Hoffman.[7] The project was ultimately abandoned as it proved logistically difficult to shoot during the actual Tour de France.[48]

Michael Collins

In 1987, Cimino attempted to make an epic saga about the 1920s Irish rebel Michael Collins, but the film had to be abandoned due to budget, weather and script problems. The film was to have been funded by Nelson Entertainment.[56]

Collaborations with Raymond Carver

Cimino worked on two films with the short story writer Raymond Carver. The first was Purple Lake, a contemporary Western about "juvenile delinquents who return to society after serving time in prison."[48][57] The other was a biography of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Backed by Carlo Ponti, Carver took over from an uncredited Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Heavily researched, and taking Dostoyevsky's near execution as its focal point, the final screenplay was 220 pages long. Fragments were eventually published by Capra Press.[58][59]

Full Circle

According to a John Woo interview, "Currently we are in preproduction at Twentieth Century-Fox. It is a story about five Americans who (due to circumstances beyond their control) become stranded in the Amazon Rainforest. Each has to battle the elements and their own weaknesses to survive. I am very excited about this project. There are things that will be quite challenging for me—the rainforest, underwater scenes, crocodiles, and thousands of extras! We are also planning a project based on a story by me called Full Circle. The director Michael Cimino will be writing the script. The project will have a similar style to The Killer".[60]

Santa Ana Wind

Shortly after the Michael Collins biopic was cancelled, Cimino quickly started pre-production work on Santa Ana Wind, a contemporary romantic drama is set in L.A. The start date for shooting was to have been early December 1987. The screenplay was written by Floyd Mutrux and the film was to be bankrolled by Nelson Entertainment, which also backed Collins. Cimino's reperesentative added that the film was "about the San Fernando Valley and the friendship between two guys" and "more intimate" than Cimino's previous big-budget work like Heaven's Gate and the yet-to-be-released The Sicilian.[56] However, Nelson Holdings International Ltd. cancelled the project after disclosing that its banks, including Security Pacific National Bank, had reduced the company's borrowing power after Nelson failed to meet certain financial requirements in its loan agreements. A spokesman for Nelson said the cancellation occurred "in the normal course of business," but declined to elaborate. The film had been budgeted at about $15 million and was to have begun production shortly. The film, intended for distribution by Columbia, didn't feature any major stars.[61]

Paradise Junction

According to Library Journal Taut. Fast paced. That's Finch's style (demonstrated in Sugarland, LJ 9/1/91), and this latest thriller literally speeds through plot and characters. It's perhaps more cinematic than novelistic, as attested to by Warner's acquisition of the movie rights (Michael Cimino is writing the screenplay). Gorgeous "heroine" Caitlin is totally bored with life and her wealthy husband, Hays, who suddenly finds that his direct-sales business is falling. At Caitlin's instigation, they team up with ex-con Sonny Naull in a series of successful burglaries undertaken more for kicks than for money. Into this mix comes Hays's reprehensible business partner, a Samoan muscleman, a troupe of nasty bikers, and a Marine named Welcome. The action is furious in this thoroughly entertaining novel, but the reader must pay close attention to sort it all out. For popular collections. - Chet Hagan, Berks Cty. P.L. System, Pa. Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.[62]

The Dreaming Place

Cimino was attached to direct The Dreaming Place in 1997.[63] The film, which was in the early stages of development, was to be a male vigilante story, along the lines of Paramount's Eye for an Eye. Rodney Vaccaro wrote the screenplay under the supervision of Cimino, and Jonathon Komack Martin was to be executive producer. The planned budget was not revealed.[64]

Man's Fate

Cimino has written a three-hour-long adaptation of André Malraux's 1933 novel about the early days of the Chinese Revolution.[8][44] The story will focus on several Europeans living in Shanghai during the tragic turmoil that characterized the onset of China's Communist regime.[65] "The screenplay, I think, is the best one I've ever done," adding that he has "half the money; [we're] trying to raise the other half."[10] The roughly $25 million project is to be filmed wholly on location in Shanghai and will benefit from the support of China's government, which has said it will provide some $2 million worth of local labor costs.[65] Cimino has been scouting locations in China since 2001.[8][20][44] "There was never a better time to try to do Man's Fate", Cimino said, "because Man's Fate is what it's all about right now. It's about the nature of love, of friendship, the nature of honor and dignity. How fragile and important all of those things are in a time of crisis." Martha De Laurentiis, who with her husband Dino helped produce Year of the Dragon and Desperate Hours with Cimino, read his script for Man's Fate and passed on it. "If you edit it down, it could be a very tight, beautiful, sensational movie," she said, "but violent, and ultimately a subject matter that I don't think America is that interested in."[8]


In 2001, Cimino published his first novel, Big Jane. Later that year, the French Minister of Culture decorated him Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres[8] and the Prix Littéraire Deauville 2001, an award that previously went to Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal.[10] "Oh, I'm the happiest, I think, I've ever been!" said Cimino.[10] Cimino also wrote a book called Conversations en miroir with Francesca Pollock in 2003.[66]


Interviews with Cimino are rare: He declined all interviews with American journalists for 10 years following Heaven's Gate[10] and he gives his part in the making of that film little discussion. Peter Biskind's highly critical book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls deal with the film and resulting scandal.[67] Hickenlooper's book includes one of the few candid discussions with Cimino; Biskind focuses on events during and after the production as a later backdrop for the sweeping changes made to Hollywood and the movie brat generation. Steven Bach, a former UA studio executive, wrote Final Cut (1985), which describes in detail how Heaven's Gate brought down United Artists. Cimino has called Bach's book a "work of fiction" by a "degenerate who never even came on the set."[10] However, Bach's work does discuss times in which he did appear at the shooting location to confront Cimino about the budgetary issues.

While Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Francis Ford Coppola, Gene Hackman, Sidney Lumet and Robert De Niro all gave interviews for the 2009 John Cazale documentary I Knew It Was You, Cimino refused to do so.

However, the European DVD release of The Deer Hunter contains an audio commentary[41] with Cimino as does the American DVD release of Year of the Dragon.[40]

In 2011, the French movie critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret wrote a large profile on Michael Cimino for Les Cahiers du Cinema. Cimino makes the cover.

In 2013, Thoret publish in France an acclaimed book, Michael Cimino, les voix perdues de l'Amérique (lost voices of America). Flammarion. ISBN 978-2081261600


After Cimino's success with The Deer Hunter, he was considered a "Second Coming" among critics.[20] In 1985, author Michael Bliss described Michael Cimino as a unique American filmmaker after only three films: "Cimino occupies an important position in today's cinema ... a man whose cinematic obsession it is to extract, represent, and investigate those essential elements in the American psyche ..."[37] Frequent collaborator [68] Film director/screenwriter Quentin Tarantino has also expressed great admiration and praise for Cimino's The Deer Hunter, especially with regards to the Vietnamese POW Russian roulette sequence: "The Russian roulette sequence is just out and out one of the best pieces of film ever made, ever shot, ever edited, ever performed. ... Anybody can go off about Michael Cimino all they want but when you get to that sequence you just have to shut up."[69] Tarantino also loved Cimino's Year of the Dragon[70] and listed its climax as his favorite killer movie moment in 2004.[71]


Cimino has been described by colleagues and critics as vain, self-indulgent, egotistical, megalomaniacal and an enfant terrible.[10][72] Producers and critics have tended to be harsher on Cimino than his collaborators. Critics, for example, Pauline Kael,[73] John Simon[74] and John Powers,[75] have also noted and criticized these qualities in many of the films he has written and directed. Cimino has also been known to give exaggerated, misleading and conflicting stories about himself, his background and his filmmaking experiences.


In writing about his experience working on The Sicilian, producer Bruce McNall described Cimino as "one part artistic genius and one part infantile egomaniac."[76] In his book, Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off, producer Michael Deeley described his experience with Cimino on Deer Hunter a "travail",[77] adding "the only flaw I find in my Oscar [for The Deer Hunter] is that Cimino's name is also engraved on it."[78] Deeley went on to criticize Cimino further for his deceit and lack of professional respect: "Cimino was selfish. ... Selfishness, in itself, is not necessarily a flaw in a director, unless it swells into ruthless self-indulgence combined with a total disregard for the terms in which the production has been set."[79] Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond has said that Cimino is hard to work with but extremely talented visually.[80]


Pauline Kael and John Simon have criticized Cimino's abilities as a filmmaker and storyteller. His failure with Heaven's Gate has led many commentators to joke and/or suggest that he give back his Oscars for The Deer Hunter. Pauline Kael in The New Yorker described Cimino's storytelling abilities in her review of Year of the Dragon:

As I see it, Michael Cimino doesn't think in terms of dramatic values: he doesn't know how to develop characters, or how to get any interaction among them. He transposes an art-school student's approach from paintings to movies, and make visual choices: this is a New York movie, so he wants a lot of blue and harsh light and a realistic surface. He works completely derivatively, from earlier movies, and his only idea of how to dramatize things is to churn up this surface and get it roiling. The whole thing is just material for Cimino the visual artist to impose his personality on. He doesn't actually dramatize himself—it isn't as if he tore his psyche apart and animated the pieces of it (the way a Griffith or a Peckinpah did). He doesn't animate anything.[73]

John Foote questioned whether or not Cimino deserved his Oscars for The Deer Hunter: "It seemed in the spring of 1979, following the Oscar ceremony, there was a sense in the industry that if the Academy could have taken back their votes — which saw The Deer Hunter and director Michael Cimino winning for Best Picture and Best Director — they would have done so."[81]

Peter Biskind offered one of the harshest criticisms of Cimino pre-Heaven's Gate when he described Cimino as "our first, home-grown fascist director, our own Leni Riefenstahl".[82]

Conflicting stories on background

Cimino has also been known to give exaggerated, misleading and conflicting (or simply tongue-in-cheek) stories about himself, his background and his filmmaking experiences. "When I'm kidding, I'm serious, and when I'm serious, I'm kidding," responded Cimino. "I am not who I am, and I am who I am not."[10] Subsequent research by journalists and authors have revealed how and where Cimino has given false information.


Cimino has given various dates for his birth, usually shaving a couple of years off to seem younger, including February 3, 1943, November 16, 1943,[63] and February 3, 1952.[10] Many biographies about Cimino, like the Michael Cimino entries in David Thomson's The New Biographical Dictionary of Film[38] and Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia,[13] simply list his year of birth as 1943.[15][53] In reference to Cimino's interview with Leticia Kent on December 10, 1978, Steven Bach said, "Cimino wasn't thirty-five but a few months shy of forty."[4]

Education and early career

Cimino claimed he got his start in documentary films following his work in academia and nearly completed a doctorate at Yale.[83] Some of these details are repeated in reviews of Cimino's films[a 5] or his official bios.[13][53] Steven Bach refuted those claims in his book Final Cut: "[Cimino] had done no work toward a doctorate and he had become known in New York as a maker not of documentaries but of sophisticated television commercials."[4]

Military service

During the production of The Deer Hunter, Cimino had given co-workers (such as cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and associate producer Joann Carelli) the vague impression that much of the storyline was biographical, somehow related to the director's own experience and based on the experiences of men he had known during his service in Vietnam. Just as the film was about to open, Cimino gave an interview to The New York Times in which he claimed that he had been "attached to a Green Beret medical unit" at the time of the Tet Offensive of 1968. When the Times reporter, who had not been able to corroborate this, questioned the studio about it, studio executives panicked and fabricated "evidence" to support the story.[20] Universal Studios president Thom Mount commented at the time, "I know this guy. He was no more a medic in the Green Berets than I'm a rutabaga."[20] Tom Buckley, a veteran Vietnam correspondent for the Times, corroborated that Cimino had done a stint as an Army medic, but that the director had never been attached to the Green Berets. Cimino's active service – just six months in 1962 – had been as a reservist who was never deployed to Vietnam.[85] Cimino's publicist reportedly said that he intended to sue Buckley, but Cimino never did.[20]


Year Title Box office Contribution Notes
1972 Silent Running Co-writer Screenwriting debut
1973 Magnum Force $39,768,000[86] Co-writer
1974 Thunderbolt and Lightfoot $21,700,000[87] Director/Writer Directorial debut
1978 The Deer Hunter $48,979,328[88] Director/Co-writer/Co-producer Oscar win for Best Picture and Best Director
1979 The Rose $29,174,648[89] Writer (uncredited)[15][90]
1980 Heaven's Gate $3,484,331[91] Director/Writer Razzie win for Worst Director
1981 The Dogs of War $5,484,132[92] Writer (uncredited)[15][90]
1985 Year of the Dragon $18,707,466[93] Director/Co-writer
1987 The Sicilian $5,406,879[28] Director
1990 Desperate Hours $2,742,912[29] Director
1996 Sunchaser $21,508[31] Director, producer Final feature film
2007 No Translation Needed Director Segment in To Each His Own Cinema



  1. ^ Cimino has given various dates for his birth, but his real birthdate is most likely February 3, 1939. In reference to Cimino's interview with Leticia Kent on December 10th 1978, Bach said, "Cimino wasn't thirty-five but a few months shy of forty."[4]
  2. ^ Estimate for The Sicilian film budget based on: "Total American gross at the box office was $5.5 million, about a third of our production costs." (3 x 5.5=16.5).[27]
  3. ^ Three of Ford's films, They Were Expendable, The Searchers, and My Darling Clementine, are on Cimino's list of the ten best films of all time according to the 1992 Sight and Sound poll of directors.
  4. ^ Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is also on Cimino's list of the ten best films of all time.
  5. ^ In Pauline Kael's review of The Deer Hunter, she wrote about Cimino "When his interest turned to movies, he worked in documentary film and in commercials ..."[84]


  1. ^ Say How? A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures: "Cimino, Michael" [chi-MĒ-nō. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  2. ^ Heaven's Gate (film)
  3. ^ Heard, p. 26.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Bach, p. 170
  5. ^ a b Andrews, p. 249.
  6. ^ Lawton, Ben (2001). "America Through Italian/American Eyes: Dream or Nightmare?". From the Margins: Writing in Italian Americana. Purdue University. [Cimino is said to be Italian/American]
  7. ^ a b c d Bliss, p. 268
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Griffin, Nancy (February 10, 2002). "Last Typhoon Cimino Is Back". The New York Observer 16 (6): pp. 1+15+17.
  9. ^ a b c Wakeman, John (1988). World Film Directors (2). The H. W. Wilson Company. pp. 214–219.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Garbarino, Steve (March 2002). "Michael Cimino's Final Cut". Vanity Fair (499): pp. 232–235+250-252. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b Bach, p. 171
  13. ^ a b c Katz, Ephraim (1998). The Film Encyclopedia (3rd ed.). New York, NY: HarperCollins. p. 257. ISBN 0-06-273492-X.
  14. ^ a b c Epstein, Michael (director). (2004). Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate. [Television Production]. Viewfinder Productions.
  15. ^ a b c d e Hickenlooper, p. 76
  16. ^ Carducci; Gallagher, p. 39.
  17. ^ Andrews, p. 250.
  18. ^ McGilligan, p. 237.
  19. ^ Eliot, Marc (October 6, 2009). American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood (1st ed.). New York, NY: Rebel Road, Inc. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-307-33688-0.
  20. ^ a b c d e f Biskind, Peter (March 2008). "The Vietnam Oscars". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  21. ^ Deeley, p. 197.
  22. ^ Dirks, Tim. (1978)"The Deer Hunter". Greatest Films. Retrieved 2010-05-26.
  23. ^ Bach, p. 404.
  24. ^ a b Bach, p. 420.
  25. ^ Bach, p. 413
  26. ^ Wilson, John (January 2, 2002). "1985 Archive of 6th Annual RAZZIE Awards". Retrieved 2010-05-25.
  27. ^ McNall & D'Antonio, Pg. 115.
  28. ^ a b "The Sicilian". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-07-17.
  29. ^ a b (1990)"Desperate Hours". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  30. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Sunchaser". 1996. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
  31. ^ a b (1996)"The Sunchaser". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  32. ^ Dirks, Tim. "The Most Controversial Films of All-Time Part 11 1970s". Greatest Films. Retrieved 2011-03-26.
  33. ^ Dirks, Tim. "The Most Controversial Films of All-Time Part 13 1980s". Greatest Films. Retrieved 2011-03-26.
  34. ^ Dirks, Tim. "The Most Controversial Films of All-Time Part 14 1980s". Greatest Films. Retrieved 2011-03-26.
  35. ^ Gillet, Sandy (July 20, 2005). Michael Cimino - Paris Heaven's Gate Master class. Retrieved 2011-05-30.
  36. ^ Andrews, p. 247.
  37. ^ a b Bliss, p. 147
  38. ^ a b c Thomson, p. 178.
  39. ^ "MICHAEL CIMINO, CANARDEUR ENCHAINÉ / réalisateur de Voyage au bout de l'enfer, La Porte du Paradis, L'Année du Dragon ..." (in French). Retrieved 2011-05-04.
  40. ^ a b c d Cimino, Michael (director) (2005). Commentary by director Michael Cimino. [Year of the Dragon Region 1 DVD]. Turner Entertainment Co.
  41. ^ a b Cimino, Michael (director); Feeney, F. X. (critic). DVD commentary by director Michael Cimino and film critic F. X. Feeney. Included on The Deer Hunter UK region 2 DVD release and the StudioCanal Blu-ray.
  42. ^ Andrews, p. 248.
  43. ^ Hickenlooper, p. 88.
  44. ^ a b c Macnab, Geoffrey (December 6, 2001). "War stories". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-04-30.
  45. ^ Bach, p. 421.
  46. ^ Schumacher, Michael (October 19, 1999). Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker's Life (Hardcover ed.). New York, NY: Crown. p. 412. ISBN 978-0-517-70445-5.
  47. ^ Hickenlooper, p. 78
  48. ^ a b c d e f Chevrie, Marc; Narboni, Jean; Ostria, Vincent (November 1985). "The Right Place" (in French). Cahiers du cinéma (n377).
  49. ^ a b c d e Carducci; Gallagher, p. 40
  50. ^ Ciment, Michel; Henry, Michael (September 1981). "Nouvel entretien avec Michael Cimino" (in French). Positif (n246).
  51. ^ Medved, Harry & Medved, Michael, (1984), The Hollywood Hall of Shame, p 185
  52. ^ Holleran, Scott (October 12, 2004). ?"Footloose"Shall We . Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  53. ^ a b c d Andrews, p. 245.
  54. ^ Heard, p. 42.
  55. ^
  56. ^ a b c Klady, Leonard (October 4, 1987). "Checking On Cimino". Los Angeles. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
  57. ^ Carver, Raymond; Morrisroe, Patricia (1990). "A Voice from the Wastland". Conversations with Raymond Carver. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 81. ISBN 0-87805-449-9.
  58. ^ Sklenica, Carol (2009). Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life. p. 393. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-6245-X.
  59. ^ Carver, Raymond; Gallagher, Tess (1985). Dostoevsky: a screenplay. Capra Press. ISBN 978-0-88496-236-6.
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  62. ^
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  65. ^ a b Staff Reporter (September 4, 2001). "Michael Cimino Discovers 'Man's Fate' in Shanghai". Home Media Magazine.
  66. ^ Cimino, Michael; Pollock, Francesca (writer) (2003). Conversations en miroir (in French). Paris: Gallimard.
  67. ^ Biskind, Peter (April 27, 1998). "'Coming Apart' & 'The Eve of Destruction'". Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (Hardcover, 1st ed.). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-80996-0.
  68. ^ Heard, p. 29.
  69. ^ Joyce, Paul (Director/Producer); Rodley, Chris (Director/Producer). (1994). Tarantino on Robert De Niro. [Television Production]. UK: Channel 4. Full video on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
  70. ^ Clarkson, Wensley (2007). Quentin Tarantino: The Man, The Myths and His Movies (Hardcover ed.). London, England: John Blake Publishing Ltd. p. 313. ISBN 978-1-84454-366-3.
  71. ^ Schilling, Mary Kaye (April 16, 2004). "The Second Coming". Entertainment Weekly (760). Retrieved 2010-08-20.
  72. ^ Dirks, Tim. "Cinematic Terms - A FilmMaking Glossary: D2-E1". Greatest Films. Retrieved 2011-06-03.
  73. ^ a b Kael, p. 35.
  74. ^ Simon, John (February 16, 1979). New York. Anthologized in the collection Reverse Angle (1982).
  75. ^ Rainer, p. 311
  76. ^ McNalll & D'Antonio, p. 103
  77. ^ Deeley, p. 3
  78. ^ Deeley, p. 5
  79. ^ Deeley, p. 178.
  80. ^ Shooting The Deer Hunter: An interview with Vilmos Zsigmond. [DVD & Blu-ray]. Blue Underground. Interview with the cinematographer, located on The Deer Hunter UK Region 2 DVD and StudioCanal Blu-ray.
  81. ^ Foote, John (June 3rd, 2008). "Cimino and Oscar". Retrieved 2011-05-09.
  82. ^ ""Come Back to the Mill, Nick Honey": The Deer Hunter Misses The Target". Gods and Monsters. New York, NY: Nation Books. March 30, 1979. p. 91. 
  83. ^ Bach, p. 169.
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  86. ^ (1973)"Magnum Force". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  87. ^ (1974)"Thunderbolt and Lightfoot". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  88. ^ (1978)"The Deer Hunter". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  89. ^ (1979)"The Rose". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
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  91. ^ (1980)"Heaven's Gate". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  92. ^ (1981)"The Dogs of War". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
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  • Bach, Steven (September 1, 1999). Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists (Updated ed.). New York, NY: Newmarket Press. ISBN 978-1-55704-374-0.
  • Bliss, Michael (1985). Martin Scorsese & Michael Cimino (Hardcover ed.). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press Inc. ISBN 0-8108-1783-7.
  • Heard, Christopher (2006). Mickey Rourke: High and Low. London, England: Plexus Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-0-85965-386-2.
  • Deeley, Michael (April 7, 2009). Blade Runners, Deer Hunters, & Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies (Hardcover ed.). New York, NY: Pegasus Books LLC. ISBN 978-1-60598-038-6.
  • Carducci, Mark Patrick (writer); Gallagher, John Andrew (editor) (July 1977). "Michael Cimino". Film Directors on Directing (Paperback ed.). Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-275-93272-9.
  • Reel Conversations: Candid Interviews with Film's Foremost Directors and Critics (1st ed.). Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel. pp. 76–89. ISBN 978-0-8065-1237-2.
  • Heard, Christopher (2006). Mickey Rourke: High and Low. London, England: Plexus Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-0-85965-386-2.
  • Kael, Pauline (1989). "The Great White Hope". Hooked (Hardcover ed.). New York, NY: E.P Dutton. pp. 31–38. ISBN 0-525-48429-9.
  • McGilligan, Patrick (1999). Clint: The Life and Legend. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-638354-8.
  • McNall, Bruce; D'Antonio, Michael (July 9, 2003). Fun While It Lasted: My Rise and Fall In the Land of Fame and Fortune (1st ed.). New York, NY: Hyperion. ISBN 978-0-7868-6864-3.
  • Powers, John (writer); Rainer, Peter (editor) (1992). "Michael Cimino: Year of the Dragon". Love and Hisses. San Francisco, CA: Mercury House. pp. 310–320. ISBN 1-56279-031-5.
  • Thomson, David (October 26, 2010). The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Fifth Edition, Completely Updated and Expanded (Hardcover ed.). Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-27174-7.
  • Thoret, Jean-Baptiste. Le Cinéma américain des années 1970, Éditions de l'Étoile/Cahiers du cinéma, 2006. ISBN 2-86642-404-2
  • Thoret, Jean-Baptiste. En route avec Michael Cimino, large profile and interview published in Cahiers du Cinéma, October 2011.

Further reading

  • Adair, Gilbert (1981). Hollywood's Vietnam (1989 revised ed.). London: Proteus.
  • Marchetti, Gina (1991). "Ethnicity, the Cinema and Cultural Studies." Unspeakable Images: Ethnicity and the American Cinema. Ed. Lester D. Friedman. Urbana: University of Illinois Press
  • Marchetti, Gina (1993). "Conclusion: The Postmodern Spectacle of Race and Romance in 'Year of the Dragon.'" Romance and the "Yellow Peril": Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • McGee, Patrick (2007). "The Multitude at Heaven's Gate". From Shane to Kill Bill. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Wood, Robin (1986). "From Buddies to Lovers" + "Two Films by Michael Cimino". Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan and Beyond. New York.
  • Woolland, Brian (1995). "Class Frontiers: The View through Heaven's Gate." The Book of Westerns. Ed. Ian Cameron and Douglas Pye. New York: Continuum

External links

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