Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute

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After the stunning success of director Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, you know the film with the Russian roulette scene that is endlessly referenced? I swear, if one more person yells, “Didi mao!” at a card game I’m going to drag them to ‘Nam and beat them with cheap currency. Anyway, Michael Cimino’s next film, Heaven’s Gate, was a catastrophe.

Much like the cult of the same name, Heaven’s Gate the film ran over budget, over time and was plagued by negative press and diphtheria, culminating in the eventual collapse of United Artists and forging Michael Cimino’s reputation as an overbearing, out of control director.

As Michael believed the film was worthy of spending the modern equivalent of $120 million and bankrupting a film studio founded by Charlie Chaplin, I will review Heaven’s Gate with all the attention, respect and reverence the could-have-been masterpiece deserves.

This is a review of each individual minute of Heaven’s Gate. A micro analysis of the film will allow me to fathom the artistry poured into this enormous film. The DVD running time of Heaven’s Gate is 229 minutes, which is just under four hours or the average life expectancy of an adult mayfly. I have my work cut out for me, but it’s still going to be easier than my original plan of reviewing it frame by frame.

So, here it is – Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, minute by minute…

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The opening credits (so far) are beautiful in their simplicity. Cimino has opted for classic and dramatic white letters on a black background. The font is reasonable and the director has resisted the temptation to use Sanskrit or the Cyrillic alphabet, (though the latter would have been acceptable for a Russian release). You are immediately filled with anticipation. Will Christopher Walken feature in scenes that make creative use of a tarp? Will John Hurt balance atop something cylindrical? One can only guess. But as soon as Kris Kristofferson’s name appears and is spelled accurately, you know you’re in good hands.

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Well, frankly the second minute of opening credits was not as dynamic or energetic as the first. It’s more of the same, and after a stellar opening minute of names fading in and out, you are left feeling a little disappointed.

It’s an old technique, but the second minute could have benefited from the filmmaker intercutting pictures of zebras and gnus between the credits.

However, it wasn’t all bad. There is a false ending to the credits just before the two-minute mark, proving Cimino still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Additionally, “Joseph Cotton as the Reverend Doctor” is a credit that should feature in all opening credit sequences.

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The final names appear, then pictures! But first it should be noted that Michael Cimino has given himself two credits – written by and directed by. Rather than having his name appear twice, Cimino could have combined the two and formed a “written and directed by” title. Cimino clearly knows nothing of word economy.

But considering this is a man who’s produced a three plus hour film, I don’t know why I should expect any different.

Despite this, the moving pictures are the focus of this minute. An orange sky, a man running toward a gate and a superimposed caption beginning to fade in. Why is the man running? Did he set fire to a hedge? Did a hedge set fire to his aunt and he’s running to get help? Why are hedges lighting people on fire?

I look forward to answers.

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The caption fades in. It reads “Harvard College Cambridge, Massachusetts 1870”. Judging from the wear on the tree in the left third of frame, I would have said 1871, but there’s no time for pedantry, because the man is running at alarming speed. Alas, no signs of hedges, nor of a hedge plot to set fire to aunties. There is instead the distant sound of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I thought the man may have been running to warn the band that the American Civil was over and the film was to be a story about a group of rogue Harvard students who, refusing to believe the war has ended, build a replica Abraham Lincoln out of cobble stones and surplus twine. But it quickly becomes apparent that the man is Kris Kristofferson and he’s running to join a parade. A friend calls Kristofferson “James”, revealing that Kris must be playing some sort of character who goes by this name. At any rate, James seems rather happy to be joining the parade. And who wouldn’t be? There are top hats as far as the eye can see! James takes in the merriment as the band marches through a suspiciously Oxford looking Harvard and John Hurt says something inaudible – probably about wagons. James also wears gloves.

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“Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on!” The parading persons seem very keen on throwing their hats into the air. This minute is practically an exposé of hat throwing at Harvard University in the 1870s. The students would want to be careful. In 1864 graduating students at Yale University each threw up their hats at the same time, blocking out the sun for ninety days and killing all life in Connecticut. John Hurt joyfully utters a curious line, “this very night I am going to repent all my sins.” I assume he killed a hooker, but what was her name? And what was John Hurt’s motivation for lashing out in such a way? It’s hard to know as the band drowns out the rest of his sentence. The music is stirring and the costumes are terrific, but I felt this scene could have used a pie fight or some form of archaic jape to distract the audience from the fact that nothing has happened yet.heavens-gate5

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The terminus of the marchers is revealed – It’s a hall of some description. Finally, the band leads the hat throwing hollering idiots to their destination. The horn players, to their credit, seem incredibly focused. I wonder how much the band would be paid for performing in that procession? Are they employed by the university on a permanent basis? More likely they’re a student band who are happy performing to gain experience. They’d probably won the regional battle of the marching bands in the summer of 1869 and are building their reputation and stage time. If I had to criticise the musicians, I’d suggest they expand their repertoire. I don’t think I could listen to another second of Battle Hymn of the Republic. They could have played something by Chuck Berry, perhaps? Or even Philip Glass or Julian Lennon. There was not one banjo either. When I arrive as part of a procession at a hall, stadium, youth club, chamber or community centre, I like to be heralded by at least three banjo players and a lute player who doesn’t play the instrument, but rather smashes it across the heads of the banjo players. As you can tell by my in depth analysis of the Harvard band, this is a minute of film that could have been cut from Heaven’s Gate if Michael hadn’t been padding to make the film an acceptable length. These thousand reel pictures are so hard to fill out…

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It’s quite intimidating being marched at.

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At last! After the drama of the opening credits and intensity of the band, Heaven’s Gate reveals a lighter side.

Believe it or not, it comes in the guise of John Hurt and some off-the-wall hijinx. If you play this minute backwards through a violet filter you soon realise that Hurt’s clowning is a clever distraction. While Hurt hilariously puts his top hat onto a head that is not his, numbers and phrases appear that signpost it’s only another four minutes to go until the famous eleventh minute of Heaven’s Gate – sixty seconds that Michael Cimino himself claimed was “the greatest minute ever captured on celluloid”. What will that minute portray? The beach? Stress balls? At this stage only the wisest of mystics would hazard a guess through fear of getting it wrong and being shunned by their oracle friends, consequently resulting in being unwelcome at soothsayer dinner parties. But let us remove the violet filter and get back to the John Hurt comedy showcase.

The focus of the comedy is his interruptions of a valedictory speech. It makes you want to cast him as the zany sidekick in a film about a straight-laced man who finds himself mistaken for a blackjack champion, in trouble with the mob, and forced to play cards to save his life and the comparatively more attractive woman he loves. It’d be called “Double Down” and would go straight to video – literally. It would not be put on DVD, but rather some outdated media such as VHS or Beta.

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A gnu

Anyway, I will leave you with the phrase that closes the minute, “it is not great wealth alone that builds the library”. Mmm, put on some violet tinted glasses, say it backwards and mull on that.

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It is abundantly clear that “behove” is a word which is not used oft’ enough in modern cinema. I personally believe it behoves all hairdressers to watch this 60,000,000,000 nanoseconds of film as the side part count is through the roof! The tally is kept on a large scoreboard atop the hall where the class of ’70 are congregated. A large scaffold surrounds the board as it is being renovated thanks to the kind donations of Mrs. Herbert Slone. Of course, the scoreboard isn’t shown and Mrs. Slone is never mentioned, but their existence is implied by the way Kris Kristofferson blinks. It’s a testament to Kristofferson’s acting. Was Brando able to imply a large score keeping device on a roof by merely closing his eyes momentarily? I think not! Well, maybe once… certainly in On the Waterfront, possibly in Superman and about nine times during the Godfather – but that’s all!

I can’t wait to experience what else Kristofferson’s involuntary facial movements convey.

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sidepart, hidden by hats

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My goodness! Kristofferson’s nose twitches implying that he enjoys crocheting collars in chateaus. How does he do it? I’ll bet he owns a hut. Well, in a change of pace, something appears to be happening. John Hurt, referred to as the “class orator”, is called to the lectern. Then there’s clapping and by minute’s end he is not yet at the lectern. Perhaps John Hurt’s character will do something bold and dramatic, like move the plot forward, or even get the story started. So far we know it’s 1870 and a class is graduating. This has taken nine minutes to establish. If that ratio of two pieces of information per nine minutes was applied to a film like Star Wars: A New Hope, it would have had a running time of six years. The film series would therefore collectively run for approximately thirty-six years, or just over the average lifespan of a pre-Columbian North American. But my gut tells me that Hurt’s character will not move the plot along during his speech. It also tells me that Columbus wouldn’t enjoy westerns, but would opt for German melodrama as his film genre of choice.

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The budget blow out probably took root during this speech. Look at all those outfits.
The budget blow out probably took root during this speech. Look at all those outfits.

John Hurt takes to the lectern. Here is what he said:

“Class of ’70, (applause and cheers), I enjoy many things – a symmetrically hung photo frame, for instance. But there is no thing on this earth I enjoy more than clams. Oh, how the thought of a happy clam makes me tingle with excitement. I find every aspect of bivalve molluscs gives me great pleasure – from their spectacular shells to their soft gooey innards. There are many things one can do with a clam. Soup, chowder, pasta and even curries are a delectable vessel for the clam, but one must not discount non-culinary (polite applause), applications. Clams enjoy being taken to fairs and ice-rinks and great satisfaction can be obtained through witnessing a clam participating in wholesome activities at these venues. I once saw a clam ice dance to the music of Verdi and then frighten a local boy by lobbing itself into the child’s ice-cream cone. The boy was immediately hospitalised, but later saw the funny side. (Applause.) I have been known, by all of you, to do a great many things with clams. You are all aware that I often freeze clams, with the intent of later throwing them at dogs. I have, on occasion, placed them in pianos and I frequently use their shells as castanets in order to mock the Spanish. I have made a gold chair and I intend to spend my days sitting on it amongst the many clams I’ve accumulated and have passing travellers ask me questions. I… I feel alienated and I wear jumpers in the summer time even though it’s hot and makes people feel hotter when they look at me.”

Or at least that’s what I think he said – I don’t know, I had the sound down.

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I eagerly sit in my viewing chamber, remote at the ready. I’m about to witness the minute of Heaven’s Gate that Michael Cimino was most proud of. In fact, he believed it to be the greatest sixty ever seconds captured on film. I hit play and sit back. But something strange occurs. The DVD skips over the eleventh minute and moves straight to the twelfth. I rewind, skip back, press stop, mute and play, but nothing seems to work. I remove the DVD from the player, blow some dust from the surface (like that ever works), and notice something very peculiar. On the disk is a circle of microscopic black dots. I scratch and rub, but nothing will remove them. It becomes obvious what has happened. For some weeks I’d had the suspicion that I was being followed. I wasn’t sure by who or why, but it’s abundantly clear that one of Cimino’s goons has broken into my castle and altered my copy of Heaven’s Gate to stop me viewing and reviewing the eleventh minute.

I ring all local video stores to try and rent Heaven’s Gate, but every copy in the suburb has been borrowed by a Mr. Omnici. My last hope is the local library, but I arrive to discover it has been burned to the ground.

I skulk home and find an odd note pinned to the drawbridge. The note is blank, but smells of lemon juice. I know exactly what to do. I take it inside and wave the note over a candle. It instantly bursts into flames and I’m left holding an incinerated letter and reeking of burned lemons. But what if the note didn’t hold a secret message, but was a clue? I run to my lemon cupboard and remove the largest. I calve it open and in the lemon’s centre discover a microfilm. Without pause I rush to retrieve the microfilm projector I bought from a catalogue when I was seven and load the film. The message reads “meet me in the lemon cupboard”. I rush back to the lemon cupboard to find a man in a tweed jacket and leather slacks smoking a pipe. He takes a lemon and squeezes the juice over his head, all the while staring intently at me. Spitting juice as he speaks, the maninstructs me to travel to an address in Auckland. I rub my eyes to wipe away the citric acid to find the smoking man has disappeared.

I board my private jet and head straight for Auckland, via Christchurch to do some shopping. The address is in the centre of Auckland, but the driveway to the house is some 40km long, winding through forests and mountain ranges. I eventually arrive at a decrepit wooden house atop a lonely hill. As I push on the front door it disintegrates into dust. Stepping over the pile of door dust, I enter the house.

In the corner of the room is a man who, like the man in my lemon cupboard, is smoking a pipe and wearing a tweed jacket. The only difference is that he is wearing shorts, long socks and one sandal. He welcomes me and expresses admiration of my bravery and choice of knitwear, though I’m not wearing any.

The man reveals his name to be Henry Splund.

“Why the secrecy?” I ask.

“Cimino has many spies – many, many,” he says in a hybrid New Zealand and Welsh accent. “His gaze is never far away.”

“Why is he thwarting my efforts to view the eleventh minute?”

“Michael is a sensitive man, very sensitive indeed – proud too! He regards the eleventh minute of Heaven’s Gate a great achievement. But as the film was panned, he believes the public not worthy to sit before the majesty of his eleventh minute,” explains Henry.

“That sounds a little extreme.”

“Oh, he’s mad as two shits.”

“Who are you?”

“I am but a man; a dedicated man and admirer of Mr. Cimino. I remember the first time I saw the eleventh minute of Heaven’s Gate I was so awestruck I was forever changed. When I heard Cimino had attempted to eradicate the eleventh minute from every copy and print of Heaven’s Gate, I couldn’t allow it, I just couldn’t! I managed to steal the minute from a film reel in the Cimino Library. I smuggled it here to my secret hideout to be restored and guarded. I guess you could call me the keeper of the eleventh minute. When I heard that you were to review… well, I was elated. But I know Cimino and his cronies would never allow it.”

“So you sent me a series of cryptic messages?”

“Yes.”

“You know, I have a telephone?”

Henry ignores my reasonable point and opens a hatch in the floor.

“Come,” he says excitedly, “I must not delay you any further. It is time to see what you have come to see.”

Henry disappears down the hole and I climb through the hatch close behind.

As I follow Henry through a series of doors and long corridors, I become incredibly nervous. I’m essentially alone in an isolated area with solitary sandal wearing loon who has dedicated his life to sixty seconds of celluloid. Is he going to murder me? And surely the piece of film couldn’t be that good? We arrive at what I’d describe as a mini-cinema and what Henry refers to as “The Temple”. Fighting back a proud tear, Henry takes a canister of film and loads the projector.

I am incredulous as Henry threads the film – there is no way this obscene quest is going to be worth the effort. But as the projector fires up my scepticism is soon put to rest. The reel features John Hurt continuing to wank on about something, but it’s so… exquisite. My eyes refuse to blink through fear of missing one moment. The lighting, the costume and framing all come together in a visual orgasm. I hold Henry and we weep together at the sheer beauty of the eleventh minute of Heaven’s Gate. Bless you Cimino! Bless you!

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Shitful.

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Finally, John Hurt moves off that effing lectern. It’s taken a while and I have no idea what he said, but I’m sure it was a stunning oration. But as he descends the podium something miraculous happens. It rains paper! A4 sheets fall from the sky as the students rejoice. This raises several questions: a) How did the paper clouds form indoors? and b) why didn’t anyone think to bring a paper umbrella? All the students and faculty are completely at the mercy of paper precipitation. Poor planning Harvard University; poor planning. The pouring vellum forces everyone outside, where they gleefully waltz to classical music. How they were able construct a stereo to play the piece, I have no clue.

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Waltzing – so much waltzing. But are the hats waltzing, or the people underneath them? Hmm, a bit too metaphysical for my liking.

As far as dance sequences go, this is pretty good. Could have used a few more wizards. But I feel that most film dance sequences lack wizards. The 12 seconds Cimino directed of Footloose, before he was fired, contains numerous wizards. Some would say too many, but it’s a fine line when it comes to including wizards in dance numbers. They have such terrific beards, you see. They flop around in time with the music, with their grey colour contrasting perfectly against the bright robes. It’s ideal if they use staffs as part of the choreography, but can be tricky if the wizard is inexperienced or drunk. I suppose most directors avoid employing wizards as their tall pointy hats make them rather hard to frame. But there are top hats-a-plenty in this scene and the lack of wizards is a missed opportunity if you ask me.

It is a shame because it’s the wizards who lose out in the end.

If you look closely, you'll notice the women aren't wearing hats. Disappointing.

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Here’s a prediction – this waltzing sequence goes on for a while yet. Call it instinct, call it an educated guess, call it a safe bet – but call it something for goodness sake. So people are spinning, while some continue to throw junk in the air, while invisible people hold invisible placards brandishing slogans urging the plot along. These people are known as the audience and have been ignored thus far. Kristofferson calls a broad beautiful and she reciprocates the compliment. It would have been more interesting if she’d cogently discussed quantum mechanics instead, but clearly Cimino is sexist. I’m not going to qualify that slanderous comment further. John Hurt too is dancing, swinging his partner round like a coat hanger on a clothesline. I hope she dries soon.

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Yep, more dancing. The dame Kristofferson dances with giggles like an idiot as he inquires as to whether she is alone. At first it seems the laugh is a nervous one. But I believe it to be a mocking snicker because even if this girl wasn’t surrounded by a large group of people, she’d still have to be in the presence of Kristofferson for the question to be asked of her rendering her completely not alone. Have a think before you open your mouth, Kristofferson, you twerp. Suddenly, Cimino cuts to a courtyard and students come running in from all directions. One can only deduct that they are running from some sort of emergency. Perhaps the Legion of Anti-Waltzers has set off a laser bomb under John Hurt. A laser bomb is a futuristic devise whose blast consists purely of high-powered lasers and deadly holograms. I assume the Legion received the futuristic devise after winning the door prize at the valedictory speech. Perhaps next time Harvard will think twice before handing out high tech weaponry to encourage people to attend their functions

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What a peculiar minute. I assume the students are participating in some sort of ritual, but they seem to be thrashing the hell out of each other around a tree. It could also be that the tree said something about John Hurt’s mother and the students are rushing to rough if up, while the tree’s posse attempt to protect it. Typical of trees, isn’t it? Slagging-off well dressed people. The flowers at Flemington Races are constantly berating me and a shrub once called Winston Churchill a “biscuit swilling glass horse”. How you swill biscuits is anyone’s guess. I’d ask the shrub, but it’s dead. That’ll teach it. Overwatered, it was – according to the coroner’s report. It was all put down to an accident, but I suspect foul play. I’d ask Winston Churchill, but he’s yachting in the Simpson Desert.

An almighty school prank was achieved when over 50 students were stapled to each other by a mischevious pupil

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The students continue to thrash the hell out of each other. John Hurt receives the most blows making this a very pleasing and cathartic minute. Eventually James (Kristofferson) clambers up the tree, fending off fists and gropers to finally snatch the bouquet. All cheer except the tree who seems rather uninterested. A pointless scene? No, I think not. What this scene demonstrates is that James does not suffer from hay fever. His eyes are neither itchy nor watery. He sneezes very little and excretes only minute amounts of mucus. I’m sure this fact will no doubt become important later should James have to fight the hind legs of a giant bee. I hope this is the case. My guess is that John Hurt’s character will drink the campus wattle given to it by the colony of New South Wales and morph into a large obnoxious bee. If this does not occur, to hell with you Cimino, I’m making that film.

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How do you celebrate thrashing the hell out of each other by a tree? Apparently you form an orderly square in front of it, bleed profusely and sing songs with incomprehensible lyrics at women holding candles on the second floor of a building. Perfectly obvious, I would have thought. Bit of a cliché isn’t it? The amount of times we’ve all seen that! Goodness! Jaws, All the President’s Men and an episode of Prisoner each contained such scenes. However, on the plus side, the tree’s character of a hot rod loving delinquent is fleshed out somewhat. Unfortunately its monologue lamenting the loss of American innocence post Civil War is interrupted by James’ classmates who hoist him onto their shoulders. Boorish idiots. I hope the tree doesn’t offer them a lift home after such rudeness.

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After a few more cries of “yippee!” from Hurt and a demonstration of an obvious fire hazard from the women holding candles, Kristofferson is suddenly on a train twenty years later.

The prologue was just his memories!

Rather detailed for a memory. Over a twenty-year period there is no way that he’d recall every detail of his graduation, especially the events he never witnessed. Anyway, Kristofferson is on the train, leaning back with a hat over his face, presumably because it helps him see through time. On top of the train, a whole lot of people are sitting calmly. Black smoke is puffing from the engine and… my god; they’re not fuelling the train with people are they? Shovelling poor passengers into the burner! Of course! That would explain why the smoke is black rather than white, which it would have been ordinarily at that time as the steam engines in the west used wood – not coal. Goodness, gracious! Get off the train! They’re gonna burn you alive so Kris Kristofferson can get to wherever it is he’s going! Jump! Run!

The train is running on Soylent Green; an innocuous, but highly nutritional, snack bar.

Dear Mr. Godfrey,

While I do not expect that a personal request from me would convince you to cease your, so far, rather unflattering deconstruction of my masterpiece I would like to implore that you at least do me one favour.

In the 21st minute there is a rather lovely long shot of a train puffing along in front of a backdrop of snow covered mountains. I think you’ll agree it’s a rather breathtaking shot and one that gives me great pleasure and sense of accomplishment. It may seem silly, but it would mean a lot to me if you would please not rubbish that shot.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cimino

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Goodness gracious, what’s with the shot of the snow covered mountains? The mountains look as though they’ve been constructed with chicken wire and papier-mâché by a grade four student as a hurriedly put together science project and the snow looks like my tears. How embarrassing! Boy, I’d hate to have expressed pride or satisfaction at this shot. Just imagine being an old man sitting back reflecting on your achievements and remembering with contentment the background snowy peaks of this scene. Of course, the mountains are not fake and nor is the train puffing along in front of them. I can only surmise that the poor quality of this shot is due to the director being a stupid jerk face. As for the scene – Lord knows where Kristofferson is headed. Perhaps to the post office to complain about a letter from a long lost sweetheart that was opened and sniffed by post office staff? Kristofferson can’t prove it, but he knows, oh how he knows…

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At last, some effing violence! Blood, guts, sinew and entrails are picked up from the mud. It’s an animal carcass, though I’m not sure what animal. Perhaps, as previously discussed, it’s from a gnu. Could also be a giraffe, though admittedly the chance of giraffe’s being in Wyoming in the 1800s is remote, but not impossible… No, actually it is impossible. There’s also a bit of wind in this scene, nice to see nature playing a part. Unless the wind is from the mouth of a dragon? This is, of course, less likely than the giraffe claim. Woh, hold on a second – something is happening. Yes, believe it or not, something is happening! Someone is approaching the man cutting the carcass, casting a shadow with a definite cowboy hat on the sheet surrounding his log house. The butcher seems rather threatened and calls out in Hungarian. Spooked, he raises his knife. Oh goodness! In the shadow I can see a gun! Giraffes in hats are attacking! What will happen next? The suspense!

After a long and drawn out court proceeding, Death by 229 Cuts is back! Mr. Cimino put out an injunction against the review claiming it was “slanderous, malicious and very silly”. Of course, he’s right, but I couldn’t let that twerp get the better of me, so for the last few months I’ve been fighting for the continuation of the review in the courts. After twelve seconds deliberation the judge ruled:

I have heard both sides of this case. This is of little consequence as I also, when considering my verdict, watched Heaven’s Gate. I found it to be very long – very, very long… so long and well, long. I am a Harvard man, Mr. Cimino and my aunt was once set on fire. Her name was Cathy. Wonderful woman. I also don’t particularly enjoy the music of Kris Kristofferson. I mean, he’s ok, but never really grabbed me as an artist. I’ve got a “best of” lying around somewhere that one of my kids bought for me as a Christmas present, but I never listen to it. Anyway, I rule in favour of Mr. Godfrey and order you to pay him damages of $12 million. Probably a bit excessive, but it’s been a long day. Can I award damages like that to a defendant? Ah well, who cares? I’m a judge; I can do whatever the hell I bloody please. Court adjourned. Stop weeping!”

So with special thanks to inherent injustices in the justice system I present the return of Death by 229 Cuts!

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Good grief! It’s Christopher Walken and he just wasted that guy! He blew a hole right through the sheet and through the Hungarian man’s abdomen. As he flies back into the butchered animal carcass, the animal inaudibly mutters, “Serves you right.” The man’s wife, or relative, or whatever is distraught, but has to admit, it was a pretty good shot – blind through a sheet; that’s some marksmanship! She will come to acknowledge this in time. Walken turns nonchalantly and struts away, while the wife covers her loved one in a sheet to keep the guts from spilling out. I know she’s probably in shock, but seriously, that sheet aint gonna do much, lady. Having completed the kill, Walken rides off into the distance. Let’s hope his sacrifice pleases the giraffe dragon. Bite me, Cimino.

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Having killed the migrant, (presumably for sport), Walken rides past a massive line of more migrants. They appear downtrodden and Walken’s horse kicks up dust from the road they trudge along. I count 447 million dust particles, but it could be 447,000,001. The film grain makes it hard to count. The migrants don’t seem in high spirits. Perhaps the 1890s sport of migrant shooting isn’t their cup of tea? It could also just be half time in said sport and they’re pooped. More likely that whenever migrants walk along in a line, carrying their possessions, they have to look downtrodden; it’s a union thing. Woo, if the fact he just shot someone doesn’t give it away, Mr. Walken is angry. He yells at the travellers to go back to where they came from as he speeds away on his steed. Go back to where they came from? Atoms of a star? Surely reverting to this form would make them invincible and impossible to shoot. Walken is either thick or likes a challenge. It’s probably a bit racist to assume that all migrants can regress to stardust when they feel like it. Some can, obviously, though not all. But when the ones that can, do… it’s quite a sight. Oh, sorry, it was 447,000,001. I missed a particle on someone’s shoe.

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This is a minute of migrants walking. That’s all. Where are they walking? To the promised land – a land of coconuts and small frogs who dance on command? To a place of unimaginable opulence and a factory that produces empty soup cans; which perplexes all but a wealthy industrialist named Bert? To a region where fabric is illegal and humming birds tell smutty one liners at night clubs? To a location where you can cross at whatever part of the street you deem appropriate and policemen act out pantomimes about puppeteers who’ve fallen on hard times? To a site where the grass sleeps in twenty-minute intervals and handsaws are reasonably priced? To a setting where puzzles aren’t so difficult and “refraction” is the word all the cool kids are using? Probably.

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A train arrives at the station. It has antlers. Ha ha, don’t they all? No, they don’t. It’s probably not a train, but a since-extinct species of antelope or, (could it be?) gnu.

This locomotive shaped wildebeest was once prominent in these parts, but was hunted to extinction, as it was the main food source of native pump trolleys and Buster Keaton. A caption appears – the antelope train is in Casper, Wyoming. It’s pulling into a station, making it less likely that it is a grass-grazing animal. Oh look, Kris Kristofferson is onboard. It seems like only yesterday, seven months ago, that he was dancing and molesting a tree at Harvard. If Kris is inside, it’s almost certain this is a train and not an antelope. If it were, it would be quite a disgusting trip for poor Kristofferson. Though he is swigging from a hipflask.

You’d have to think travelling in the rank bowels of a gnu would send you to drink. Anyway, the antlers sure fooled me. Clever disguise, Mr. Train. Well played, sir; well played.

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Action! Excitement! Drama! Suspense! Romance! All elements that do not feature in this minute. The focus of this sixty-seconds is boots and getting your feet into them. James (Kristofferson) rolls around on the floor of the, (I must admit), beautifully lit train attempting to force his foot into a boot. It must be crammed full with something else like dreams, anxieties, melancholy or other such intangible abstractions. The lighting does steal the scene and I wonder why you’d go to all the effort creating that effect so you can portray a drunk man trying to put on his shoes. It probably took 4 hours to set-up the lighting and it’s a bit like assembling the world’s greatest cinematographer, set designer and lighting designer to recreate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon only to have your lead actor crap on the head of a cat. Incidentally, that is precisely what this scene needed.

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The Battle Hymn of the Republic serves as the score for this scene as James, having exited the train, walks along the platform past the carriages. One has a large “86” painted on it. What is the significance of this number?

Part I

If you add 8 + 6, you get 14 and if you add 1 + 4 it equals 5 – which is interesting because James first strides in front of the carriage bearing the number 86 at the 5 second mark.

He arrives at the painted number “86” at the 12 second mark of this minute. If you divide 60 (seconds) by 12 (seconds) it equals 5.

If you add the 5 seconds (when he is first in front of carriage) with 12 (when arrive at No.) it equals 17. If you add 1+7 you get 8.

Part II

Divide in a similar fashion, the 60 seconds by 5 seconds (time first walked in front of carriage), you get 12 – the time he arrived at the number.

Part II (a)

James is at the end of the carriage at the 20 second point. Divide (as we have been) 60 by 20 and it equals 3.

Add the totals of his arrival at the carriage (60/5) total of 12 + his departure (60/20) total of 3, you get 15. Add 1 + 5 and you get 6.

Conclusion

Put the two numbers of those totals from Part I and Part II together and you have 86. Add 8 + 6 = 14. Add again 1 + 4 = 5… and guess what American Civil War era military song is playing during the fifth minute of Heaven’s Gate? Poker Face by Lady Gaga. Shit, all that maths for nothing.

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There’s a conversation going on between James and an old friend of his, but it’s mostly inaudible. Something about a driving coach… a woman is going to hang… head west… someone else is dead… I doubt the audio for this scene was recorded with microphones, but rather four shaving brushes, yarn and an egg whisk. Innovative, but hardly a crisp sound reproduction. I find if you’re going to create sound recording devices on the fly, it’s best to use good quality yarn. It sounds like Cimino has used inferior thread, possibly from a loose hem or button. Why didn’t the sound guy speak up and insist on using a microphone? The rumour is that Christopher Walken shot him with a rifle to get in character. Method actors, hey – gotta respect their process, but it’s the sound that inevitably suffers.

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According to James’ friend who works at the station, immigrants in the area steal cattle to feed their families. It all makes sense now! Christopher Walken’s character has been hired by cows to carry out revenge killings. I wonder where the cows get the capital for such an enterprise. John Hurt? Is John Hurt a cow? No, surely not. Cows, if memory serves me correctly, are rather entrepreneurial and tend to own shops and sell white goods. I’m fairly sure in the nineteenth century you could get a bank loan to murder Hungarians so long as you had a business to borrow against. This is especially likely if cows had moved into the banking sector. I haven’t done the research and nor will I, but I think it’s safe to say that cows were given large amounts of cash from banks interest free for most of the eighteen hundreds and they used the money to hire people to avenge the deaths of other cows. This movie just got interesting and all it took was some bloodthirsty cows and half a fucking hour.

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Still at the station.

James’ friend admits between puffs on a pipe that he can’t stand his job. Inside the pipe is a small family who lost their land in a high-stakes game of snap. They are allowed to live rent free inside the pipe, so long as they keep it stocked with tobacco and chocolate. The father, whose penchant for children’s card games lost the family their land, is not a happy chap. He’s almost over his gambling addiction, but lost the nephew who was staying with them in a game of go-fish with the father of the family who live in James’ friend’s hat. He is trying to redeem himself by saving as much money as he can to move his family up in the world and rent inside a sock or shoe. One day, if enough is put aside and the father works hard, he can buy an apartment in a wristwatch.

It’s a noisy place to live, but at least you don’t have someone shoving a lit match through your roof every twenty minutes.

What lies beneath?

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So much smoke! The combination of smoke from pipes, chimneys and trains,
coupled with the dust kicked up from the road, make it hard to see the scores
of extras. How many people were employed to appear in this film? Everyone?
Was everyone on the planet cast to play characters from “Townsperson 1”
to “Townsperson 4,568,072”, plus the plethora of incidentals that are yet to be
seen? If anyone was alive in the early 80s and didn’t appear in Heaven’s Gate
please write to:
PO Box 32
c/o Cimino Left Me Out
Algeria
You shall be sent a care pack and an apology for being overlooked. In
the unlikely event that Heaven’s Gate is released in cinemas again, you
shall be digitally inserted into the picture with a silly bowtie. You know, so
you stand out. Plus, I like bowties… on other people, not me. They look
bloody ridiculous. Why would I want to wear one? If you’ve an answer to this
rhetorical question, please send it to:
Mrs. Patti Numark
888 Hooverdale Crescent
Bundoora
Vic, 3083
If she’s in a jovial mood, Patti will throw-up on your letter and then set it on
fire, which is a shame because the smoke will obscure the view of the extras
she’s trapped in her house.

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Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, oh my goodness! Hovering bicycles! How are they flying and why is no one paying any attention to them? Were flying bikes so common in the eighteen hundreds that their presence doesn’t even warrant an acknowledgement? Get on one Kristofferson and go and fight areal battles with other hover cyclists. The minute closes with a man watching Kristofferson. He has a dirty face and I’m going to assume a dirty mind… thinking about peaches. I don’t understand – if you’re going to invent a bike that flies, why would you put wheels on it? Surely the flying supersedes the wheels? It’d be like inventing a car with a horse in the bonnet.

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The peach philanderer is in the market for a rifle. It’s quite a diverse shop that James finds himself in. From it, you can purchase (aside from hovering bicycles), harmonicas and all sorts of weapons. Why can’t you buy instruments from gun shops anymore? This seems a shame. Weapons were once synonymous with music. My father bought his first ukulele from a knife shop and large weapons manufacturers used to invest heavily in instrument technology. If only the US government hadn’t ceased funding Lockheed’s laser guitar, popular music would have been revolutionised! Instead, they opted for a government program independent of big weapons and aerospace companies to develop the keytar. When will people stop demonising companies whose products wreak destruction and realise that peace = keytars.

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Whiskey and a rifle… what a purchase! I think in the 19th century you couldn’t buy one without the other. It’s a sliding scale as well. If you buy a knife, you grab a beer and if you buy a cannon you score some smack. As Kristofferson pays, there is some commotion outside. An immigrant is getting the shit kicked out of him. In case you haven’t picked it up yet, I don’t think they are well liked, but I can’t be sure. Perhaps if it’s demonstrated a few hundred more times or so it might sink in. Just to be safe, the film could have used a subtitle each time an Eastern European appeared on screen reading, “not liked.” Hold on a second! Someone does like them! James (Kristofferson) is sticking up for the guy who got beat. I think the assailant is going to throw a punch. What will James do? He’s holding a riffle and a bottle; surely he can’t defend himself with his hands full. The other guy isn’t holding anything, but he could have horse coursing through his veins. Gasp! Look out James! He may have a cannon!

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Alright, the fighting man didn’t have a cannon. I got a bit excited. He did have a cannon ball though. I guess to fire he either places the ball on a pile of match heads or simply lobs it at his enemy. The immigrant is being beaten quite badly and his wife seems somewhat upset about it. Seriously, is there anything worse than a wailing eastern European woman? No wonder they’re subject to such racial vilification in this film. James isn’t having a bar of it. He slugs the attacker somehow, even though he’s holding the entire contents of the shop in his arms and the assault is over. He wanders over to the man with the pipe he recognised on the train platform. The family inside the pipe have gone through some further hardships in the past few minutes. The gambling father went mad and ate his family. At least he can’t use them as collateral in high-rolling games of Uno anymore. He’s also got more room for himself and plans to put in a spa and tennis court once the blood is mopped up. Meanwhile, the fighting man continues to yell abuse at the wailing woman.

“Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” he cries.

“Hardship,” I assume is the answer. But I don’t speak Hungarian.

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There is a conversation afoot between James and his pipe smokin’ Irish friend. Oh, there’s a-talking going on let me assure you. None of this mouth moving without sound being produced nonsense… OK, to be honest, I can’t understand a bloody word he’s saying. Even without the obscene amount of background noise his Irish accent is so inaudibly thick it sounds like he’s chewing on mice while speaking – so at least the accent is genuine. This is what I’ve managed to make out so far, “Baltimore oysters… citizen… Dudley… eyes like a dead fish… currently in the employ… association.” No idea how to decipher that. Is Dudley a dead fish? Killed after he was fed bad oysters by a citizen currently employed in a lesser role in the same association as Dudley out of jealousy? Hmm, if you were describing a dead fish, you wouldn’t say, “It had eyes like a dead fish.”

Firstly, it’s a given that a dead fish would have eyes like a dead fish. It would also, presumably, have fins like a dead fish and gills like a dead fish. A fish, alive or dead, with fish eyes is entirely unremarkable.

“Dudley, the dead fish, had eyes like a youthful human” – now there’s something to report.

“Dudley, the dead fish, had eyes like a perturbed pademelon, gills like a sparrow and a tail fin like a 747” – even better.

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James’ Irish friend shoves a flaming match into his pipe, burning the poor man who lives inside alive. I shouldn’t say, “poor man” as the creep had it coming. But I did say, “poor man” and nothing will undo that, except the delete button, which I’m not going to push.

Thus ends the inaudible exposition sequence, though a final exclamation of, “Every citizen’s business is his own affair. Not mine, damn it!” from the Irishman is easily heard and would have been a powerful statement if I knew what on Earth he was talking about.

Now, this is a curious development. The scene cuts to some sort of manor and a spooky butler carrying a tray shuffles down the hallway past a bust. I wonder if the bust can talk? I’m going to assume that it can, but the shuffling drowned it out. I believe it is saying, “Fetch me some brine!” I wonder if the inclusion of the spooky butler indicates a genre shift and the film is soon to be a murder mystery? Perhaps all the immigrant troubles was just a red herring, that had eyes like a dead fish.

Where do you advertise for spooky butlers? The trading post? Do you need to supply them with a cobwebbed uniform? First world problems, hey…

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Special no picture edition

The butler is leading us somewhere… But where? He’s got that old butler shuffle down. I think the “Old Butler Shuffle” was a kooky novelty dance popular at parties in the late nineteenth century. Oh, it’s a room full of people and no, they’re not dancing but whinging about immigrants. My previously expressed suspicion that a number of characters in this film are not overly fond of them is now confirmed.

Let’s check-off what we’ve learned thus far:

Click for begin learning tone

Eastern Europeans aren’t popular

James has trouble putting dressing himself on trains

Sparrows have gills

The butler and his tray demonstrate that even bigots need tea. Gasp! John Hurt is amongst the group. Tell me you’re not there for the racism, John! Tell me you’re just there for the beverages and to jive to novelty songs should the party turn wild! It’s a little known fact, but racists make fine tea. You’d think they drink whiskey, drain cleaner or brake fluid, but no – chamomile. They never drink peppermint though. No real reason, it’s just a hang-up.

“Come on everybody! Put down your Silvo!

Grab that lonely widower and do the Ol’ Butler Shuffle…”

Johannes Brahms 1890

From “Dancing Through Servitude – Songs to Belittle”

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This is possibly one of the greatest ‘character speaks, crowd reacts with derision or agreement’ scenes in motion picture history. It takes a great degree of skill to direct your extras to nod and make “oh yes, indubitably” noises without looking hammy or over the top. All the moves are there. For derision they bust out the classics – Look to the people either side of you, shaking your head; look down to your lap as you shake your head and the oldie but goody; lean forward, shake your head and mutter something incomprehensible to the person next to you. For agreement, the moves are pretty much exactly the same, but substitute head shaking for head nodding and do it with a smile instead of a scowl. One extra just sniffed, which was a nice flourish. You don’t get paid for such improvisations – that was on his time.

For the aspiring extras reading this, it’s important to give your character of Crowd Member #7 (for example), a full and complex back-story. Just by the sudden audible drawing of air through his nose, I can tell the character was born in Canada and raised by a half-amphibian man named Clyde. Through swimming the lakes of Nova Scotia alongside his guardian, Crowd Member #7 developed a severe disliking for Clyde and icy water and moved south when he turned 19 ¾ . He took a job as a door-to-door salesman and married a botanist named Carrie, who he accidentally locked in a cupboard. He enjoyed the peace and quiet and Carrie had a thing for enclosed spaces, so they were both happy until Carrie suddenly exploded. Crowd Member #7 wandered aimlessly for many years until he caught a cold from a Burmese prostitute and found himself at a meeting with John Hurt.

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To catch you up, as I got slightly distracted with the performance of the extra playing Crowd Member #7 last review (he was rather good), there were some minor plot developments I neglected to mention. The meeting is chaired by the actor who plays the lawyer on Law and Order and provided the voice for Abraham Lincoln in Ken Burns’ epic documentary series The Civil War. Lincoln himself was a lawyer, but is now dead. Anyway, the small plot points I missed are the meeting is of the Stock Growers Association and they’re employing fifty men at five dollars a day to kill cattle thieves with a bonus of fifty dollars for each thief shot or hung. They’re then going to go to Johnson County, depose the civil authority and keep possession of the town until they can take charge of the courts. Nothing major; barely worth mentioning, really…

John Hurt seems upset at the prospect of hiring vigilantes to murder cattle thieves and moves they stop. But what about the job losses? What are those poor murderous goons to do? Where will they go? John Hurts cares not for the working families of the 1890s. I think in another life, I would have liked to have been a hired gun. It’d be fun to have on your business card and an interesting talking point at dinner parties. Hang on a second; there are now two spooky butlers in the room! Are they multiplying? Never mind the hungry/Hungary people stealing out of desperation, turn your guns on the spooky butlers before they take over the world. They have vengeance in their hearts! Look at the way they’re just standing there! It’s only a matter of time before they rise up and refuse to serve you cream with your coffee!

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Evidently the Governor is on board for massacring cattle thieves and I must admit my assumption expressed in entry 30 of 229 that cows were hiring gunmen to carry out revenge killings on Hungarians for eating them appears to be false. I do, however, stand by my claim that John Hurt is a cow. Don’t ask me why, it just seems to fit. Cows find it difficult to act drunk as they are creatures of four legs and have little experience with poor balance. John Hurt is either a cow struggling to act authentically drunk, or Mr. Hurt believed he was acting in a hammy silent era comedy, where pratfalls and hilarious stumbling over furniture japery was the order of the day. Put this scene on roller skates and we’d have a comedy classic on our hands.

The shooting cattle thieves scheme is put to a vote and John Hurt exits the room with a disgusted look on his face. He’s either abstaining from the vote or hurriedly leaving to throw up all the brandy he’s ingested. As he has two stomachs there’s going to be a lot of vomit. Thank goodness the spooky butlers are multiplying because it’s going to take a few to clean it all up.

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The bovine silent film comedy continues as John Hurt stumbles into the next room, stealing a cigar from a sleeping man slumped in a chair. The soundtrack lets this minute down. A trombone making ‘barrr-ruump’ sounds to accentuate each moment of perfectly executed physical comedy is lacking. This sequence should also have been shot in monochrome, instead of yellow-brown hued colour film. Why does it appear so yellow? Perhaps Michael Cimino spilled tea on the final print. Or maybe he deliberately soaked it in tea to give the illusion of age, like when you dunk a map you’ve drawn in tea to make it seem ye olde for a school project. Those were the days! To give your map a further air of authenticity you’d take a lighter and scorch the edges as though every map from the 17th and 18th century suffered some minor form of fire damage. It’s how can you tell if an old map is the genuine article – the more scorch marks, the older the map. This is why few maps survive from medieval times. As they age the maps eventually burn away, which is what inevitably happens to your school project as your subtle scorching turns inferno, forcing you to run to the sink to put it out. You’re left with some cinders, no homework and a baking tray of undrinkable tea.

With his Charlie Chaplin homage complete, Mr. Hurt heads upstairs to investigate a strange noise that sounds like billiard balls clanking together. I wonder who could be shooting pool up there? I bet it’s James. Anyone want to bet me? No? Didn’t think so. It’s almost certain to be him and I wouldn’t take on that bet. Perhaps I’ll go see if Giles next door would like to – he’s a gambling addict. I think that’s why his wife left him. Easy money… It’s not the only reason she left. They’d been drifting apart for years and Giles burning down the cellar in an attempt to age their wine didn’t help.

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The mysterious snooker player is James! Stop weeping and pay-up, Giles. I don’t care if your kids go hungry. A small note to the props department – those billiard balls look really big. Have they gotten smaller in the last hundred years? Because the balls James is hitting around seem to be as big as Fitballs™. You could sit on them for ergonomic support, which would come in handy after bending over a billiard table all day. The science of ergonomics has come a long way, but I feel people seem to slouch more these days. Is that just me? To clarify, I don’t slouch. I was questioning whether others have noticed the decline in correct posture. You could lay me down and put a spirit level on my back.

Some important information is revealed in this minute, namely John Hurt’s character’s, um… name. It’s Billy, which I find a bit of a let down. I was expecting Count Harriet Mensworth-Smithe of the Grand Dutchy of Lutsylvania. I swear those balls are bigger than usual; they’re seriously the size of pandas.

A slight amount of intrigue underpins this scene. James and Count Harriet Mensworth-Smithe haven’t seen each other in a long time. The Counts asks why James has come, but James is coy. He could be up to something, or might just be concentrating really hard on not breaking his cue on the giant panda balls.

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“Bill, you’re the only son of a bitch I ever knew worth getting seriously drunk with,” says James. I suggest getting seriously drunk in order to endure this minute because it’s seriously dull. Grab yourself a bottle of hard liquor… no scratch that – grab a mask, a dropper and some ether because you’ll need something a little stronger.

Count Harriet Mensworth-Smithe (Bill) quotes somebody and that’s about it. There’s some mild panda thrashing, but not much else happens. The quote is delivered as though its poignant. It’s about drifting – presumably off to sleep before movie’s end. I find when I’m playing pool and a friend stares into the middle distance and starts quoting nonsense it makes for an enlightening but tedious game of nine ball. In such circumstances I coolly chalk the cue tip, then throw them out the window. Often I’ll dive after them screaming, “Quote Keats now, you fucker!” and seven out of ten times, they don’t.

As a side note; John Hurt is seriously overacting, the self-important git. He needs to lighten-up. Wear an amusing shirt once in a while and just chill…

Dear Sir,

I took particular exception to your critique of my alleged ‘seriousness’ in the forty-fifth installment of your blow-by-by account of Heaven’s Gate. I am constantly fighting my reputation as a person who takes himself too seriously, when I in fact enjoy levity. Just last Christmas I told a joke about a sheep and this was before I recited Hamlet in its entirety. My sheep quip received quite the response and it was totally spontaneous. It wasn’t even in one of those bon-bons where you get a present and a paper hat, which I refuse to wear. Those bloody things are so uncomfortable and unflattering. The children are always pleading, “Uncle John, Uncle John, put on your paper crown!” the little whinging shits. Can’t they see I’m trying to enjoy my turkey without interruption from bright-eyed little fuckers who’ve yet to be shown that life is a pitiless, merciless endurance that doesn’t require further complication by being forced to wear silly fucking hats!

Yours sincerely,

John Hurt

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John Hurt sinks an impressive shot off two rails and into the corner pocket. I wonder how long that took to perfect? There goes two days of shooting right there. Perhaps he’s not acting drunk and is genuinely intoxicated. No one can play that well sober. Yes, even billiard world champions. You know who you are…

The phrase “gob spit”, a synonym for bulldust, hare swill and horse twaddle is used to great affect. I think it should be reintroduced into the modern vernacular. I say, “reintroduced” because I assume it was used previously and wasn’t the invention of the writer. If anyone has any information on the etymology of “gob spit”, please set up a website called cowboyphrases.org and sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labours. But for goodness sake, don’t write to me.

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Can the Stock Growers Association massacre cattle thieves without consequence? “In principle, everything can be done,” believes Billy/Count Harriet Mensworth-Smithe. In principle, perhaps. But in practical terms, not everything is possible, such as fly racing. It’s near impossible to get the bloody things to race in a straight line and have you ever attempted to attach a fly to a sulky? They weigh a ton, the harnesses are ill fitting and it tends to upset the flies. And that’s not the worst of it! The Fly Racing Association is corrupt and the sport rife with cheating. How they inject the flies with steroids I’ll never know. Surely the needle would pass straight through? I don’t understand the sport’s appeal. I’ve been to a few meets and it’s usually a shambles. Any movement of the sulkies and jockeys is purely incidental and due more to wind and plate tectonics, rather than from the fly’s efforts and it’s bloody noisy. There is nothing more disconcerting than a chorus of frustrated and furious flies. Ban fly racing, I say. It’ll never happen, though – the State Government makes too much from the tax revenue.

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Basset Horn

Is Count Harriet Mensworth-Smithe going to stop the Stock Growers Association from slaughtering cattle thieves as though they were… cattle? Probs not, is the answer. (I’m paraphrasing.) This telling moment is underscored by a solemn, stripped back acoustic guitar rendition of the Blue Danube. The minimalist music is in stark contrast to every single other aspect of the production. If the music were to match the epic nature of the rest of the film, it would be recorded by a 12,047 piece orchestra, conducted by everyone who’s ever conducted (living or dead), and feature instruments from all over the known universe, including long forgotten instruments such as the basset horn and completely invented instruments such as the shoe-bow.

Why the Blue Danube? I’ve no idea. Perhaps it’s a bizarre reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey and the movie is about to match cut from a billiard table in the 19th century a few thousand years into the future to a space billiard deck of the 23rd century. I saw one of those at a World’s Fair in the sixties. The astronauts looked as though they were having fun, but I noted they were chalking the ends of their cues before each shot. Surely if you’ve the capability to shoot pool in space, you could invent a cue tip with enhanced grip. Hang on, how on Earth did I get to see a World’s Fair in the sixties? Oh yes, that’s right; Fred gave me a lift.

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O-oh! It’s confrontation time! James is ordered out of the clubhouse and there is a lot of macho posturing until the guy from Law and Order slaps him across the face with his gloves. James open palm slaps him back and it becomes a little awkward. This is a western, shouldn’t they spit in a spittoon and draw pistols? At least use a fist, for goodness sake. They look as though they’re performing a German folk dance. There is no piano or piani player, no card gamblers and the villain isn’t even wearing a black hat. And if they are staging a German slap dance, there is a severe lack of accordion! John Ford would be turning in his grave, unless he was cremated, in which case he’d be churning in his urn, or viewing the scene with indifference. Everything seems less important once you’ve been turned to ash. But if you’re trapped in a box you spend your days being outraged at trivial things. The main reason is you need the exercise and an excuse to roll around. If it weren’t for the worms, you’d get so flabby just lying there. To clarify, I am suggesting that John Ford would take issue with a German slap dance devoid of accordion. He’s a purist.

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OK, break it up fellas! As the members rally around to assist the chap from Law and Order he protests, “I’m alright!” After a slap fight, no one is ‘alright’. You may be the only one who feels sore palms, but everyone feels your shame.

Away from the indignant glove slapping and James is driving a wagon. I like wagons and I’m guessing James does as well. We have this in common. I hope to write to him about it. First, I shall join a wagon club, then I will be all, “Hi James, I’m in a wagon club. I’ve got some pawpaw ointment, if your hands are chafed from holding the reins.” He won’t respond. No one ever does. I offer countless film characters ointment and they don’t even have the decency to say, “No thanks”. But do I complain? Of course I do! I ordered ten gallons of ointment and I can’t get rid of it. I didn’t realise how big a gallon was, I just thought it’d be quaint to order liniment using an imperial measure. I’d better take-up lip biting; or get into as many slap fights as it takes for my cheeks to crack.

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Dead man on a cart. That was a piece of crucial information I neglected to mention in part 50. We’re all just so desensitised to violence and fake blood so crimson it looks like poster paint these days. Shame, really. I blame the Pope. At any rate, James encounters, presumably, the dead guy’s wife and children as they pull him along and promises to sort it all out. That’s nice. Meanwhile, the kids are under eight years old; cover their dead father’s bloodied face, for goodness sake you heartless wench. She’s just told James they paid $150 for their land, she couldn’t fork out some more for a bit of cloth? Actually, never mind the cloth, the deceased is wearing a hat. Put it over his face! Your kids are traumatised and in the 1870s there weren’t video games to desensitise them to such horror. Hang on, $150 for land? I’m of course assuming that the $US has experienced zero inflation since the 19th century and had exactly the same purchasing power then as it does today. That’s a steal! No wonder the bloke was shot.

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Shadowy figures descend a rickety staircase outside a cabin in the dead of night to meet a congregation of… oh it’s the bloody Stock Growers Association. Why do they have to be so clandestine? I got all excited. You produce cattle; you’re not fucking Masons! When you think cattlemen, you think *Bob Katter, not ritualistic samurai assassins.

And why the long walk down the stairs? If you were trying to shave twelve years off this monster film, a start would be to snip out unnecessary sequences of people walking to places. What was the point – to establish the head of the Stock Growers Association can negotiate multilevel planks of wood in low lighting? Is this how you become president of the Stock Growers Association? Wait for a solar eclipse and successfully walk down some steps? Because those two skills in conjunction might come in handy when representing people with cows. “Remove the opaque blindfold and behold our new leader! Go forth and broker contracts on our behalf!”

*For international readers who may not be familiar with Mr. Katter; Bob is a renowned Australian actor, famous for his portrayal as the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland and a stool in a film adaption of Nicholas Nickleby.

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Ah, now we get to the nitty gritty. The Grand High Sultan of the Stock Growers Association, shrouded in smoke addresses the band of thugs. He’d previously claimed that the Governor was on board for his Hungarian murder scheme, why is he meeting them in such a shady, dramatic setting? Maybe the civic centre was already booked.

The price is announced – bounty hunters will be paid five dollars a day, plus expenses and fifty dollars for “every anarchist shot or hung”. Pictures are hung; people are hanged, actor from Law and Order. It’s possible that he is commissioning a team of very shabby and seedy looking artists to create portraits of the cattle thieves for display in a community centric exhibition and his sinister tone is the result of nerves from speaking in a dark, villainous locale. But more likely grammar is not a prerequisite for Emperors of the Stock Growers Association.

Meanwhile, “plus expenses”? What expenses would these goons be racking up to complete their work shooting people? Are they having business lunches? Claiming travel, postage, stationery and gifts under twenty dollars? And are they required to hang on to the receipts to claim back from the Stock Growers Association? How will the SGA explain that book-keeping anomaly to the tax office? “$6500? That’s just for miscellaneous mercenary expenses.”

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A few marauders who are registered with the tax office as sole traders follow the khan of the Stock Growers Association. Again, footage of characters slowly walking places makes you want to tap your head against solid metal cylinders until the boredom ends. If you cut out all the unnecessary travel sequences in this movie and spliced them together, you’d have enough for a two-reel picture. Throw in some amusing intertitles and you’ve got a silent comedy hit on your hands.

Just when your level of enthralment over the slow walking has reached its zenith, Cimino cuts to some fast paced action of a cattle rustler lassoing a calf. I assume cuts from the dark abyss of nothingness to high octane excitement are to give the film pace, but it’s much like being on a date with someone who regales you with the intricacies of document archiving, but yells out “Jet Propulsion Laboratory!” at the top of their lungs every five minutes to keep it interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against document archiving. It’s vital and I’m sure the process is highly engaging. In fact, most people don’t understand the importance of record management and the storage space required to keep adequate records. For instance, did you know that there’s an underground storage facility in North Melbourne that… JET PROPULSION LABORATORY!

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O-oh! Cattle rustler is busted and Christopher Walken is mighty angry! The thief seems to be Hungarian. I’m starting to get the impression there’s some sort of trouble going on to do with cattle and immigrants. I could be mistaken; only fifty-five minutes have elapsed, so it’s early days yet.

Walken and his blonde moustache, who according to IMDB is played by Robert Redford, lets the thief live, claiming he’s “not going to kill a kid who still pisses in his pants”. Sage edict – I might found a church based on it. The fellow is hardly a kid and you can tell by his full-bodied moustache (played by Shelly Duvall). Is this how you win a duel and defeat vigilante justice; lose control of your bodily functions? Don’t let word out to Gotham, or Batman’s task of cleaning up the city will take an unsavory literal twist.

The minute ends with an image of a chicken.

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The chicken isn’t a chicken! It’s a cock! If there’s one thing I like more than bear baiting; it’s cockfighting. Except, as this scene demonstrates, it’s not a very civilized environment to view sport. Spectators yell, shout and carry on so much that it can be off-putting. Just because chickens are thrashing each other, doesn’t mean we can’t all sit and peacefully enjoy the spectacle. It’s difficult to admire the skill when unwashed men are waving their weekly earnings around and generally acting loutish. That’s another thing; for me it’s not about the gambling. I never place bets when I’m at a cockfight and I do believe the sport could not only still exist, but thrive without the scourge of betting attached. Too often the sport is marred by match-fixing and betting scandals, when cockfighting should be about the birds!

The athletes don’t receive the recognition they deserve because their performances are overshadowed by impropriety. Lord Clucksworth, HR Featherweight and Tom ‘I Kill Other Birds With Razor Blades” Wilson were the birds I admired growing up and they would have been household names were it not for organised crime bringing the sport of cockfighting into disrepute.

Evidently this scene has nothing to do with anything because before the minute’s end we are whisked away from the ring to James on a wagon. A caption reads, “Sweetwater, Johnson County”. I’m guessing the cockfight was just a well-disguised ad for a local league, thrown in to help the film recoup costs.

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I was incorrect in my assumption that the cockfight was a once-off advertisement. The film cuts back from James driving the wagon and the cocks are mid-bout. OK… those birds are actually fighting. They filmed a real cockfight – pecking, scratching; the works. Is that legal? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy animal cruelty as much as the next guy, but I ask again, are you allowed to film chickens killing each other? Mel Brooks received scores of angry letters because of the horse-punching scene in Blazing Saddles and the actor didn’t really make contact. It was all smoke and mirrors… well, a ‘thwak!’ sound effect and a specially trained circus horse.

It is possible the cockfight is a similar trick. Trained chickens, lighting, special filters and camera angles could create the illusion. Oh, I’ve just worked it out! They’re animatronic chickens! Very lifelike, I must say, especially for the early 80s. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop probably had something to do with it. How did they achieve such speed and mobility? Anyway, put down your angry letter/email pens/laptops, there’s no need to inform the *RSPCA, the birds are just impossibly technologically advanced robots for their time.

*RSPCA stands for Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was once an organisation that promoted animal welfare. Now, they’re a casino.

Dear Mr. Godfrey,
 
Thank you for letter requesting to join the Wagon Enthusiasts Club. Unfortunately, your application has not been successful. There are many reasons and to be perfectly honest, you are the first person who has ever been denied entry to the Club. Firstly, attempting to pay your Club fees in old Confederate money was not looked upon favourably. Secondly, it is non-negotiable that all members have access to their own horses and your promise to ‘build one’ was thought to be unfeasible by the selection committee. Finally, please stop sending us ointment. When driving, our members wear gloves and palm chaffing is rare.
 
Regards,
 
Tim McClelland
Wagon Club President
 

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Have you ever spat whisky in an injured chicken’s face? If not, you should ask yourself, “Why?” It seems to have fired-up the chicken. It’s a wonder its circuits didn’t short-out. The cockfighting ring is in a saloon – every pub should have one, just next to the pokies. James arrives and leans on the bar. It’s a stunning shot as light pours through the windows, silhouetting James and concentrating two beams of diagonal light to the floor. It highlights how dusty the place must be. I know it’s probably not the swankiest of establishments, but the owner could give the place a wipe once in a while. What will James order? Probably something strong because he arrived by wagon and they’re horrible things that warrant no excitement or enthusiasm.

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James downs an entire glass of whisky. He swallows and everything. He mustn’t have had access to a chicken to spit it on. In all fairness, it could have been water that the barman spat at the chicken, but I figure it’s the Wild West and water didn’t exist – only whisky. It makes for a very malty, but hygienic bath.

The barman comments, referring to the immigrants, they “don’t have a pot to piss in”. This is why Christopher Walken believed the cattle thief still urinates in his pants. He and his community just don’t have enough pots! I’m sure the people of Johnson County wouldn’t mind if they expelled their waste products in a field. And with the lack of water, it must be ever so difficult to clean piss out of your pants with, well, piss.

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One hour down! It’s a momentous time in any film; a time to take stock and true to form, this minute is a recap of information the audience has been told a dozen times already. 125 names on a death list, fifty dollars a head, the immigrants are poor, using ‘hung’ instead of hanged, the Stock Grower’s Association declaring war… it’s all the hits of the previous 59 minutes you’ve come to know and love! Order now and receive the one-time limited offer ‘Hit’s of the Pointless Prologue’! Actually, that’s more of a concept album.

With every reveal of an important plot point, a caption containing the information should appear and stay on screen for the film’s duration. Better to be clear than risk the audience forgetting things like, cattle owners want cattle thieves dead. It would have kept Hollywood caption makers in business and even fuelled a caption renaissance. Bring a bunch of intertitle writers out of retirement. Most would have worked in one of John Hurt’s silent cow comedies. And if you’re going to bankrupt a studio that originated from the silent era, you may as well bring back some of its principals to be involved with the downfall.

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James and the barman’s chat is suddenly interrupted by a man dressed completely in white, bursting into the saloon. He holds a pistol and walks with determination straight to the cockfight! The chap is walking with purpose; I’ll give him that. His purposeful walking could use some recognition. It’s most likely why he carries a gun these days. All the man wants is for someone to shout out, “Hey, Bert! Nice unfaltering walk you got there.”

“Thanks,” he’d reply. “I’m just on my way to the bank.”

But thus far, he’s been left to only dream of a person taking the time to acknowledge the walk, which he’s been practicing since he was thirty. OK, he got into it late, but he’s dedicated, self-motivated and takes a class every Tuesday evening at the civic centre. Oh, that’s why the sultan of the Stock Growers Association had to hold the bounty hunter meeting outside. I guess on this day, it became too much for Bert and in desperation, picked up a pistol so someone would notice his well-practiced, resolute stride. But like a diamond encrusted top hat at a sheep dog trial, I fear it detracts attention from what you’re meant to be viewing and the misunderstood sod simply seems like a semi-jogging a nut with a six-shooter.

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The man in the white coat steams straight for another in a white jacket, gun at the ready and… and… and he spits in his face. This spawns a spitting match between the two. Back and forth they go. So much liquid. The chickens fight with more dignity. Why did he bring a gun if the plan was to spit? He should have brought a water pistol to save himself some effort.

Their quarrel is over land, but I can’t help but wonder why both are wearing boater hats? Wyoming is landlocked, so it’s plausible both live on a lake. They were sold land the agent warned was ‘a bit damp’ and now they’re directing their anger at each other instead of their local water council who continues to promise increased water taxi services, but just doesn’t deliver. It’s more probable their lands were once dry, but swelled with water after all the spitting fights.

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Stop spitting; it’s gross. Thank you. It’s not often that films listen to me when I demand things of them. But gobbing is a way of spreading TB and the people of Johnson County have enough problems. And you don’t want to be known as the land stealing, tuberculosis spreading guy. No one likes that guy. It’s the 1890s and though the bacteria that causes the disease has been identified, milk pasteurisation has not been invented and infected milk as a cause of TB is doubted. So you can’t even use cows as a scapegoat… That sounds oddly… odd. Ahem. You can, however, blame John Hurt, who remains the number one cause of the illness.

He is spitting again! Fine, whatever; infect everyone. You’re the reason, boater-hat-man, ‘no spitting’ signs will be put up around Flinders Street Station in your future. I hope you read the signs and think, “I should learn more about milk pasteurisation.”

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It’s revealed the gun toting spitter is jolly upset because the shorter spitter’s wife hit him on the head with a rock. He could be spitting so much because he’s drooling with concussion.

James must be the sheriff! He breaks-up the fight and listens to their grievance. He’s also drunk on the job. I hope the Office of Police Integrity, which I assume existed in the Wild West, finds out. I don’t want him to lose his job; I feel a slap on the wrist would be appropriate. But not in front of anyone. The embarrassment of a public wrist beating might drive him back to the drink. Personally, I believe police officers should be allowed to drink while they work. Drunkenness, weapons and authority are a good mix. Like a fine cake that strangles you.

Sigh. The film cuts away from the horrors of the cockfight to a lovely shot of a country road. This film is so pretty sometimes. Though, the shot is littered with wagons, which as we’ve already established, are for idiots.

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There’s a lot of kissing going on. The woman is giddy with love, her head spinning. James’ head is spinning too, but that’s because he’s drunk. There’s a growl. Is it a Wyoming tiger? No, it’s James’ stomach. He apparently hasn’t had breakfast. He’s not going to eat her, is he? What a twist it would be! Heaven’s Gate – the tale of a moral, hard drinking, cannibal cowboy. Alas no, I believe they’re about to make some hot nookie.

The air in the cabin is so dusty. Every shot of this movie is shrouded in smoke, or fog, or dust. Cimino is subverting typically idyllic western settings and I understand he’s trying to demystify the west, but how about demisting your shots so we can see the fricken film?

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No hot nookie; only hot breakfast. Disappointed? I’m not. James’ lover has baked him a pie, which he comments, “Belongs in a museum.” Are there many pie museums in the States? Aside from pies, what would you exhibit? Pie cutters? Pie baking trays? Pie charts? Famous pies? I’m sure the history of the pie would be very interesting… actually, no I’m not. Unless at visit’s end you are able to eat pies, or participate in pie baking, I do not think pies warrant an entire museum. I’m sorry. I’m not saying pies aren’t lovely; they are. I just don’t believe it’s worth anyone’s time to visit, curate, or promote such a place.

And it’s not even a case of believing there are better, or more interesting things for a museum to be dedicated to. It’s just that a pie museum is particularly daft. Pies don’t last that long. How are you going to display them? If you’re having to constantly cook and replace the pies on show, that’s not a museum; that’s a bakery.

James could be expressing a desire for the pie to be placed in a general, or non-pie specific museum, such as the Smithsonian. In which case I would be completely in favour.

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OK, to be clear, I’m not saying there’s nothing interesting about pies. I’m sure someone whose principal interest was pies could regale me with many, many, many captivating facts about pie manufacture, consumption and sales. For a start, there are numerous varieties of pies. You’ve got your fruit based pies such as apple, blueberry and raspberry. Then there’s pies designed to be eaten as a main meal like chicken, beef and vegetable curry. Each have individual strengths and weaknesses, which must be taken into account when marketing the pies.

Potpies vs. pies where pastry is the primary vessel for meat and/or vegetable containment is a debate that rages in the pie enthusiast community and both sides of the argument are enthrallingly thought provoking.

Pies are nutritious, fun to eat and have provided inspiration for both Don McLean and 90s teen comedies.

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Actually, fuck pies. What have they ever done for me? I’ll answer my own rhetorical question – one thing. A pie saved my life once. But other than that, piss all! They’re unhealthy and filled with goodness knows what! I don’t care what’s in a pre-packaged meat pie; I’m troubled by what’s really in an apple pie. If you didn’t put the apples in yourself, be very, very cautious. I distrust apple pies. There, I said it.

Even if you mixed the apples never take your eye of the pie, especially in the oven. That’s when switches and all sorts of clandestine pie related activity can take place. You think to yourself, “Oh, the pie is in the oven, I’ll just nip upstairs and hang the painting my niece made for me,” but you’re risking your pie being gutted of its delicious apples and replaced with old tyres and pictures of pears. There should be no institution dedicated to the history, storage and exhibition of pies, particularly the apple variety!

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There’s a lot of nude frolicking going on. Well, James is stationery, but his lover is quite animated. There’s no copulating going on, however. They seem to be just hanging out. If you strip and invite someone to the bedroom, the presumption is that some sort of sexual activity will be taking place. Oh well, James is too full of pie to care.

His lover curiously wraps herself in the quilt and runs giddily out of the house. Of course! Nude quilt racing! The pie, the hanging out starkers; it was all pre-race preparation. I thought the barbaric sport had been outlawed worldwide since Roman times? Those poor threads…

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I was a little hasty in assuming James and his lover were nude quilt racing. The rush outside is because James has bought her a birthday present and nude-quilt-woman knows what it is! It’s a horse, which is also nude and is pulling some sort of four-wheeled trailer cart thing or something, I don’t know… It’s not important what’s attached to the horse.

The gift brings much happiness and James’ lover reflects, “I feel I finally got somewhere.” Watching this film for seventy-one minutes, I can’t say I feel the same. I guess the point is the pair are content and I’ll bet some form of dead currency like the Austro-Hungarian Gulden or the Euro, some turmoil is coming their way. And will someone please dress that horse!

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I’ve spotted a continuity error concerning a rogue nipple. James’ lover professes she’s so happy she “could burst” and screams a happy scream. At this stage her left nipple is exposed. Cut to a laughing James, cut back to his lover and now the left nipple is covered, but the right exposed. Someone must have had the job of nipple continuity on this picture and whoever it was dropped the ball. The curious thing is the director must have insisted on one nipple being uncovered for the scene. It’s not as though it just happened to be visible, then next shot it was covered. The nipple exposure swapped!

It could be in the actor’s contract that both nipples be given equal screen time. It’s fairly standard in the motion picture business. Nipples are highly unionised and if you show one, you’ve got to show the other. It can cause production costs to blow out, but it’s the price you pay for nipple equality.

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Ella! The love interest character’s name is revealed! James swigs at a hipflask to calm his nerves as Ella, at the helm of the wagon, drives at tremendous speed! Well, it’s not that tremendous. It’s not comparable to a Formula 1 car, supersonic jet, or Saturn V rocket. Why didn’t James buy her a rocket? Ah, that’s right; it’s the 19th century and pressure suits weren’t invented.

The carriage handles horribly. It’s bumpy, slides all over the road and the rear spoiler appears to be doing nothing. Our planet may be choked with CO2, but I’m glad the motorcar rendered those terrible things redundant…

Alright, I admit it – I love wagons! I love their character, the craftsmanship and their retro charm! Speaking of retro charm, Ella drives to the village where a large group photo is being taken. The photographer has his magnesium flash at the ready. I’m waiting for the wet plate negative, magnesium flash photography craze to take-off again. Surely one hundred and fifty years is long enough for it to become cool again. It’ll be called “Not-very-instant-a-gram”.

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This scene is pointless. Devoid of point. Bereft of use. Ella speeds around the main drag of the village, hooning and driving recklessly. James is sheriff and should arrest her for interrupting a group photo without a permit. I know obtaining permission from the local municipality for such things may seem a little officious, but without order and procedure we are nothing but happy snap interrupting barbarians. When waiting in line, filling out the paper work, or having your request rejected on the grounds of incorrectly completing the form, you may feel frustration or anger. Suck it up and picture the alternative; a dystopian world without jobs for people who like to stamp things.

Save yourself the trouble of battling with a photographer and obtain a permit. It covers standing awkwardly to the side of frame hoping not to cross the shot and photo-bombing. It does not cover people who make bunny ears behind people’s heads. This is, and should always be, a hangable offense.

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With their photo taken, the townspeople take to cheering at the wagon hooning. The photo must be for that community exhibition the fellow from Law and Order is organising. It seemed a bit stock for my tastes, with not much thought going into composition, or the use of zany props to liven up the image. I hope the other pieces are more imaginative.

This is another scene where the extras steal the show. There are roughly twelve million of them working together; running, hollering and shouting. Hmm, it’s a rather large population. Hungary must be feeling severely depleted, or the Austro-Hungarian Empire as would be the case. Depleting Hungary sounds like a bad punk outfit from the 80s. Their first EP would be called “So Long Budapest” and would sell upwards of nine copies.

The wagon is an all-terrain vehicle. Ella drives along the river bank, presumably so James can plunge his drunk face into a waterway made of whiskey.

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More nudity. Is it making the film more exciting? Not really. Seriously, is this a tits and arse movie? I did pick up Heaven’s Gate and not the adult film version, curiously also directed by Michael Cimino? I think in every film contract you should be given first option to direct a sequel and the right to do the adult adaptation of the film. If the film is already risqué, you should be allowed to shoot the children’s version of the picture. Clean it up, add some unicorns and a song or two and suddenly you’re selling Last of the Tango Unicorns in Paris DVDs in ABC shops.

Ella bathes in the river and the scene serves as a reminder of the importance of hygienic wagon riding practices. People, please remember – wagons are riddled with disease and riddles. Don’t fall into the trap of wasting your life away trying to solve a riddle told to you by a wagon. They only pose enigmas in order to distract you from washing away their wagon diseases. Block your ears and wash your carriage.

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The nude bathing draws to a close. That must have been a cold shoot. James looks comfortable and warm in a three-piece suit. His neck is at a right angle, leaning against the wagon as he rests and that can’t be good for you. Ergonomics have come a long way. Poor James. The Johnson county chiropractor is going to have some business coming his way. He’s sleeping on the grass, why didn’t he lay flat instead of having his chin on his nipples?

Why do cowboys always seem to sleep uncomfortably? Is it a measure of manhood to slowly cripple yourself over time? They’re always putting rolled up clothing and whatnot under their heads. You can’t have a good night sleep if your head is pointing skyward. I’m not saying cowboys should sleep in four-post beds, but you can’t be gun slinging if you crick your neck and it fuses at 90 degrees. It also makes it hard to wear a hat. A strap could be fastened under the chin but would look silly and no Wild West villain is going to take you seriously.

Ella claims the water is nice, revealing the river is in fact water and not whiskey. Good news for Johnnie Walker that whiskey is not freely available in North American river systems. Bad luck for drunkard fish.

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Shit just got serious. There is something James and Ella are not talking about. James is the silent type – another Western hero cliché. If this film is an anti-Western, James’ character should be the opposite and go by the name of James the Verbose Cowboy. When greeting people he’d blurt out his feelings and thoughts on humanity. He would never be succinct and over explain everything.

“James, are you ever going to come back?”

“Maybe… someday.” Would be a typical Western exchange. But it should run thusly:

“James, you’re not coming back, are you?”

“I don’t know, I’m just at a point in my life right now where, like, you know I’m all ‘Gah!’ You know? It’s just like, this and everything around it is just so over there, but I’m here. Do you follow? I want to be something, but yet not be something and I can’t be both not something and something here with all this, like, stuff, yeah? It’s about central experience and I just feel this, like, well, this is central, but I don’t want to be central, but I do, but everything can’t be and like my boots are like, ‘Grrr,’ you see? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go calmly reason with the violent guy in the black hat.”

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Gasp! James asks Ella to leave Wyoming to escape the coming danger! She’s not having a bar of it. That river is really loud. It looks tranquil but it’s obscenely noisy. Why wasn’t it turned down? Surely someone in the crew could have found the volume knob on the riverbed. It was probably under a rock or reed. I’m sure the river wouldn’t have minded. It could have even been asked to turn itself down. Water is rarely grumpy and nine times out of ten happy to help. You will from time to time cop a stroppy river who will tell you to go sod-off if you request it takes its babbling down a few decibels.

The last thing you want on any shoot is a stroppy river. During filming of Bridge on the River Kwai, Alec Guinness commented the river wasn’t as wet as he’d expected. It upset the water so much, that it left for the entire afternoon to calm down. It reportedly went to market to browse for crafts.

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Somebody shut that bloody river up! Ahem, excuse me. Despite Jim’s urging, Ella aint leaving Wyoming. And why would you? With the murders, thieving and drunkenness, it’s practically heaven on Earth. If you want to lose weight, your husband and your liver, come to Wyoming. If you lived here, you’d be dead by now!

Snap! From the relationship troubles of James and Ella, the film cuts to a good old-fashioned hoedown! Though, it probably wouldn’t have been old fashioned at the time. Not only is this a hoedown, it’s a hoedown on roller skates. I must admit, I’d never seen a fiddler on skates before. I clearly have not lived. Are the roller skates another silent film comedy reference? I suppose if you’re going to bankrupt the company Charlie Chaplin started, you may as well give a nod to his physical humour.

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Yeehaw! Round and round and round he goes! Once a fiddler gets-a-skating, there’s no stopping him. I had nine violin lessons when I was six and not once did the teacher bring out roller skates. He kept harping on about, firstly harps because they were his true musical love but was never good enough to play professionally and secondly about technique, scales and fingering.

I told my teacher theory was all well and good, but if I couldn’t fiddle while roller-skating there’ll be no hope for me. He drew a long drag on a cigarette, poured himself a scotch and told me of a student he brought along too quickly. After being taught the D major pentatonic scale, the student begged to strap on the skates. Though the young protégé’s talent was immense, the teacher was reluctant, fearing his pupil could burn out if the world of roller-fiddling was introduced too soon. But desperate to nurture child’s virtuosity and perhaps wanting to live vicariously, he agreed.

The skates went on. The student was four bars into To Arms in Dixie, when he lost control and impaled himself on his three hundred year-old Stradivarius.

Impatiently, I quit the violin and enrolled in lessons to learn playing the mandolin while bouncing on a space hopper. My leaping mandolin orchestra plays Sundays.

Note: If you giggled at ‘fiddle’ or ‘fingering’ you are a bad person.

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To clarify and reassure you – don’t worry the Stradivarius was completely unharmed.

The roller-skating hoedown continues, but now the whole town is involved. It’s comforting to think the two great music movements of the last two hundred years featured roller-skating ie. Disco and barn dancing. Why hasn’t someone combined the two genres? Earth Wind & Fire tried to bridge the divide with Boogie Wonderland, but the folk element was too awful for the band to include it in the final mix. The violin and banjo tracks were apparently so bad, the band set fire to the tapes. Unfortunately a wind blew it out and they were forced to bury them.

The addition of the cowboy in the Village People was another fusion attempt, but his idea of including the washboard and lagerphone in Macho Man was voted down. Go West had no folk instruments, but is an example of a successful compromise.

Of course it went both ways, but after hearing the results, the Bush Whackers shot their saxophonist.

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OK, someone stop that fucking roller-skating. Enough is enough! What is the point of this set piece? Oh Jeff Bridges falls over. There’s more of that archaic silent era jape I predicted. There had better be some great purpose to this scene. When conflict inevitably comes to Johnson County, it had better be a grand battle between the Stock Growers Association VS the Hungarian immigrants on roller skates.

“We’re fighting in a field! Surely these things can only hinder!”

“Shut up and slowly trudge forward; we’re skaters damn it!”

Retreating in that high-kneed, awkward stomp you have to perform when traversing a surface not conducive to skating, simply adds insult to injury. “Fall back and look as silly as you possibly can while doing so!”

“Shall we send in the infantry, or the foolish footwear division?”

“Neither. It’s the middle of summer. Send in the light snowboard brigade! Shuffle sideways, lads!”

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Image

End it! Make the skating stop! Somebody do something! It’s been going on for four minutes. Jeff Bridges is drunk and roller-dancing is what they all do for fun. I get it! Right now I would welcome the Stock Growers Association riding in on horses with rollerblades and obliterating everyone. James, to his credit doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself. Maybe he prefers pogo sticks.

The song has ended! Thank goodness. All in attendance cheer and holler. I’m pleased they enjoyed themselves. I did not. Perhaps I should have strapped on skis to review this minute. The editing is snappy, I must admit. I dare say the editor had a lot of coverage to work with.

I think Jeff Bridge’s character is pretty hammered and I can’t understand a word he says. There’s no river to drown out the sound either. Perhaps Bridges was deliberately being quiet in solidarity with all the rivers whose volume as been turned down by film crews? Can you be a member of the Rivers Lakes Estuaries & Puddles Guild if you’re not made from liquid? His last name is Bridges, so I guess close enough.

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The song winds up and Jeff Bridges’ character is really sloshed. Woh, something is awry here. Mr. Bridges falls out the door, taking Ella with, him to vomit and the film’s hue turns sepia and the image appears solarised. Is cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond giving us a McCabe and Mrs. Miller call-back? Oh hang on, I’m wearing sunglasses. I’ll just take them off and see if it makes a difference. No – no difference.

This picture seems to have taken on a slightly surreal bent. Ella rolls back inside the hall and she is alone. Yet the band is about to strike-up. Where is everyone? Doing that hilarious thing where one of your friends heads to the bathroom so you all move tables or hide to confuse them? Hats off to the band for packing up their gear so quickly. Though, they’ve only got to move fiddles, harmonicas and washboards. It’s not like they had to dismantle a ten-piece drum kit and a wall of Marshall amps.

I wonder if colour alteration will continue. Hopefully there’ll be a musical number in over saturated three-strip Technicolor. Though, with the roller-skating ended, that opportunity has probably been lost.

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James joins Ella in the hall. His skates have mysteriously disappeared. Continuity error! But Ella’s skates are gone as well. Where did they go? Did they leave together? Spin-off film idea – James and Ella’s skates fall in love and travel across country to discover the real America. After a long journey of personal progression, they reach the border and find that the real America was inside them all along.

Other spin-off idea: James and Ella’s skates escape their feet and embark on an hilarious caper to the big city to make some fast bucks on Wall Street. It’ll be called “Rolling In It” and star Charlie Sheen as the voice of James’ Skate #2.

James and Ella dance alone, while the band continues to play. I don’t like the knowing looks of the fiddle player. There’s something intrinsically troubling about violin players. Have a violin player stare at you while they play. Is one standing in front of you now? Good. Count them in. Are they looking at you? Let the music play for a time. You see what I mean! It’s the head tilt and mellifluous arm movements. C.R.E.E.P.Y! Get them out of your house before it’s too late!

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James and Ella are dancing up a storm! How a simple waltz can generate an intense low-pressure weather system is anyone’s guess. Maybe it’s the twirling? Are hurricanes and tornadoes the result of over exuberant hoedowns? I don’t know – the Bureau of Meteorology isn’t returning my calls. You think they could pick up the darn telephone. What are my tax dollars going toward? If I want to call up a government agency on a Saturday and ask inane questions about hurricanes, I should be allowed. I mean, what has this bloody country come to? I can’t even find a forum to post my query. There was a time when the government served you. Nowadays, we’re all beholden poor work practices of the Bureau of Meteorology. My conclusion that storms are the result of music with a 3/4 time signature could be of great national importance. But they’ll never know because they’re too busy pushing paper and emptying their rain gauges! Damn you, BOM! Damn you!

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Twirling and twirling and twirling! Not a care for the poor people of neighbouring South Dakota, whose homes have been destroyed by your dance hurricane. But I hope you had a good time, James and Ella. That’s all that matters, right?

“I don’t know anyone from the proud state of South Dakota, what do I care if it’s battered by monster winds?”

Well, let me tell you a little something about South Dakota. No President has ever been a native of the state and that’s because all the political talent keeps getting blown away! Every time some twerp from Wyoming waltzes, four or five potential statesmen are blown clean out of the country. They end up hundreds of kilometres north in Canada, confused, disorientated and unfamiliar with the local language. The only reason Mount Rushmore was built is so they could have some heads of states so large and heavy they could never be blown away.

A study out of a university that no longer has accreditation found that for Mount Rushmore to be swept away, it would take a hoedown encompassing the entire west coast of the United States. To my knowledge, such an even is yet to take place. But there’s a box social in coming up in Oregon that has the potential to get out of control.

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I have no idea what just happened. My hunch is that to legitimise the roller-skating it was decided to play into a dream like sequence so it comes across as poignant rather than Xanadu in the Wild West. Hmm, there’s an idea for a motion picture. I’m totally writing that.

As James and Ella stand by the lake, repeating information we already know, I’m reminded of just how visually stunning this film is. I’m also reminded I forgot to pick up some scourers when I was at the supermarket yesterday. The stovetop will have to wait.

Ooo, here comes Christopher Walken. I haven’t seen him in a while. Socially, I mean, not in the film. He never visits me anymore. You forget one birthday and accidentally set fire to their pool house and you’re in the bad books for eternity. He could at least return my tweets. I helped put out the inferno, what more does he want from me? I was pouring myself a kerosene bath while playing with fireworks, flint and an oxy torch – it could have happened to anybody. Gawd, some people just don’t let go of a grudge. Oh, the final seconds of this minute feature that bloody wagon cart thing. Pfft, sure the craftsmanship is impeccable, but meh…

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Ninety minutes – round about the average length of a feature film. In ninety minutes a hero can defeat the villain, win the heart of the person they love and move to the next stage of their life changed by the experience.

Or you can still be in the first act. I’m not saying either is preferable. I’m just putting out some options. Gawd, it’s raining heavily. Not in the film, I’m talking where I live. It must be the Bureau of Meteorology exacting their revenge. I’m under the impression they control the weather.

I digress. High noon ran for 85 minutes… Sorry to interrupt myself, but there seems to be some drama unfolding. Ella runs a brothel and Walken is strutting around being a bit of a meanie. High Noon’s female star didn’t run a brothel. I wish she did. It might have livened up Garry Cooper.

Dear Mr. Godfrey,

Thank you for submitting your screenplay ‘Just West of Xanadu’ for production consideration. Throughout the year we receive a high volume of… Actually, I rescind my thanks and instead rebuke you and demand in future not to waste my time, or my department’s.

Possibly, you’re a first time writer and by that I mean someone of zero literacy skills who’s never heard the English language spoken. You could also completely off your trolley, but either way here are some pointers to keep in mind when submitting a script.

1. It is accepted practice that you name your characters and don’t refer to them by the names of the actors you wish to play them.

2. Do not handwrite your scrip. It’s messy and particularly daft in this instance given your cover letter was typed and you clearly have access to computer.

3. Be certain your story is complete and don’t fill plot holes with the direction “Gene Kelly in a cowboy hat improvs for a bit.” Firstly, Gene Kelly has been dead for twenty years and secondly… there is no secondly; that’s it.

Please don’t contact me ever again.

Yours,

Someone rather important at Warner Bros.

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The character Christopher Walken plays seems mighty surly. He’s really brought down the mood at the brothel. I hate when people do that. If you’re in an old West bordello, leave your frown at the door. Most have frown racks for patrons to safely leave negative facial expressions and there’s no excuse for carrying it around inside. If you are fearful one of the girls might steal your frown, I’m sure the Madame would be more than happy to lock it up for you. Better yet, banks have special scowl safety deposit boxes. Personally, I keep my ‘Grrrrrrr’ face in one and I find the rates very reasonable. They won’t store ‘Ahrg!” expressions as apparently it’s too noisy, but you could hide the ‘Ahrg!’ inside a ‘Grrrrrr’ and no one would ever know.

Be aware brothel frown racks fill-up quickly and I do recommend putting your furrowed brow in a bank. It’s the best way to avoid embarrassment and save face.

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I like a brothel that gives potential clients a cup of tea before getting down to business. It’s so much more civilised. I really dislike the ones that try to offer you spirits, Gatorade, prune juice or opium. So hats-off to Ella for running a business where courtesy is at its foundation.

Speaking of hats-off, Christopher Walken is yet to remove his. You can’t wear a hat inside! It’s frightfully rude. Ella is pouring you tea you fail to exhibit basic manners! Hang on, it might not be a hat and could just be the way his hair is styled… no it’s definitely a hat!

If you walk into a club wearing a hat, you have to shout the bar. Does the same principle apply in a bordello? “Woops, hat’s still on. This one is on me… and on you and on all of you!”

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I can see why Christopher Walken’s hat was not removed; it’s acting up a storm! That’s just a figure of speech. Hat’s, unlike dancing, do not cause violent weather systems.

Walken jealously asks about James and clearly has affections for Ella, but I can’t focus on what’s being said because the hat is really turning it on. Every element of its performance is so subtle, it’s as though it’s not really acting. The expressions and stiffness of its brim all culminate in an enchanting and flawless performance.

The hat’s makeup should be noted. The character of Christopher Walken’s Character’s Cowboy Hat is played by a fez. Latex and special effects makeup have transformed this diverse performer, whose commitment to the character is unquestionably the highlight of this minute. As it sits rigidly mounted atop its co-star’s head, I feel as though I’m watching something special – I’m watching the Lon Chaney of hats.

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Is anyone else unnerved when people clean a pistol as they speak to you? Watching Ella do it reminds me of my grade three teacher who would polish an AK-47 as she taught home economics. We never saw the gun during math, English, sport (not even to start sprints), geography or religion, but on the rare occasion when we learnt cooking, out it would come.

“Knead the dough, Simon,” she would whisper as she carefully applied solvent.

I believe this is why I panic every time I see a teacake. The school eventually confiscated the weapon, ruling Mrs. Braddock was not allowed to clean assault rifles in class. To get around this, Mrs. Braddock began polishing a flintlock blunderbuss during home ec. There was something about the flared muzzle that made the experience more unsettling…

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Hat’s again steal this scene. Nath (Christopher Walken) visits James upstairs who is passed out. Nath removes his hat and weirdly replaces it with James’. What kind of creepo walks into your room while you sleep and tries on your headwear? Imagine if you awoke to discover some passing ruffian had popped on your fedora and coolly smoothed out the brim while you were in the land of nod. You’d feel violated. This is precisely why I don’t wear hats. I fear I’m going to be strolling down the street and some miscreant will approach me and mock, “Nice hat, mate. You know what? I fuckin’ wore it; wore it right in ya house. Me – in your hat, in your house.”

The hat acting continues to be sublime and I semi-wish I hadn’t thrown all mine into a cleansing fire.

“Right in your house, mate. Right in there…”

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“You got style, Jim. I’ll give you that,” compliments Nath. It’s a nice line. Still, it’s freaking creepy to be saying while wearing the man’s hat.

What’s it called if you slump someone over a saddle and give them a tandem ride? Dinking? Can you dink a person on a horse, or is that an exclusively bike thing? It most likely is solely for bikes. It’s hard to jam the rear pegs into the horse. But fun.

Anyway, I ask because Nath is moving an unconscious James by horse past some lovely scenery and a giant invisible bat to some sort of boarding house. Doleful people are crammed into bunk beds that reach to the ceiling and if you look past this wretched, cheerless, piteous sight, the first thing you think is – fire hazard. What kind of negligent sheriff allows such egregious fire code infractions? Tsk tsk tsk…

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Jeff Bridges should play more simpletons. Just an observation. If I were his agent, I’d have him playing all manner of idiots. I don’t know who represents him, but I believe they’ve really dropped the ball in not exploring this possibility, because he’s got a real knack for it. He didn’t seem so twit-ish when he was conversing with Jim, but in this scene he’s got a real village idiot vibe about him.

To be fair, it could be the derby hat. People who wear them are either English accountants or the local ignoramus. Be careful not to confuse the two – it’s why the ATO are constantly chasing me. I should just pay them the $2.50 I owe, but it’s the principle. I’ve long forgotten exactly what that principle is, but I’m sure it’s justified and righteous.

This really is one of the greatest hat films of the 20th century. The 21st century has produced nick-all in the way of hat movies. Lift your game, Hollywood.

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There are so many Hungarians in the boarding house. It’s like a winding immigrant catacomb underneath this place. Seriously, it’s vast and choc-a-block. In the world of the film, are there any people left in Hungary? Did Emperor Francis Joseph I of the Austro-Hungarian Empire awake one morning to find all the Hungarians had nicked-off?

“I can’t be emperor of Austro-Hungry if all the Hungarians have vanished! Otherwise I’m just emperor of Austro-and the empty bit next door.”

This sequence features a sinister man in a hammock. If you want to freak someone out, don’t just throw ‘em a sly look – rock slowly as you do it. From the menacing man in the suspension bed, to nude folk tunes. The scene moves seamlessly from destitution to a very content man strumming a nylon string acoustic for the entertainment of the naked women in his bed. I hope he plays some Neil Diamond. Hang on, if there are several naked ladies in your bed, don’t waste time serenading them!

“Make love to us…”

“Very well. Just after this little number I wrote while on tour with Neil Diamond…”

Sorry, someone is playing Hot August Night next door.

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An Irish woman steps in shit. Well, at least I think she is Irish. I am going by her accent. OK, it could be Belgian. I can’t tell. Belgians sound all, “Rah thi rah” don’t they? Or am I thinking of the Swiss? I’d prefer if her accent were Welsh. I love a good Welsh accent. I’m partial to an OK one too. I’ll even listen to one that’s a bit – meh, it’s alright, I guess. If you’re into that sort of thing…

But Welsh people don’t step in shit. This is because most inhabitants of Wales can levitate. Just a bit, of course. They can’t float around for hours, as they get too tired. You’ve got to eat an entire lamb if you want the energy to stay in the air for more than twenty minutes. The nice thing is the Welsh don’t go on about it.

“Yeah, I can suspend myself in midair for brief periods of time. What of it? It’s just a thing I do. Hey, you wanna go skeet shooting?” a Welshman once said to me.

However, while the Irish are incapable of defying gravity, Irish sheep can levitate, but only if they eat a Belgian.

Sigh, I just don’t understand the Eurozone.

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I don’t think you should ever defy gravity. Disobeying from time to time is fine, but if you openly ignore gravity, it might grow angry and petty.

“Oh, you want to disregard the binding force of the universe, hey? Well, I’ll just let Earth drift out of its orbit. How do you like that, Earth?!”

Though, if we did move out of our orbit, it would make travelling to Mars a bit easier.

Speaking of binding force, Ella and Nath are about to copulate. He pays her in advance, which is only polite and get’s ready for some action in the typical 19th century way – stoically.

I’m noticing the film’s interiors during this night sequence are a very yellow hue. It’s completely jaundiced. Golly gosh, I hope it doesn’t have hepatitis! Deary me… You shoot a million feet of film for a movie and this is what happens. The film stock becomes tired and run down, then it eats an unwashed strawberry and ka-blam! Your film comes down with Hep A. More severe cases is where the term ‘B movie’ comes from.

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“You asked me once, what was in Room 101,” recalls O’Brien in 1984. “I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.”

If you were a lover of shoot ‘em up Westerns, your torture may be to be strapped into a chair and forced to watch Heaven’s Gate with your eyes pried open like Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

While on the subject of conditioning, I can’t concentrate. I feel as though I’m having a Pavlovian response to the ticking clock in Ella’s room because I keep expecting 60 Minutes to begin. Nathan is trying to convince Ella to quit the brothel game so they can run away together, but I swear he also said, “Stay tuned, after the break – George Negus from the Brazilian mining town of Serra Pelada.” Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…

Note to American readers: In Australia we too have 60 Minutes. If you’ve never heard of George Negus, please insert your own locally relevant 60 Minutes reference. Or alternatively, check out the work of George Negus. He’s great. George stays in the hotel room, while his powerful moustache carries out the reporting.

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…Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Ella spends a lot of this movie naked. Perhaps it was a cost cutting measure. Period costumes are expensive and when you’ve got millions of extras, something’s gotta go.

What we have ourselves here is a good old-fashioned love triangle, minus the ‘good’. Wasn’t there an impending war a-comin’? Nath shot a Hungarian eighty minutes ago, yet he seems rather fond of the nude one next to him. What happened to the death list? $50 a day, plus expenses? And where the hell is John Hurt and the cows?

Oh, I get it! The expenses! Nathan is just racking-up some charges for the Stock Growers Association. I’m not sure you claim prostitutes on tax? Do they give you a receipt at a brothel? I’ll phone the Health Services Union to find out.

Hmm, the receptionist keeps hanging up on me. I’ll tweet the National Secretary. Ah, she says, “Only if you pay ‘em.”

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Away from Nathan and Ella, (the film cuts before we see anything, but I bet they, like, totes did it), to a smoky morning in the township. Clearly the giraffe dragon is lurking somewhere. He means the people of Johnson County no harm; he’s employed to provide hazy atmosphere. The work is intellectually stimulating, but the long hours clash with the giraffe dragon’s lifestyle of hassling medieval knights. Unfortunately, he’s on an individual contract, so not a lot can be done to increase flexibility in the workplace.

Good grief! The giraffe dragon just ate one of the townspeople! Oh no, hang on. Sorry, it was just a photographer’s flash.

Safe from the smoke, James is accosted by unhappy fellows who complain Nathan shot a member of the community. James isn’t interested because he is trying to enjoy his morning coffee. It’s like that time I tried to buy a train ticket to Tocumwal and there was only one person serving behind the V/Line counter. The line was gigantic, my train was leaving soon and there was another guy behind the window eating his lunch. I know everyone deserves a lunch break, but don’t do it in front of people waiting in line. Revolution was brewing. People were close to storming the ticket window. They kept saying, “Why isn’t that bloke serving, I’m trying to get to Ballarat here!”

So, the stakes are a little higher for the group reporting a murder, but it’s essentially the same situation. I made it to Tocumwal, by the way. I wish I hadn’t.

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This scene is very serious. James and Nathan discuss Ella and the tension is well executed. The acting is superb, the shots well composed and the scene is lit perfectly. Unfortunately it’s all undone by a rather strange occurrence in the background. Through the window, behind the table where James and Nathan sit, is a juggler. They’re having a verbal stoush about Ella and outside is a man throwing around some batons.

Why it was felt this scene needed some distant juggling, is beyond me. It’s right next to James’ head. What on Earth were they thinking?

“The scene is a little dry, better place a circus performance in the background to jazz it up.”

Was there a creative process that lead to this decision? Did the 2nd assistant director believe batons would have more emotional impact than balls? Was there discussion of what type of circus act should be through the window? Was a lion tamer thought to be too impractical?

Goodness! What if there’s been a street performance in the backdrop of every key sequence and I’ve just not noticed. The tiny clown car on the horizon when Nathan shot the cattle thief makes a lot more sense now.

Seriously, why is he juggling?! Consideration went into placing him there. A person was paid to juggle in a western! Why?! At least he’s not on roller skates.

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A curious line of dialogue is uttered. Nathan accuses Jim of beginning to sound like a man with a paper arsehole. Is this a common phrase? I’ve never heard it before. Have I been wandering this Earth unaware I could be using such a colourful idiom? Why didn’t somebody tell me? A friend or family member could have taken me aside at some point and said, “Simon, did you know you could be accusing people of, not owning a paper arsehole, but sounding as though they do.”

What do people with a paper arsehole sound like? Scrunchy, I should think. If anyone out there is afflicted with the condition or beginning to present like a person who is, please tweet about it, because awareness must be raised.

Dear lord… a paper arsehole would be self wiping. The next step of human evolution is before us, people!

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In the world of this film women pull ploughs. It takes sixteen of them to drag one through the field. It begs the question; why aren’t these people stealing horses instead of cattle?

You steal a horse, you’ve a way of ploughing the land and you immediately rob Nathan of his primary mode of transport. All I’m saying is the guy rides around shooting immigrants; take his horse and his favourite pass time becomes that little bit more difficult.

It’s hard to jog after someone in boots and it’s likely he’ll give-up immigrant hunting and become a banker or realtor. He’ll be appraising your property one day and say, “Hey, is that my horse?” At that point you can either stay and fight, or just nick-off on his horse.

“Get back here!” Nathan will cry, “you’re property could fetch upwards of $10,000 at auction!”

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Those poor women pulling the plough. It makes you appreciate tractors. Never again will I take them for granted.
So many years I would drive past tractors and not give them a thought. Occasionally I’d give them a small thought, like, “Oh, that one is green,” but nothing beyond that. Of course that would only apply if the tractor was green. If the tractor was yellow, I’d be thinking, “Oh, a yellow one.” A tractor of any other hue probably wouldn’t register with me. If I passed a field with a blue or brown tractor, I doubt I would notice. Something very interesting, such as an invisible tractor, would be worth noting. But if it was invisible I probably wouldn’t be able to see it, unless it was being driven. The farmer bobbing along would be a dead give away and look a bit like a rural equivalent of Wonder Woman. If the farmer was invisible, well, I’d be in all sorts.

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I’ve so far not yet mentioned the focus in this film. It’s fine. The lens doesn’t seem cracked or damaged and presumably the camera was operated by professionals. No one ever refers to the focus when reviewing movies. Thought it worth noting.

Ella is apparently untrustworthy. The man who said this could have just been winding up Nathan. He’s an automaton made of clockwork, so it helped power him for the day.

Cut away to baseball! There are many parallels between baseball and this film. There are nine innings in a game of baseball. That’s a lot of innings. I’m just saying, is all. Also, no match caller ever mentions the focus in a baseball game. It’s hard for the pitcher, second baseman and shortstop to stay sharp.

“He’s out! That’s the ballgame and I’d like to take this time to draw attention to the fact no one has become a smudge tonight. Stay crystal clear and contrasty Philadelphia.”

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A new character is introduced. He is sitting on the baseball field, which means he’s either the second baseman, or the second base itself.

He is warned of the impending war, blah blah blah, death list, blah-di-blah, stuff we know already blah-di-etc. The second base is apparently the President of the Chamber of Commerce. An imminent war, Stock Growers Association, President of the Chamber of Commerce – this is beginning to sound a lot like the first Star Wars prequel. If a Trade Federation is introduced into the plot, I think Michael Cimino should bring a suit against George Lucas. The more I think about it, the more I see the similarities. I think George Lucas has ripped-off Heaven’s Gate. I should have twigged during the double-edged lightsaber battle between Nathan and the townsfolk. Hmm, the lightsabers are an interesting detail I probably should have mentioned before.

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At last the death list is revealed! It’s handed to Jim on a lovely bit of paper. Big ups to the props department, because that paper looks exactly like paper.
Sometimes you see a piece of paper in a film and you think, “Yeah, it’s white and rectangle, but it looks more like plasterboard or a BBQ.”

Sometimes it’s not real, but CGI paper. Many productions in order to achieve “green” status will enforce a paperless shoot. Whether it’s more harmful for the environment to use numerous computers to impose digital paper into each frame is a debate which rages in Hollywood at present.

There is one name on the death list that draws James’ attention – Ella. Gasp! Apparently she has been receiving stolen cattle as payment for intercourse. What kind society do we little in when you can’t trade cows for sex? How do they fit in their wallets? And if the wallets are leather, well, that’s just cruel.

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Action! The film cuts from the baseball game and Jim hits Nathan right in the kisser! Meanwhile, we don’t learn who won the baseball match. I was barracking for the batting team. I think they have passion and self-belief to go all the way.

Nathan doesn’t take the assault lying down – partially because he was sitting. He thwacks Jim in the face and it’s an all out fight. My guess the fight has erupted because Jim is displeased about the death list. He is obsessed with that bloody thing. Get a grip, man! We’ve all seen death lists with loved one’s names on it; get over it.

Oh I just realised – Nathan is a killer and the girl he loves is marked for assassination. Talk about a conflict of interest. Awkward.

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Ella reveals some family back-story. At this point, I’ll take any type of story – back, forward, or plot progression on a title card. Ella’s father was killed by a death list. Well, James says, “Ella’s name is on a death list,” to which she replies, “My father died that way.” So, technically he could have died compiling the list. Spelling a long surname could have caused his head to explode, or he could have been impaled while ruling the margins. Ink poisoning sustained by Ella’s father drinking ink in the belief he’d turn into a squid is another possibility.

Nathan blurts out he’s asked Ella to marry him and James is mighty pissed – drunk and angry, that is. When you buy a woman a wagon, you at least expect she wont be taking any marriage proposals. I just don’t get courtship.

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This scene, INT. THE BLOODY WAGON SHED – DAY, begins with a very bizarre shot. James is on a horse, Ella approaches and the camera dramatically tracks towards them. It’s the type of shot appropriate in a horror film – a crash zoom into the heroine’s face as she realises the killer is her cat’s professional groomer whom she’s known since childhood. However, the effect here only serves to make the scene look staged and stilted.

The actors seem a little surprised a camera is barrelling toward them. It could have been on a wheeled tripod that ran away from the camera operator and the crew only managed to stop it crashing into the wagon in the nick of time. If only it had ploughed straight into it. That would have been so darn cathartic.

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I gotta say, I aint buying this love triangle. It seems utterly bizarre to me that Nathan and Ella would speak so coolly about her future plans with Jim given she’s just learned of her impending assassination.

I must assume Ella is a Wild West version of James Bond. Taking action, death and adventure as it comes. Although, Bond never ran a brothel. Well, he did in the books. For some reason that character quirk was never explored in the films. To be honest it’s really only mentioned in one book – The Spy Who Ran a Brothel For a Bit.

Ella and Nathan drive toward a cabin. Inside, I assume will be wasps – big ones, completing the housework.

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Creepy man in a cabin! How many times in your life have you been able to exclaim that? Highlight of this minute is the emergence of a mysterious, grubby man named Fred. He is covered from head to toe with filth. Admittedly, I can’t see his toes, but I think it’s safe to assume. Or is it? Fred could have the cleanest feet in all of Johnson County, for all I know. I shouldn’t write people off like that. I’m so discriminatory sometimes.

I think the make-up department may have gone a little over board with the dirt on his face. It looks a little like shoe polish and Fred has an unfortunate minstrel vibe about him. This film has animal cruelty under its belt; perhaps it’ll chalk-up some flagrant racism too. Again, I’m quick to judge. Fred is probably a magistrate, wealthy landowner or President of the United States with a mudpack to keep his skin supple.

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OK, the dude in blackface is creeping me out. I’ve no idea what he’s doing, or why he is so dirty, but I don’t really want to find out. He could be one of the wasps in disguise. That would explain the eerie stinger stroking.

Nathan and Ella are so lovely together. They should, like, totes get hitched. They’re just so perfect! He murders and has inexplicably wall-papered his log cabin and Ella owns a horse. It’s a match made in heaven, or a machine that produces matches. I call it MATCHBORG 50X. The ‘50X’ relates to the amount of failed relationships it has created. 25 unsuccessful pairings, resulting in 50 exs.

I wonder how James would feel if he knew Ella was driving Nathan around in the wagon he bought her. It’s like that time I leant my ex girlfriend’s new boyfriend $250 million and offered to mind their kitten while they went on holiday, presumably with my $250 million. My situation is less pathetic, I’d never loan Anne and Darcy a wagon. I’ve more self-respect.

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According to Nathan, wallpaper civilises the wilderness. I agree. Wallpaper a forest and it gives the environment a homely charm. A lamp can also tame the wilderness. You place a lamp amongst the thickets and you’re on your way to a dream home. I knew a bloke, Bill Wiseman was his name, he put a coffee table next to a blackberry bush and it sold for $550,000 as a studio apartment at auction.

Seriously, if you see some overgrowth, slap a footrest or ornate candlestick near by and you’ll be sitting on a goldmine investment property. But with the way the economy is at present, we’ll never be able to afford some thorns surrounding an ottoman. Oh well, one can dream.

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Have you ever awkwardly shuffled around your hut? If not, this scene might be hard to relate too. Nathan is a little anxious to make a good impression in front of Ella, but this minute is just plain strange. He shifts furniture, Ella sips some, what I assume is soup, Nathan throws her a comic look… I don’t understand. Once you’ve exchanged money for sex with someone, just how embarrased can you really get in front of them? That’s not a rhetorical question, please write in and answer.

I’m rather hungry for soup, I must admid. Is this clever product placement? That is a rhetorical question, as its clearly not. I also feel like a Pepsi, but there’s no mention of cola in this scene. Do I equate soup with Pepsi? Do Pepsi make soup? And if not, why not? Seems an obvious next step for the Pepsi Cola Company. Oh and yes I’d like those last three questions answered in detail, please.

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Finally, away from Nathan and Ella and we cut to the train station. Thank goodness! I couldn’t take another moment of those two pottering around a hut. The stationmaster, you remember the one with the family living in his pipe, seems upset at the train. It’s not stopping! Poor guy; the train never visits him anymore and when it does pop in, it’s only as it passes through. If there are any trains reading this, please take time to visit your stationmaster and don’t take it for granted they’ll be around forever.

His head is now on the rail. Is the stationmaster listening to see if the train has stopped further down the line, or is he trying to shave a couple of inches off the top of his head? I didn’t think the stationmaster was that tall. But I guess everyone has their own hang-ups.

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Two hours down and the time has just flown. Not like a supersonic jet, more like a World War 1 era Sopwith Camel.

Can anyone guess who is on the train? Send your guesses to thebigimpressiveguessmachine@gmail.com or scream your hunch at the comment field. If you guess correctly, you win a canister of nitrous oxide I swiped from a dentist.

Pretty obvious – it’s the Stock Growers Association. Up to mischief again most likely. If I ever have an evil lair and I assume one day I shall, it’ll be on a train. Though the need to run on tracks would be rather limiting. It’s impossible not to make an obvious getaway. If you’re on the Glen Waverly line you could throw-off anyone in pursuit by not stopping at East Richmond, but that’s about all you can do.

The Imperial Wizard of the Stock Growers Association is wearing a black Cossack hat and a coat over his shoulders like a cape. The kooky headwear is very reminiscent of the Trade Federation from The Phantom Menace. I’m going to call it outright now – Heaven’s Gate and all the Star Wars prequels are pretty much the same movies.

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Here we go! Some action! The Supreme Leader of the Stock Growers Association leaps from the stationary train.
Troops ride over the hill to meet them. They all look so smart in their uniforms. I wonder if George Armstrong Custer is with them? No, he would have been long dead by this stage. It’s a shame; he had such a wonderful ginger moustache.

Speaking of ginger, John ‘Count Harriet Mensworth-Smithe’ Hurt is with the cavalry, sporting a Cossack hat. It’s such a small town, what store is selling all these fancy fur hats? Did every village in the Wild West have a brothel, a train station, a general store and a luxury hat retail outlet?

Armstrong is a strange middle name. But then again, so is Bret. Ever met anyone whose middle name is Bret? Exactly.

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I think the oft’ spoken about war has finally come. The school captain of the Stock Growers Association smugly circles as Count Harriet Mensworth-Smithe swigs from a hipflask. I wonder what is inside? Tea? Coffee? A model of Johnson County? You shouldn’t drink models of districts. It’s impolite.

We are reminded by a character, whom I assume only exists to impart already stated information, that the President has sanctioned what is about to unfold. Who was the President of the United States at the end of the 19th Century? Regan? I don’t remember.

A horse slips down the ramp from the train carriage. It looks painful. Heaven’s Gate – a war and a love triangle, peppered with animal cruelty.

Michael Cimino – 2

American RSPCA equivalent – 0

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Count Harriet Mensworth-Smithe salutes the sky with his hipflask and oh my, a lovely fade to black. The screen is still black… still black… still black.

What? Intermission?! A title card announces a break. I’d better take one. I’ll make myself a cup of tea and grab a biscuit. Mmm, delicious! I’ve let the tea brew for the perfect amount of time. Milk, with no sugar is how I take my tea in case anyone is wondering. The milk in the fridge expires today. If it was tomorrow, today – firstly that’d be confusing, but would also mean I’d have to pop down to the shops to buy more milk. So, lucky me! I reckon I should dunk my biscuit in the tea. What do you reckon? I’m going to do it. I’ve earned it. Time to treat myself. Shit, I let the biscuit get too soggy and it flopped into mug. Sigh. I’d better go fetch a spoon.

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It’s still intermission? You’re shitting me. It’s a fucking DVD! If I was watching this film for fun I could take an intermission any time I pleased; it’s called the pause button.

Great, well, I don’t know, the black screen is very black. So, kudos to whomever was responsible for that. Even the word ‘intermission’ has disappeared. I’ve nothing to look at.

The music is appropriate. I think I hear a bouzouki, but please don’t correct me if I’m wrong. This break better not be twenty minutes long. Firstly, don’t include a full-length intermission on the DVD, spread the film over two disks and imply an intermission. Secondly, if you are going to have a break, supply a snack bar when you purchase or rent the movie. I’ve drunk my biscuit infused tea and I’m sitting here like an idiot.

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Fade in and the intermission is over. Thank goodness! I don’t know what I would have done if I was forced to review a period where nothing happens. Though, I’ve managed thus far. Now that there are pictures on screen, I am reminded how visually stunning this film is. But then again, so is a taser to the eyeballs and you wouldn’t have that done to you for four hours.

A man stands over the stationmaster who is asleep under a dead tree. The man’s long coat flutters majestically in the breeze. It’s very Matrix. I wonder if this scene was an influence? I’m now of the opinion that The Matrix films are an homage to this scene. A dead tree, a stationmaster – do I need to draw a diagram for you? Alright, someone grab me some graph paper.

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I think the stationmaster might be in a spot of bother. Generally speaking, gun-carrying mercenaries in long flowing coats standing over you is a bad omen. The stationmaster is given a sporting chance as edges towards his horse. The gunman asks if the stationmaster likes his new suit, commenting he paid $50 dollars for it on credit, but will be able to pay it off soon. Why would he say such a thing? Oh! Of course, you receive $50 for every person you kill from the death list. I’d completely forgotten. If only the characters had mentioned it a dozen or so more times, it may have stuck with me.

The stationmaster’s hat flies away in the wind. You know you’re in real trouble when even your hat fucks off. The chase begins! The stationmaster heads for the hill, but over the crest ride the forces of the Stock Growers Association. A sole hit man gives chase, firing coldly at the fleeing rail official.

The stationmaster’s horse is hit! Were they after the horse the whole time? Are stallions stealing cattle? What if the horse was an agitator; undermining the authority of the SGA with an aggressive pamphlet campaign?

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Ok, it’s not the horse they’re after. Though, the horse took a pretty heavy tumble.

Michael Cimino – 3

American RSPCA equivalent – 0

The Stock Growers Association horseman shoots the stationmaster. Ouch. Oh, and again! He just keeps on shooting. How many bullets does that riffle hold? The horseman had already discharged a few rounds during the chase.

The stationmaster is dead. Now who’s going to make sure the trains run on time? Who is going to polish the trains and tell them nice things about their steam whistles? Sure you’ve eliminated an immigrant sympathiser, but at what cost? The price of around six bullets, I suspect.

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I miss the stationmaster already. I hope the family in his pipe escaped ok.

The horsemen ride on to make further mischief, no doubt. The scallywags! No time for archaic insults – the film cuts back to Nathan’s strangely wallpapered cabin. The man in blackface is regaling Nathan and his guests with a peculiar tale about being shot at. All laugh, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps they all remembered something completely unrelated, but thoroughly amusing, at the same time?

For pity’s sake, someone please offer him a face flannel, or moist towelette, or something! Has he been down a mine? Is there coal in Wyoming? I believe so. The mines are lined with luminous porridge worms. If you’ve never heard of a porridge worm, eat less toast. I hope he mined lots of coal today, or as I like to call it; carbon ghosts!

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Ella looks as confused as I am. This is an odd scene indeed. The coal blackface man is urging some other fellow to poke-out his tongue. After some goading, he obliges. The porridge worm worker grabs him by the tongue and rises from the table. Nathan finds it terribly funny. Ella appears to be uneasy. I share Ella’s unease. I have that troubled feeling you have when you’re out and a strange rowdy group is aggressively nice to you. There’s more than likely a mugging coming your way, but how can you not stay and talk when they’re calling you ‘mate’ loudly and being so social?

This coal miner could in fact be a doctor who performs minstrel shows as a hobby. He left his tongue depressor at the office and is forced to bizarrely latch onto the patient’s tongue. The patient is encouraged to bite the doctor/miner. “Stick-out your tongue and say, ‘Aaaaaarh’,” was clearly practiced differently in the 19th century.

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At anecdote’s end, Ella takes her leave. Nathan invites her to stay for supper, most likely a stew or mammoth spit with roast vegetables skewered over the tusks. But she politely declines and is instead off to ‘settle’ things with Jim. I hope she’s not going to discuss their relationship, but is off to settle a bet. If all goes well, they’ll wager double-or-nothing on a cockfight or fly race. Better yet, they’ll gamble on a fly vs chicken fight.

Like an empty wardrobe in the corner of a distant great aunt’s bedroom, this love triangle is so utterly uninteresting. Just when some gun slinging action was taking place, the viewer is forced to sit through some tongue groping and blah blah McLove-Interest being lusted over by hoo-hoo McMoustache. Hmm, gawd I’m hungry. I could totally go some mammoth.

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Ella and Nathan say goodbye. Ella has made her decision. Jim is, like, totes old news.

Ella rides off down the track. There is no music to accent the moment. As Nathan watches her drive away, personally I’d cue the song “On the Wings of Love” by Jeffrey Osborne. The fact it had not been released when the film was made is a minor detail.

The chorus would strike-up, “On the wings of love. Up and above the clouds, the only way to fly…” and commence an animated sequence. Ella, Nathan and the Wagon soar through the clouds, intertwining, smiling, laughing and singing. Sky flowers bloom from Ella’s nose and Nathan plucks a petal. The wagon morphs into a giant butterfly with a multicoloured headband and even though they can fly, Nathan and Ella jump on its back and ride over the mountains. As it’s a Michael Cimino film, the butterfly then draws a pistol and its headband turns blood read. The butterfly spins the barrel and orders Nathan to pull the trigger. The chorus swells once more.

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What we got ourselves here is an old fashion town meetin’. None of this civilised rake seating, put your hand-up and wait your turn nonsense. At this gathering, shouting and waving pieces of paper around is how you have your say. Jeff Bridges attempts to quiet the crowd so James can speak, but he’s not having much luck. The meeting is taking place in the same hall where they all roller-skated together. My how far we’ve come in 52 minutes…

There’s a kid sweeping. Why? Sometimes what makes a film great is the small details, but the room is filled with dirt-covered shouting people, why not sweep after everyone has left? Is he being paid to sweep? Is it a part-time job? Is it a full-time job? Or has he taken it upon himself to create a space with a clean floor in the hope it will promote robust discussion?

I wonder what the meeting is about? The armed thugs on their way to obliterate everyone? Could be. It could also be that everyone in the room is also in love with Ella. The pieces of paper being waved are romantic letters and Jim has called the town together to sort out this out of control love polygon.

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To silence the crowd, Jeff Bridges fires a bullet into the air. It hits a roof beam and presumably kills it. I’d ask for a minute’s silence to remember the brave piece of timber, but I think there have been enough of those throughout the film already.

Jim speaks. Apparently there are a group of armed men coming to invade the county. News to me. I must have missed it… *cough* The more this fact is mentioned, the less sympathy I have for the folk on the list. It angers me so much that I’m starting to side with the Stock Growers Association. I was down the shops the other day and I slapped a Hungarian. I don’t know what came over me. I explained myself. She was rather understanding, but still kicked my arse and I spent an evening in Emergency.

Jeff Bridges is wearing a top hat. He looks like a ringmaster. Is there a circus in town? It would explain the person juggling in the background of Nate and James’ confrontation. Though, some things are best left unexplained. But since interval there has been not enough hackneyed street performance for my liking.

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The names on the death list are to be read. Jim draws the paper from his pocket. Again, I know I’ve already harped on about it, but it really is exquisite paper. It’s bearing names of people who are to be executed, but that’s hardly the paper’s fault. Death lists don’t kill people; people who read them kill people. Essentially what I’m saying is literacy is to blame.

Sure, you teach people to read and write with good intensions, naively believing no harm will come of it, but what does little Timmy do when he’s sufficiently educated? He writes a great work of literature. But what does little Jonie do when she grows up? She writes the lyrics to an emotionally powerful ballad, delighting and entertaining for generations. But what does little Freddy do when he grows up? Not much. He becomes a civil servant and takes a passing interest in butterfly collecting. But what does little Susie do? She marries Freddy young and regrets it. She loves Freddy, but they just never had a true passion for one another. Getting hitched and settling down in your early 20s is just what you did in those days… Did I have a point when I launched into this paragraph?

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The names are read. It’s the who’s who of characters we’ve seen briefly over the course of two hours. Oh no! They’re not going to kill the guy I saw for a moment at the cockfight?! And not the guy who was in the background for a bit, eh, whenever it was!

Why is Jeff Bridges in a top hat? He looks like Dr. Caligari. Is the film about to transition from anti-Western to German expressionist horror? Why not, I say. There are probably many, many reasons.

Are those who didn’t make the death list going to feel left out? Kind of like friends of school kids who fail a test, own it and make everyone who passed feel uncool. Only cool kids are on the death list. Tim Gelenki was the student like that at my school. I think he grew-up to become a mercenary.

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The name reading continues. He’s not going to read every name is he? The Stock Growers Association is a-comin’; time is of the essence. Just pin the list up on a notice board, like when roles are cast for the school play.

I’m looking at the assembled crowd and it’s going to be pretty much everyone in the room. Time would be saved if Jim just announced, “You’re all screwed.”

It lacks tact, but concisely conveys the message. But it is foolish to expect anything concise in this movie.

More names, more names… Jim’s hair is so silky. Did they have conditioner in the Wild West? Could you purchase Vidal Sussoon at the general store? If you’re about to fight a battle it is nice to look your best. It’s also a common tactic to confuse your enemies with a radiant shine that won’t quit.

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More names read and a lot of shrieking. So much yelling and hollering… Get a grip, people! What’s that? Is that the last of them? Finally! The list has been verbalised! It’s done. Finished. Complete. Such relief. Maybe Jim’s hair isn’t that shiny. It looks nice, don’t get me wrong, but it’s probably just nice in comparison to the other characters. I don’t mean to put anyone down; there are some people in the meeting with great style. But Jim has a little something extra in the stylish hair department – about 40%, if we were to analyse this mathematically. How I arrived at this figure is available from the relevant government department.

Ella is home! The film cuts from the screaming, to a long shot of one of those wagon things and magnificent countryside. So tranquil… Those mountains just make you wanna store frozen goods atop ‘em.

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Disturbing harmonica music plays as Ella cautiously enters her home. There are horses out front, so people must be waiting inside. It’s strange how a harmonica can be disturbing. It’s usually such a cheery instrument.

A tuba – now there’s an instrument that’ll make you feel uneasy. Never mind fiddlers on roller skates, you got someone staring at you while blowing into some brass, you’ll feel dread in no time.

There are some gents awaiting Ella. As she enters, one turns to face her on a squeaky chair. Nice. That’s some good Foley work. Perfectly timed and at a reasonable volume. Is a squeaky chair an instrument? You don’t see many in modern orchestras. But of course in ye olde times, first chair violin used to be first chair chair. The musician would shuffle round, producing rhythmic squeaks and creaks. Unfortunately it’s very hard to play in key and even harder to tune. The fact you must sit on the chair makes it pointless to wear roller skates while playing, so you can see why it fell out of fashion.

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The men are from the Stock Growers Association. I don’t think this is going to end well. As one man swigs from a whiskey bottle, Ella comments she has plenty of whiskey and invites the gentlemen to help themselves.

Agreeing with Ella’s assessment of her brothel’s whiskey supply, the swigging man jokes there’s enough whiskey in the joint to bathe in and tips the remainder of bottle on his head. See, I told you people washed with whiskey in the Wild West.

It’s an authentic looking liquor bottle, I must say. Though, I’ve never been to the Wild West and the only old whiskey bottles I’ve seen were in movies, so I could be wrong. I’m not a bottle expert, though I wish I was. I could have studied it at university, but as I was sitting my entrance exam… well, that was a long time ago and it’s all whiskey under the bridge now. I’ve moved on and I don’t think about it much anymore… A shepherd looked at me strangely as I was reading the first question. He had a staff and everything. I was completely thrown and my bottle expert dreams were smashed into tiny pieces like a, a… I don’t know; something that smashes easily.

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The foam dripping down the whiskey bather’s head looks suspiciously un-whisky-like. To my eye it looks more like a cream soda. But I’m sure there are carbonated drink aficionados out there who could identify the liquid better than I.

If whiskey ran into your eyes, surely it would sting? Maybe the fellow had an eye infection and was applying old-school treatment. Very similar to when I had an ear infection when I was a boy. To cure it my doctor swigged from a bottle of Makers Mark and shouted at me. It was moderately successful.

The men accost Ela for taking Association cattle as payment. I don’t like where this is going. Though, for two and-a-bit hours the film hasn’t really gone anywhere. Maybe this scene will be no different.

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The Stock Growers Association’s goons are not kidding around. Oh. OK, that’s happening. Well, this film is by the director of The Deer Hunter, what did I expect? A film of comparable quality, to be honest with you; not just comparable horror.

Over-the-top tragedy in lieu of plot aside, Jim has re-emerged to save the day. If he’d not read out the names of every bloody person in Wyoming at a sure and steady pace, he may have arrived a little quicker. Jim shoots up the place with surprising accuracy. Seriously, he’s randomly firing and managing to hit everyone but Ella. He’s like the Lee Harvey Oswald of the Wild West.

Just in case you didn’t pick it up from their plan to murder everyone in Johnson County, the Stock Growers Association are bad people. Next – a scene where the Association kicks puppies and tips over charity collection bins in the event anyone is still unsure.

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Still no sign of the Association kicking puppies and inconveniencing charity workers by disturbing their collection bins… yet.

Heaven’s Gate has turned out to be not just a film solely comprising of roller-skating and juggling, which is a pity because that would be a summer blockbuster right there.

So, we’re stuck with blah-di-blah anti-Western. Are we being shown the realities of the Wild West? Considering the film is only loosely based on the Johnson County war and all of the characters are completely fictional, I’d say the jury is out. They’ll be back soon. They’ve just popped out to grab some lunch. Some of them are going to have salad sandwiches. I think that’s nice. It’s good to stay healthy. There’s no need to go overboard, you are allowed to have the occasional chocolate or salted snack, but it’s advisable to watch what you eat and for cannibals; who you eat. Don’t consume judges or fellow jurors. That can result in a mistrial and indigestion.

Now, if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to eat a biscuit and watch a John Ford movie.

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Not that it really matters now, but there’s I’ve just found out there’s a 219 minute version of this film and it’s being screened at the Brisbane International Film Festival. Here I am, labouring away with the 229 minute version like an idiot, when all the while there’s a slightly shorter director’s cut available!

I wonder what Michael Cimino cut? With so much to choose from, he’s really spoiled for choice. Why only ten minutes, by the way? I suppose to be fair, the original theatrical release was 129 mins or so long, so he is adding to that. But what ten minutes did he omit from the latest cut? What moments were beyond the pale? If you’ve got a 229 minute version, surely slimming ten minutes is inconsequential? In grand scheme of things, an audience after sitting in a cinema for three hours and fifty minutes is not going to complain, “Geez, it was good, but it could lose ten minutes. I was with the film until the three hour and forty minute mark, but after that… sheesh!”

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This film is much like Melbourne’s outer suburbs – sprawling, directionless and without a bus service to take children to their local school. OK, the analogy lost steam by the third example. Not that buses run on steam. I’m sorry for the mixed metaphor. Though a steam bus would be an excellent tourist attraction. A group of charity runners could race the steam bus and raise money for the poor people who are injured by the boiler, which for practical reasons is located inside the bus.

Nathan rides with fury to the Stock Growers Association camp and storms the tent where the Generalissimo of the Association and some henchmen sit plotting. Nate draws his pistol and shoots the man who ordered the attack on Ella straight between the eyes. Another unbelievably accurate shot given there were several people in very close proximity. The Regent of the Association seems moderately flustered and cries, “Not here!”

That’s what he yells? He’s upset at the location? Why? Because it’ll be a bugger to clean up? “Go outside if you’re going to do that!”

Steam bus – patent pending.

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Well, well… Nate has changed his tune. He was going to sing Good King Wenceslas at the town Christmas pageant, but will now perform a ballad version of Jingle Bell Rock. He has also had a change of heart. His aorta was clogged and underwent a transplant. He’s also done a 180. Nate was wearing roller skates and one leg is a foot longer than the other. He’s also just displayed a complete about-face. Nathan is military trained and he thought he heard a whistle. He’s also done a complete backpedal, which is an astonishing achievement considering his bike has back brakes.

Ahem. Nathan has suddenly come to the conclusion the Stock Growers Association are scoundrels. Apparently only he is allowed to ruin lives and wipe them out. That’s some perverse moral principles. He’s like the mob.

It should be noted Billy/John Hurt/Count Harriet Mensworth-Smithe is in this scene. He utters something in a cadence that would lead you to think it was amusing, but in reality is just perplexing. The character is meant to be a witty class orator, but he’s more like Mike from The Young Ones.

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The confrontation between Nathan and the Prime Minister of the Stock Growers Association is tense. The acting is superb and John Hurt is still slightly freckly.

The Deity of the SGA is claiming he has the authority of the President of the United States to enforce the law. Apparently this ‘President of the United States’ whoever or whatever that might be, is a superior rank to the top job of the SGA. News to me…

Count Harriet Mensworth-Smithe quips and his boss slaps him. There’s so much slapping in this movie. It’s very German. There have been some fists thrown, but I think in the world of the film, upper classes slap and lower classes punch. If you were a social climber you could work your way into high-society by simply opening your hand when hitting people. Remember – Kings slap, servants use knuckles.

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The Chairman of the Stock Growers Association Party storms out of the tent and shoots an imprisoned immigrant in the head. It was an accurate shot, but from incredibly close range, so it’s not as impressive as the other direct hits we’ve seen so far.

The slaying was to prove a point. Nate had questioned if Premier of the Stock Growers Association had ever killed a man by his own hand. So, to demonstrate he had no problems getting his hands dirty, he blew someone’s brains out. He could have just answered, “Yes.” I’m just saying maybe, in this instance, a simple yes answer would have sufficed. If a friend challenges that you can’t draw, sing or operate a sewing machine, by all means feel free to demonstrate you can.

But if someone accuses that you’ve never killed a man, best to hop on a sewing machine and whip up cloak or cape to distract them, because the stakes are a little higher when proving you can kill. The take-home lesson is to only kill if you are double or triple dared.

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James is only capable of two conversations. The first is droning on about the death list, the second is attempting to convince Ella to leave the county. He’s on about the latter presently. I wish he’d drone on about drones instead. I’m talking about either remote control aircraft or male bees… or male bees operating pilotless aircraft.

These darn lazy male bees inseminate queens and do little else, the very least they could do is serve in the military remotely controlling death machines. I’m not suggesting the bees should carry and deliver missiles themselves. The warheads are too heavy and the bees look silly. The feasibility of bee weapons delivery was tested during the Cold War. There was a brief period when the ‘B’ in ICBM stood for ‘bee’.

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James is a bit of a meanie. I think I’ll call him Jimmy from now on. That’ll be fun! Anyway, Jimmy says… actually, Jimmy isn’t working for me. I’ll try Jim. Ahem. Jim says… you know what? I’ll just stick to James. If it aint broke etc. OK, that’s sorted. James calls Ella a dumb whore. It’s a bit childish. Soon he’ll call her a stupid poopy head with wee sauce. That may seem a harmless, juvenile insult, but if you’ve ever been called a stupid poopy head with wee sauce, it sticks with you.

You find yourself in a group job interview, or on your wedding day trying to keep it together, with the cruel children’s taunts running through your head and snap! “You can stick you job! I don’t care if I am a poopy head! I hate all of you and crisps! Why don’t people say crisps in this country? I think it’s quaint and helps differentiate between hot chips and the salted snack!”

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The love triangle nonsense continues. I think James blow-dries his hair. Is that possible? He wouldn’t have access to electricity, but a hand pump and fire moth could blast warm air across his head.

Even though Ella has made the decision to be with Nate, surely James’ hair must be swaying her in his direction. His hair has everything you want in hair and an off-spinner – dip, bounce and curve.

James’ delivery stance when he bowls is a little long for my liking. If he shortened his front step he’d achieve a bit more flight. His standard off-break is just a smidge too flat for my liking, but his arm ball always surprises.

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Oh James. Oh Ella. Oh Nathan. Oh man playing the guitar. Oh Bob Fischer – the boy at my primary school who wanted to learn the guitar, but couldn’t because his nylon acoustic had only one string. It was the D string. On an unusually hot Spring day, his only string broke and he destroyed the guitar in a rage. Bobby was given a detention and forced to glue the instrument back together. It never sounded quite the same, owing nothing to the fact it was glued and everything to the fact Bobby never replaced the string.

Teachers, parents and fellow pupils who’d saved-up their pocket money offered to buy Bobby a brand new set. But he refused. I believe it was a pride thing. But most likely because he couldn’t play a single song except for a transposed version of The Man Who Sold The World.

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As Ella and James break-up I can’t help but be distracted by the orientation of the wide shot inside the cabin. It appears to be on a significant lean. Is this deliberate symbolism, demonstrating Ella is leaning toward being with James? Is it the result of the poor building practices of frontier America? Or is the lean caused by a tripod with a shonky leg? Only time will tell…

OK, I’ve just travelled to Greenwich and I’m no closer to the answer. Time does not tell! Though, I did manage to take some lovely snaps of the Prime Meridian. Quite a nice day all in all. If I had a Tumblr account, I’d show you all, but it seems a lengthy process to acquire one.

Shit. All my photos are on a bloody lean! Maybe the cabin scene isn’t on an angle and I perceive it to be because of my scoliosis and right leg that is three inches shorter than the other.

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Firstly, I must apologise for any confusion caused when I used imperial measurement to describe the discrepancy in my right leg. For those unfamiliar, three inches equates to around nine kilometres in metric, which is roughly 939 millimetres, or 1.2 litres.

Glad we’ve sorted that out and I’m equally glad James and Ella have sorted themselves out. James says goodbye and he leaves… again. I’m sure it’s the last goodbye and that’ll be it for Kris Kristofferson’s character.

James dejectedly exits the cabin and heads for his horse. OK… there is a random violinist. What the shit is that? He’s sitting in the stable playing a solemn tune, unacknowledged by James, who unties his horse and skedaddles. He didn’t think it curious the fiddler from the roller-dance is just sitting in Ella’s stable? Never thought to say hi and see what that’s about?

“What are you doing there?”
“Fiddling.”
“I can see that. Why?”
“Not even I know…”

Dear Mr. Godfrey,

Thank you for submitting your screenplay ’Just West of Xanadu’ for production consideration. Unfortunately we do not have room on our production slate for such an epic and epically moronic picture.

“The Cowboy’s beard sings” is the stupidest direction I’ve ever read, but somehow makes more sense than your convoluted, absurd plot. Why does a detective suddenly appear early in the third act? And what is the significance of the sword that is constantly mentioned, but never seen? The characters speak knowingly about it, but it has zero bearing on the story. I would sooner option a shuffled deck of playing cards, than entertain the notion of producing this film for one nano second.

And did you use carbon paper to generate the copy of the script? Where do you even get carbon paper these days?

Go to hell,

David Lesley

Head of Production, Disney

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The fiddler plays on. It’s a sad moment for Ella and James and my suspicion is this violinist wanders around looking for emotional moments to accompany. If a shopkeeper is about to lose his or her business, the bank is moving in and he or she is saying goodbye to the store, a call must be put in to the local chamber of commerce, or rowing club, or any sort of local organisation, who rings a bell, which alerts the fiddler his solemn caterwauling is required.

It was against the law to feel any sort of emotion in the Wild West, without live musical accompaniment. It’s why learning an instrument was such an important skill. If you were about to cry, you could grab a cello and let the world know. An important lesson to remember is tears warp the wood of cellos. I learned that the hard way and I’ll never thrash a person about the face with one again.

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Jimmy… my little Jimmy. You look so sad. I would give you a tissue, but you are in film land and I am in front of a screen. Perhaps if I cry too I shall be transported to your movie and we can cry together.

It did not work, Jimmy. I am all teary and another cello has been ruined. You knew, didn’t you? You knew if I cried I would not magically be teleported into your film and yet you said nothing! I trusted you, Jimmy. How could you do this to me? Well, unlike you, I have access to tissues, so I’m going to use the hell out of them on my face. Yes, my face! Not yours! Your face will be all salty like a chip, or crisp. Oh look, I’m so dry now. Not like you, Jim, ya wet faced git.

Oh no! Somehow I’ve been transported into Paint Your Wagon, starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin! How embarrassing.

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You can see where the money went. The township descends into chaos, depicted by a million extras and fifty thousand horses… give or take. It’s roughly that number. I could be off by one, or two, or half. Yes, sorry I am. There are forty-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine and a half horses. Sozzle, need to get my eyes tested by a Mule. Not the animal, my optometrist’s name is Joseph Mule and he and his brothers run a practice together. They have frosted windows in the waiting area and I think it must be concerning for people who are coming in to have their vision checked, only to find their sight has deteriorated so much that they can’t even look through the window.

The designer of the building should be shot for worrying people like that. Oh… I just looked it up and he was. Well, now I feel awkward.

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James is asleep. He looks so peaceful; in a grotesquely drunk kind of way. Some concerned citizens are there to speak with him, one of whom slaps him across the face. James flies into action! He cracks a large whip at the assembled crowd. He’s surprisingly spritely for an inebriate.

A man in a fluffy coat makes the sign of the cross. I think it was a joke to demonstrate Jim is a tad off the rails. Or it’s some sort of strange Hungarian Christian whip related custom. The Christ was whipped and he was Hungarian, so it would make sense.

I do like the man’s fluffy coat. I want to put it in a paddock, parade around it and enjoy it like a flea. They’ll call me Peter the Fluffy Coat Flea. Christ was also a flea.

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Without apologising for trying to whip the people in his bedroom, James immediately looks under his bed. What is he looking for? Is there a monster under there? Oh my!

James asks, “Why did you come here?”

Is he talking to the monster? There really is a monster under his bed! What does the monster want? Cake? Is it a cake monster?! They’re the worst kind!

James climbs over to the other side of the bed. Is it to gain a better vantage point to see the monster? Ah! Ah! Ah! This is so scary, I can’t take it!

What is it? What’s under there?! Whaaaaat?! Oh, it’s a boot. A boot monster? No, no… it’s just a regular boot. Whether the boot enjoys cake is undetermined.

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The Man in the fluffy coat reveals himself to be the Mayor. Fluffy coats are a powerful status symbol.

The Mayor fires James. Woh, heavy. But James has a personal vendetta against the Stock Growers Association. This is just like Licence to Kill, except James isn’t James Bond and the Mayor isn’t M. Although, they both have the same first initial as their counterparts. I wonder what Timothy Dalton thinks of all this? I’ll ask him.

“Hi Timothy.”

“Hi Simon.”

“How’s Trixy?”

“Who’s Trixy?”

“I don’t know. Hey, Tim?”

“Yes?”

“I’m trying to remember the name of that Prussian guy. You know; the one who modernised the Prussian civil service?”

“Frederick the Great?”

“Yes! That’s him! Thanks, Tim.”

“Any time.”

James urges the town to fight. They outnumber the Stock Growers Association greatly, but the Mayor isn’t very keen. This is a lovely shot I must say. The Mayor’s face is reflected in a shaving mirror and for Jim, (everyone else calls him Jim, so it’s just easier to join in), it must be intimidating. If all the people of Johnson County carried mirrors when they fought, they’d outnumber the SGA by even more!

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I’ve just realised, one of Bond’s gadgets in Licence to Kill is explosive toothpaste!

Toothpaste… the Mayor in a shaving mirror… you see at what I’m driving at here? Yes? Good, because not even I do.

“You can’t fire me, Charlie. But I just quit,” informs James.

Awkwardly worded and I think Jim’s tense is confused, but Charlie the fluffy coat Mayor gets the picture.

Meanwhile, outside Nate’s cabin, the man in black face heads to the river to take a bath. His cheeks are puffy. He might have mumps, or space mumps – which are like mumps, but from space. Hmm, they’re pretty rare; it’s more probable he’s just a man with puffy cheeks.

Count Harriet Mensworth-Smithe calls out to the dirt covered man and the Stock Growers Association spring forth! My golly gosh, they’re everywhere! Everywhere! Ev-er-y-where! They’re even in the dirty faced man’s cheeks! That’s some impressive stealth, right there. Cheeks… toothpaste… there’s no connection there either.

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Clunky exposition moment – One of the fury hat thugs argues to the Governor General of the Stock Growers Association they are wasting their time at Nate’s cabin. The Holy Father of the Stock Growers Association counters their horses must rest and it’ll be good for discipline, adding, “You ought to know that better than anyone else. You’re the professional army man, I’m the amateur.”

Any time a character in a motion picture or television program begins, “You should know, you’re the…” and proceeds to inform the audience what he or she is, I throw up. I’m throwing up now. It’s all over my keyboard. Someone better get over here and clean it up! OK, fine, I’ll do it. I’ll finish the next paragraph first.

The grubby-face man is sent in to tell Nate he is surrounded and is promised they will hold their fire when he comes back out. They’re so not going to do that. My tip is they’re gonna shoot the hell out of him.

Now, to grab a cloth…

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Well, I was right. They shoot the grubby faced man to pieces. Alas, he will never have that bath he so desired. I hang my head and make the sign of the cross, then remember I’m an atheist, then remember I forgot to hang out my washing, then remember that it’s alright because I asked Phil to do it earlier.

As the SGA forces fire at the cabin, Ella rides in on her wagon, guns blazing. A bullet hits the wagon and she is forced to leap from it onto her horse. Good. It was a stupid vehicle anyway. The sound effects of bullets ricocheting is very cartoon like. “Piew…sssh.” I think the sound department may have stolen the effect from the Warner Bros. animation sound library. Yosemite Sam isn’t going to be happy when he learns his copyright has been infringed.

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Epic gun battle! Bullets are flying! Some in World War 1 era triplanes, others fly kites.

Nate bursts through the front door of his cabin, guns blazing. He puts out the brush fires on his pistols and shoots at the SGA Army. Nate is hit! Nate is hit! Nate is a hit! He’s released a single and it’s rocketed into the UK top 10. It hasn’t caught on in America, but will hopefully gain some momentum from its UK success.

Everyone stop panicking. It’s OK; Nate was struck in the leg. I’m sure he’ll just walk it off. Or dance it off. Film clip idea!

Nate’s friend is dead. Well, at least I assume he was his friend. I’ve never seen him before. He could be a neighbour who came over to borrow some sugar for a cake. His mother is going to be pissed when she finds out he got himself shot without grabbing Nate Champion’s autograph.

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A flaming wagon ploughs into Nate’s cabin. The wagon is a complete write off. What a terrible waste. A wagon so young, so full of pep and vinegar and most likely kerosene given the ferocity of the fire.

This is quite a dazzling and suspenseful sequence. The cabin and the wallpaper burn quickly. Bet the newspaper wallpaper seems a silly idea in retrospect.

“Oh, this here wallpaper looks nice. What’s it called?”

“That’s part of the kindling range.”

Strange interior design choices aside, Nate is trapped. Is this the end? What will he do?! He’s taken a pen and is scribbling something down. Damn it, man! Now is not time to start penning your memoirs. Though, if you need someone to write the forward, if you set my house on fire I’d be happy to help out.

Nate shoves the paper into his pocket. It’s probably not his memoirs, but some final words or thoughts. He could be incredibly optimistic and has written a shopping list for when he goes to market after taking on the Stock Growers Association singlehandedly.

“God rest him. He fought bravely.”

“There’s a note in his pocket, sir.”

“Read it.”

“1 pint of milk, 2 pound of bacon and a dozen eggs… What does it mean?”

“Means the man wants him to eat us for breakfast. Prepare the BBQ.”

“Sir, I don’t think –“

“I said prepare the BBQ!”

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The important plot point of this minute is Nathan is shot to shit. He charges out of the cabin with a pistol and a chair as a makeshift shield. The chair is a strange defence and he could be trying to tame the bullets.

But let’s put the death of a main character aside for one moment. I’ve just discovered something. My mouse sits hovering over the DVD timeline of film, which indicates 2 hours and 45 minutes have elapsed. But curiously, on the right hand side of screen, the time remaining in the film is 44 minutes and 52 seconds. By my calculations (and as part 28 has proven, I’m quite the maths wiz), that’s 209 minutes and 52 seconds. The DVD cover states the running time as 229 minutes! Where has the missing 20 minutes gone? Is the film self-editing as it goes? Has my copy been tampered with again? What’s going on? Has the playback speed increased itself slightly to move things along? This is a blinking outrage!

In fairness, the cover says “229 minutes approx”, but 20 minutes isn’t a negligible amount of time you can throw away in an approximation.

“How long should I cook this pie for?”

“Half hour, approx.”

Half an hour later…

“It’s still cold.”

“I said approx! It’s got at least another 20 minutes to go.”

I shouldn’t complain. My workload has been significantly decreased by this sudden chopping of 20 minutes. My review has been running for about a decade and a half, so an earlier finish date on one hand is a pleasant surprise, but on the other I feel gypped. Does this mean I have to fly to the Brisbane International Film Festival to see a further ten minutes, then just make up the rest? That’s it, I’m complaining to MGM… as soon as my pie is cooked, that is.

Dear Mr. Godfrey,

Thank you for your letter of enquiry regarding the DVD release of Heaven’s Gate. To date, you’re the only person who has bought it, so I guess we owe you thanks.

As for the missing twenty minutes, MGM apologises, but as it states on the rear of the DVD cover, the film running time is just an approximation. You can appreciate ascertaining an accurate running time would have required one of our staff to sit through the film and we chose to spare our employees the tedium of doing so under advice that it was a potential OH&S risk. But MGM understands you have been inconvenienced and we hope you will accept our apology.

However, MGM, as you suggested, will not be producing your screenplay Just West of Xanadu to ‘make up for it’. Your script has to be the single most mind numbingly idiotic thing ever committed to paper. And while on the subject of paper, a tip for next time – don’t submit work on velum. It’s an unnecessary expense for you and does not lend you screenplay the gravitas your hand written note, ‘Hey look – velum. Pretty bloody classy, hey? Must be a worthwhile script,’ claims.

I would sooner shoot an extra 20 minutes of Heaven’s Gate; assembling the principal cast, extras and production crew and digitally removing signs of age from the actors frame by frame myself, rather than take even one step toward production, like assigning a script editor, of your film.

Any correspondence we receive from you, will be destroyed, unopened,

MGM

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Another town meeting. Jeff Bridges has the floor. The floor has lice, but is receiving delousing treatment next week. The discussion is about James and I think Jeff is arguing he should return. I don’t know if there are to be any other items discussed, I wasn’t sent an agenda in advance. I hate when people forget to do that.

Sometimes I think it’s done deliberately to keep me in the dark. I also believe my meetings are held underground with the lights off for the same reason. It gets so cold down there and I swear the person next to me keeps rubbing my arm on purpose. It’s not a lengthy rub, but long enough for it to be weird and not long enough that I can confidently call it deliberate.

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It occurs to me that in Heaven’s Gate, even town meetings are epic. Extras, make-up, costume, Jeff Bridges’ beard – it all culminates in an unmatched civic spectacle. It’s nice that local government is being shown in this way, because far too often it’s seen as dull, stale and pointless.

Local government is essential, nay, vital for our lives and society to function coherently. Thank goodness for brave motion picture directors like Michael Cimino who use film to demonstrate and promote the might, majesty and beauty of local government at work.

I’ll bet the application process for obtaining a parking permit in Johnson County is smooth and efficient. If you have a query, I guarantee it’s answered speedily and you receive a complimentary mint afterwards. Not because you need it, but because it’s a nice thing to do.

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Coming this summer – One man shall rise; another shall rise briefly before sitting down again. In a world where halls are not just for skating and cockfights. Amongst the shouting and rabble, a clear voice will be heard and he shall speak for all humankind.

“We, er, um, er, (mutters in Hungarian).”

And even when chaos descends, love can find a way to sort of stand by him and be somewhat encouraging.

Once in a generation a film comes along… or it could me more, I haven’t researched annual global motion picture output.

Starring an actor you think you’ve seen in something before, but can’t quite put your finger on what, comes – Minor Character Gives Impassioned Speech.

“You should stand-up and say something.”

“Should I?”

“I don’t know. Probably…”

Rated G

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Once again, the extras steal the scene – some of them making off with the film canisters when the producers couldn’t make payroll. The extras really have their yelling and screaming down pat. Is there an Oscar for best extra? Given extras can only take group direction, the more appropriate question would be – is there an Oscar for best extras?

I think there should be a lifetime achievement award for the panicked extras on the beach in Jaws. Presuming, of course, they all continued working together. I believe they did. The extras even had a group wedding like a cult. They married each other, acknowledging their love for the collective.

Oh the times they had.

“Hey Marion, remember that time we were all in Jaws together?”
“Yeah!”
“Me too.”
“That was good, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, really good. Remember when the shark wouldn’t work?”
“No.”
“Oh.”

And so forth.

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The extras are on song – most standing atop the sheet music for White Christmas.

Ella arrives on horseback as her F16 is at the mechanic’s. She rushes to Jim’s place to find him shaving shirtless. Announcing Nate is dead, Ella hugs her former lover. Does this mean Jim gets the girl? The opposition dies and she runs back to him? Did Jim win Ella by default? What a hollow victory that must be.

“What do you love about me? My personality? My kindness? My desire to do good?”
“Nah, you were just the last bloke standing.”

He doesn’t look impressed. But he might go for it, you know, if he bundles his self-respect in a locked box and throws it into a river. What an unsatisfying end to the love triangle subplot – Nate dies because he took on an army with a pistol and a chair. Circumstances intervened and James emerges victorious. I hope Jimmy boy tells her to get nicked, or at least receives a fancy feather ornament for getting screwed around.

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If you ever want portray an air of ‘look who’s come crawling back’, the best way to do it is to silently shave. From now on, I’m only accepting apologies while using a cutthroat razor. I’ll be just going about my business and they’ll be all, “Simon, I’m sorry I forgot to return your favourite milking cow and matching armada. Please forgive me!”

I’ll just stare into the mirror and scrape away at my wankerishly trimmed facial hair.

Jim eventually does pipe-up and utters, “I told you so.” That’s a pretty significant burn. Ouch. That’s one above taunting, “Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah” with your tongue out.

I miss my black and white flotilla. Nancy, if you’re reading this, you can keep the cow; just bring me back my fleet of warships. They took a bloody long time to accumulate. I’ll be in the bathroom. Knock before you enter.

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Adding insult to injury, Jim whispers something disparaging into an abrasion. He then coldly reminds Ella that Nate made his own choices and so did she. There’s some nice camera work. We see Jim’s face through a shaving mirror. It’s slightly creepy to be honest with you. It’s unnerving and I don’t quite understand why. It’s probably because Jim is looking straight to camera and I feel as though he’s about to burst into song.

I hope this film genre-shifts and evolves into an 80s MTV music video. Michael Cimino is so subtle, you’d hardly notice. Come to think of it there has been a high instance of characters playing synthesisers in the past twenty minutes.

Ah, twenty minutes ago. Remember the 152nd minute? Come to think of it, I don’t. I think I skipped it to go fox riding in Cumbria. That area of the UK seemed very slanted for some reason.

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It’s war time. A zillion extras mount horses and wave firearms. Several confused extras mount firearms and fire horses indiscriminately into the air. That’s union labour for you.

Counterpointing the chaos, Jim coolly watches on through his window, slowly dressing himself. It’s quite affective. It reminds me of when Han Solo carefully laced his boots during the battle for Hoth, or when the referee sewed a hem during the final bout of Bloodsport and when Winston Churchill knocked-in a cricket bat during World War II.

Will Jim be able to channel his ninjutsu training and fight the Stock Growers Association even though the Commander in Chief of the Association has thrown lime in his eyes? Only time will tell. Time telling things? That’s a horrific thought. A world where people no longer tell time, but time tells – that’s like Planet of the Apes for theoretical physicists.

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A horseman rides hell for leather warning the Stock Growers Association the town is on it’s way for battle. He’s like Paul Revere, but without the large feather, crocheted beard, ivory sunglasses, prosthetic handkerchief, nitrogen hairdo and emerald horse.

There’s some nice galloping horse sound effects. Well done to the foley team. To any budding sound department artists out there, the best way to emulate the sound of horse hooves on a dust track is to run an electric fan through a vintage valve amplifier, tap a cotton bud lightly on the chord and drip sunflower seed oil through the blades. Try it, close your eyes and you’ll swear you’re at the Kentucky Derby.

The bridge over the creek looks very wobbly. Looks like United States infrastructure has always sucked.

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Woh, a wagon flies off the bridge and into the creek. I was rather hoping it would take flight, like the bicycles in ET. The hover bikes at the train station raised my hopes that such a thing would happen.

How did the rickety bridge ever receive planning permission? Johnson County can amass an army of mercenaries, organise their payroll and settle their expenses, but do not have the capacity to oversee and regulate the construction of vital transit ways? I’m appalled. And I’m shocked. And I’m ten feet tall and have waffles for feet.

This scene is very dusty and I hope the actors were provided with shower facilities, or at the very least, a wagon and a creek to tumble in to.

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Oh, surely the scenery is too pretty to have a battle. Couldn’t they crochet, or something? Mountains, tranquil water, pink sky – hold a maypole display instead. It’s how modern battles are fought. Two armies face off, put on some flowing outfits and dance around a pole. I suppose this battle was a couple of hundred years ago and I shouldn’t judge the people of Johnson County by today’s standard.

The absence of music accompanying the battle scene is very unnerving. It doesn’t glorify war very well. It needs a Kenny Loggins soundtrack or something similar. Hang on, I’ll put some on.

Ah that’s better. Now we got ourselves a proper showdown. Nothing like macho posturing and the song ‘Footloose’. Hmm, I could have chosen a better Kenny Loggins song…

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The people of Johnson County have chosen an interesting battle strategy. The Stock Growers Association kneels, arms at the ready. Their guns are also poised. The angry mob of JC ride past them, circle and ride past again as the Association army picks them off. It’s kind of like that carnival game where you shoot rows of metal ducks as they bobble along.

I’m no military expert, well, I lecture in military strategy at West Point, but HR screwed up my last paycheque and I guess if I’m not being paid then I’m technically an amateur, but lining up to be shot doesn’t seem the most effective method to defeat your enemy.

Though, the other day I was a guest at a symposium on battle tactics and the organiser gave me a bottle of red to say thanks, so I guess I am sort of professional. Actually, it might be more accurate to call myself semi-professional. Yes, that seems appropriate. I am a semi-professional military strategist. So, if you’re planning a skirmish, give me a call on a telephone.

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The duck shoot continues. Count Harriet ‘Billy’ Mensworth Smithe flaps about being his usual silly self. I wonder if there will be some sort of redemption for CHMS? A drunken change of heart? An act of self sacrifice? Stealing the Chancellor of the Stock Growers Association’s fluffy hat for a lark?

I’m waiting for him to call his secret legion of cows to charge forth and attack everything in their path, including trees, rocks, bugs and ornate water features.

The Count cackles that last year he was in Paris. It’s nice to vocalise a travelogue in the midst of battle. Gives everyone a bit of hope. War can be so grubby and dirty, it’s comforting to imagine picturesque Parisian scenery while slaughtering indiscriminately.

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Oh no! They shot Jeff Bridges! Does this mean he can’t be in Iron Man anymore? That’ll take some editing.

The slaughter rolls on. The editing is fast and snappy as an angry gator. I had a friend who was an angry gator. His name was Mitch. We weren’t that close. He’d occasionally hang out and ride bikes with my friends and I around our court. And I’m not talking about a residential street, I’m referring to the citizen’s tribunal me and my school chums presided over. Sorry, my school chums and I. It’s that exact type of poor use of English the tribunal was fighting. If they’d read that sentence 20 years ago, I’d be facing a fine of three Red Skins, or some other form of politically incorrect confection.

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SPOILER ALERT – my milk is out of date. Also, BANG! Billy is shot in the throat. Such relief. I thought nothing would shut that idiot up. No more mindless, quizzical quips from the class orator. Now, all the comic relief is going to have to come from Toby the 2ft tall, loveable CGI dragon.

The vintage aesthetic works very well for this scene. It’s very flattering on Toby. Sorry, I want to continue talking about the dusty, gritty look of this sequence but I’m just so happy the Billy character is dead. It’s so cathartic. I found myself fisting the air as he fell to the ground. But now I’m being sued by Nitrogen, oxygen and argon molecules.

Stop what you’re doing and enjoy the relief! Let’s all go out and buy a whole bunch of milk and pour it over ourselves. It’ll be so freeing. We need to live this moment together. Come on! Now! Go! Down to the milkbar. We’ll be milky, wet and free. Please, don’t use soy though – that’d just be weird.

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It’s subtly woven into the action, but I believe this minute to be an exposé of poor wagon driver safety in the nineteen hundreds. People fly out of them at the smallest bump in the road. Why isn’t anyone wearing a wagon seatbelt?

The answer, unfortunately, is due to a material shortage in Johnson County in the 1890s. There was only one seatbelt in the entire state and it had to be shared by every driver at once. The belt was enormous as it had to stretch and weave across many miles and many wagons. It made driving incredibly difficult and resulted in the strangulation of numerous drivers. Because it was too complicated to unstrap, the belt remained tied to you even if you weren’t operating your wagon and most citizens walked with a wagon attached to them at all times. As you can imagine, this made climbing stairs, playing bocce and trampolining an exhausting, laborious affair.

The Johnson County seatbelt was 990 miles long and its length probably contributed to the material shortage that made it necessary for the sharing of a giant 990 mile seatbelt.

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A reprieve from the battle. Ella rides to Nate’s cabin and finds him, well, eh… no longer in the land of the living. Well, his body is, but the spirit has departed… actually, I’m an atheist, there is no spirit, so… he’s fricken dead alright people! Completely dead! Carked it! And no amount of politeness around the fact is going to bring him back!

Well, it might. Good manners brought my aunt Rita back from the dead. The mortician asked me, “Would you care for the deluxe funeral package?”
I said, “No, thank you,” and she sprung back to life. Had I said, “No effing way,” the tart would still be dead. Seriously though, she left us with a mountain of debt and left her prized chimney collection to the other side of the family. If she wants a deluxe funeral, she can bloody pay for it.

RIP Nate. You’re next Rita.

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Jim is on the move. He saddles up and rides out onto the main street. He circles on his horse… and circles again… and again. It’s nice to see Michael Cimino inject some dressage into his film. It’s severely lacking in modern cinema. Think about it. When was the last time you saw some decent, honest dressage in a movie?

I know what you’re going to say – “Herbie Rides a Horse and Performs Dressage.” True, but that was a made for television movie, so it doesn’t count. And nor does Herbie anymore after hitting his head during a take and losing the ability to calculate basic arithmetic.

It was a very funny telemovie, I must admit. There’s this one scene where Herbie has to put down his own horse, then cut it up into horsemeat because Don Knotts is destitute. He’s crying and Don Knotts is hitting a kid… Well, it’s not as funny when you retell it. Still, if you’re into wanky upper class ‘sports’ then it’s worth finding a limited edition laser disc copy for a look.

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What needs to be commended is Christopher Walken’s brilliance at playing a corpse. The rumour is that Michael Cimino killed Christopher to capture a realist performance. A medic would revive Walken between takes, before thrusting him back into cardiac arrest when the cameras rolled.

This is why Walken had severe reservations about playing a ghost in Sleepy Hollow. He still has nightmares about Cimino’s potassium injections and is suspicious of any director who wishes him to play a dead character. When Tim Burton offered him the role, Walken screamed, turned and ran straight into a tree. It was at this moment that Burton knew he was perfect to play the Headless Horseman.

Another sticking point was that Walken doesn’t like Washington Irving, author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Walken has always felt Irving’s frequent use of the word ‘pedagogue’ was confusing and contributed heavily to him becoming addicted to Coca Cola. Fortunately for Tim Burton, the Coke addiction rotted Walken’s teeth and saved the production of Sleepy Hollow from spending money on decaying teeth prosthetics.

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An emotional scene with superb performances as Ella farewells Nate, who is acting the shit out of playing a dead bloke.

Cut to night time and the townsfolk erect a fort out of logs and wagons. It looks like quite a lot of fun! But it would be so much better and more appropriate if they were building a pillow fort instead. Rifles mounted on the backs of arm chairs, hot water bottles for warmth, with sheets and sleeping bags stretched to form the roof. Inside they can watch movies or tell ghost stories – like the one about Old Man Barton. He was a farmer who kept a ceiling fan as a wife. One day, Barton was stroking his turnips with a croquet mallet, when he heard a strange noise coming from the barn.

Cautiously, he edged inside the barn to discover a pile of old magazines had turned a gun on itself , splattering glossy pages all over the walls. Five years later, Old Man Barton canceled his subscription to Women’s Weekly.

*Shiver* My hair would stand on end when that one was told around the campfire. Oh to be young again.

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Is there to be a battle in the morning? The tension mounts, the mountains tense and ten mount a word play assalt.

Jim arrives at the makeshift immigrant pillow fort to wander through and not say much. I understand the Western trope of the quiet hero who says what only needs sayin’, but he’s so distant, measured and standoffish. I think some time ago he graduated from silent, strong leading man, to out-and-out jerk. In the previous minute he muttered to Ella, “You alright, Ella?”

At the time she was standing over the bloody corpse of her lover. What response did he expect?

“Yeah peachy, Jim. I am, like, so fine right now. You wanna grab a soda, invent basketball and shoot some hoops?”

“Got a ball?”

“Hmm, no. Oh! But my dead lover – you know, the guy at my feed covered in bullet holes? He may have on in his cabin.”

“I like cabins.”

“Oh, Jim… the things you come out with! Ha! Ha ha ha! Delightful!”

Nate grabs Ella’s ankle, moans and gasps, “Get me a coke…”

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The distant dirges of battle weary immigrants float through the Stock Growers Association’s makeshift fortification, much like the cigar smoke from that guy and that guy and from the cigarette of that guy, or the match smoke of this guy. Seriously, who sponsored this scene? British American Tobacco? There’s more smoking advertising in this sequence than a ’70s Grand Prix.

Is anything going to happen, or are we to be treated to a series of ‘smoke looks good on film’ moments? There’s not one person without a cigar or cigarette hanging from their mouth. It’s like a precursor to Mad Men, or hipsters in a northern suburbs beer garden; though the mercenaries’ beards are cleaner.

A trooper who is asleep even has a smoke resting on his lip. It’s like the cigarette is sleeping too. Both must be exhausted. The cigarette especially looks burned out.

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Ah, I’m feeling refreshed after that puff of delicious tobacco. It’s a lovely morning and my pet leopard is no longer missing.

It’s also a beautiful morning in Johnson County. Good battling weather, according to Jim’s weather app. It’s a feature of modern smartphone forecast programs I miss. Why doesn’t Pocket Weather tell you how appropriate the weather is for waging war? Lousy peace loving modern corporations.

I should clarify that in the 1890s a weather app meant a weather apprentice – a small boy who you’d pay in brandy to stare at the sun every morning. It was a dangerous job, but most were able to use the brandy bottles to fashion themselves corrective eyewear to counter the sun damage.

The two sides are ready to fight. Jim rides behind the immigrant forces’ lines ordering them to surge forward. Slowly, they push makeshift wooden tanks toward the Stock Growers Association. As an aside; the enemy is a stock association? This film really is the Phantom Menace. Anyway, the tanks are pretty impressive. They’re like log cabins on wheels. How did they knock them up in one night? Must have had a working bee. Oh, so that’s why it was important to establish that Jim doesn’t suffer hay fever – a giant bee must have helped them construct log tanks. It all makes sense, unlike the Phantom Menace and why my leopard went missing.

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This is the slowest charge in the history of military charges. I know the immigrants are pushing a large log cabin tank on wheels, but pick up the pace. It would be more energy efficient to just run and hold the logs as a shield, or attack using the cover of the Stock Growers Association’s own tobacco smoke. In military lingo, this is referred to as a Lucky Strike.

Still charging. The only slower charge I can think of was in the turtle, snail, sloth, public wi-fi war of 1812. Have you ever seen a sloth load a musket? It takes forever! Especially if it’s trying to check online train timetables at the same time.

The Stock Growers Association opens fire, closes water and leaves wind ajar. The immigrant army trudges forward millimetre by millimetre at the speed of daffodils, as bullets ricochet off the wood. Once more, so much time in this movie is wasted in transit. There’s so much travelling, you need a good podcast to listen to while waiting for the characters reach their destination.

They’re still charging! WTF?! Hmm, I might download that.

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For a thrown together rabble of townsfolk, they seem to have some organised battle tactics. Sure, their strategy consists solely of pushing a hut towards well armed mercenaries, but they’ve put some thought into it.

You can bet there was brain storming on butchers paper the night before. They broke into workgroups, then reported back to each other with a power point presentation.

There were outcomes planed and actions actioned. And so we have a battle plan by committee. But let’s not be cynical. Yes, the workgroups developed a battle plan where farmers push a shack at hardened, violent assassins, but the team bonding forged by the exercise was invaluable.

Hang on, if corporations write on butchers paper at retreats, what do butchers write on when they have conferences? Money, I suspect.

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Bombs explode and great plumes of dirt and dust rise into the air. The casualty rate is very high so far and many dust particles have become collateral damage. So often dirt is just hanging about, doing its thing, when along comes the violent disputes of humans and a massacre ensues. The dirt poor fight our wars, but let’s not forget the dirt patches that are time and time again blown to smithereens. I think a dirt memorial or dirt cemetery with little tiny crosses made from feather dusters should be erected.

“Here lies Dusty. Admired for his grit, he was wiped from many-an-eye, before being wiped from the face of the Earth.”

The slaughter must cease and weapons such as dirty bombs eradicated so we will never again see a dirt genocide like desert storm.

RIP Dusty.

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The people of Johnson County lob bombs at the Stock Growers Association, but not just any bombs, cartoon bombs. Picture the kind of explosive Wile E Coyote would use – a wiry fuse leading to a bulbous housing. I can’t see the body of the bombs too well through the dust carcasses, but I’m presuming “BOMB” is printed on them. Did bombs really look like that? Isn’t that just an animation invention? I thought this was a United Artists picture, not a Warner Bros cartoon.

Or are they sticks of TNT? Still, that’s straight from the Roadrunner handbook. Come to think of it, the log cabin tank the townspeople constructed could have been bought from ACME. Next, James will be levering a boulder off a cliff. James’ cartoon name would be Jim E Boulder. My cartoon name would be Tim. OK, I haven’t thought that one fully through…

Beep! Beep!

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The battle rages on! Da da da duh-da da da da da da da-num. Sorry, I was humming a Deep Purple guitar riff. The Battle Rages on is a heavy track from their 1993 album of the same name. It was the second reunion of the classic Mk II line-up. Mixed results. There’s a dragon on the cover. I assume its name is Thomas.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes; Paris. Love that city, I’ll have to get back some time. But where was I in referrence to minute 193? A raging battle, that’s right.

A man finds himself in the dirt. Bullets fly and bombs explode. A wagon rolls toward him. His legs are right in its path. Move them, buddy. Whenever you’re ready. There’s plenty of time to just bend your knees and draw your legs toward you. Any day now… just pull ’em in. It’s not rolling that quickly, come on, lift them out of the way… Lift. Lift! Yeek! Yes, or you could just leave them their to be run over. That was the other and evidently more preferable option. Sorry I didn’t think of it. I am not filled with hope at the townsfolk’s prospects of winning this war.

I shall leave you with the guitar TAB of the opening riff of The Battle Rages On.

E————————-
B————————-
G————————-
D————————-
A————————-
D—7———————

It sounds more intricate on the record, but if you use the right plectrum, you’ll hear it.

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So many deaths in this battle sequence. People are being shot left, right and centre-right. The fallen are characters you vaguely recognize, but I have to say it’s hard to be moved by their deaths. Oh no, another two dimensional character whose name I don’t know has been shot or weirdly run over.

Pretty much every immigrant in Johnson County is dead now. I don’t think they conducted a force depletion report before launching this campaign.

“Casualties will be %100. Should we risk it?”

“Yeah, why not? You only live once.”

The death count is high on both sides. I think the mercenaries were well underpaid. But if they receive payment based on the amount of people they shoot, how will they know their final tally? No one is keeping score and I believe there is plenty of opportunity for unscrupulous assassins to rort the system.

If an unscrupulous mercenary has rorted you or a loved one, please report the incident to Rort-Retort on 0499 998 324. Or email them at sally_splatz_housieslove@hotmail.com

O-oh, Stock Growers Association reinforcements have arrived…

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The troopers gallop in a circle around the remaining combatants. Even though the Secretary General of the Stock Growers Association rides with them, I think the troopers are swooping in to break up the fight.

Like when I was in Year 8 and Ed Williams and Nigel Beager were fighting because Nigel had swapped Ed a scratched TAZO for a packet of chips and the PE teacher Mr. Lewis rushed over to break them up. But it was too late, Nigel was already dead. Hmm, I could really go some chips.

The blue coats circle the battle ground at a furious pace, whipping up dust and eggs for a meringue. They’re riding so fast, they’re going to create a tornado! I thought tornadoes were caused by instability in the atmosphere when cool and warm air meet during a thunderstorm, or a hoedown. Shows what I know.

Now, the thing to remember is moisture is the greatest enemy of the meringue. But moisture is necessary for the formation of tornadoes. The moral is never make a meringue in a thunderstorm. But if you are, wear an apron.

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The royal messenger riding comes! Alright, it’s America, the messenger is unlikely to be royal.

But the battle is over, apparently. Not really much of a battle – two groups of people killed each other for a bit, then it’s interrupted. The Supremo of the Stock Growers Association has a note from the Governor. I hope it’s a message instructing a happy ending.

“I decree all shall realise the value of human blah blah blah and peacefully blah blah blah. All crimes are pardoned and you are each to receive a castle and a title.” I strongly wish that’s what it’ll say, but I have a feeling I am to be disappointed.

The Governor’s telegram instructs that only authorities outside and above County officials can reduce the state of anarchy in Johnson County. The troopers are going to round up the immigrants and that’ll be the end of the killing. Is it just me, or does that blow harder than a meringue tornado?

The whole fricken film has been leading up to the grand battle between the immigrants and the Stock Growers Association. “$50 a day, plus expenses”, “Jim, a war is coming”, impending doom here, imminent death there. Then, they face off and some bloke rides in and calls it off.

It’s like if the Harry Potter films, which to my mind were pretty much seven movies of Voldermort gathering strength and one of the final battle, ended with Harry and The Dark Lord eying each other, wands at the ready, then in floats the magic brigade and calls it a draw. Ugh!

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The troopers ride away. I wonder where the production got all the horses from? A vending machine, I suppose.

The dust settles and Jeff Bridges despondently leans on his rifle. Weaponry makes great portable seating. My grandma has a camping chair that doubles as a submachine gun. She also has a BBQ that doubles as the HMAS Melbourne. She’s a resourceful woman.

Cut to a lovely scenic wide shot, where a purple tinted sky and towering mountains meet a lot of dead bodies. Postcard idea!

James staggers to Jeff Bridges, who is learning lines for Iron Man. The haunting acoustic guitar rendition of The Blue Danube strikes up. Firstly, the Danube isn’t that blue and secondly, I doubt Strauss would have liked his music used in such a quizzically pointless way. Why The Blue Danube? If you play any piece of music slowed down and on a single instrument you can make it sound sorrowful. Seriously, pick up a guitar and play Ode to Joy at half speed.

Well, learn guitar first, oh and buy one. OK, I’ll wait while you have a few lessons and pick an instrument. Right. Are we good to go? Yes, fine, you can get a drink of water first… you don’t have to use a pick… yes, I have one… here you can borrow it… no, you don’t have to go to the toilet, just quickly play Ode to Joy… no, I know I don’t want the music played quickly, I mean commence playing quickly… you’re stalling aren’t you? Don’t be shy. I know you’ve only had a few lessons, just play… OK, I’ll turn around. Can you play now? Thank you. There, you see what I mean?! Half pace equals mournful! You should really get some more lessons by the way.

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Jeff Bridges looks a bit out of it. Jim pats him on the shoulder and plods off. You’d think they’d have a little post battle debrief. Ask each other how they thought it went, maybe have a soda or something. It’s nice to have an after war fizzy drink. There’s something about the mix of bubbles and wanton violence that is so yummy!

And I think Jeff looks a bit out of it because he’s dehydrated. As Jim disappears, Bridges staggers about confused and disorientated. It could be due to the overwhelming nature of the devastating scene before him, or he could just be lacking electrolytes. Someone throw the poor man a Gatorade, he’s had a tough couple of days.

Before you write me angry letters, a Powerade would also suffice. I am no longer receiving sponsorship from Gatorade; not after the incident where I injected it into a tiny goat. I thought it would make it run faster. I was wrong! OK? How many times do I have to apologise?!

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A surviving immigrant despondently puts a pistol in her mouth. Must have something stuck in her teeth. I tell ya, once you get a bit of corn trapped between your molars, it can be bloody annoying. Oh! No! Woops, I was wrong. That’s awkward. It was taffy, not corn.

Jim walks into the distance, toward the mountains. I think he’s about to stage The Sound of Music. Now is not the time to perform popular Rogers and Hammerstein tunes! Edel-weiss up, Jim.

Where is he going? Don’t walk, borrow a horse. There’s like fifty standing around being all horse-like. Were there horses in The Sound of Music? Or just Nazis? Or Nazi horses!?

This scene finishes with wind whipping the battlefield. It’s a solid performance from the wind. I’d give it a BAFTA.

Dear Mr. Godfrey,

Thank you for submitting your screenplay ‘Just West of Xanadu, A Musical Western’ for our consideration. We receive countless proposals from directors and writers each year and selecting potential scripts for production is an enormously difficult task.

Having said that, I absolutely loved your screenplay! We were on the lookout for a more subtle, understated project than we’d usually embark upon and I couldn’t put your script down.

I enjoyed all of it – the singing beards, the glitz, the music, the unusual step of including costume suggestions in the draft and I especially loved the symbolism of the sword and its longing to own a bread shop.

I wish to start preproduction immediately! Can’t wait to discuss the finer points of the many levels of your script.

Thank you and all the best,

Baz Luhrmann

Bazmark Inq

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Woh. Is this scene a jump forward into the future? Jeff Bridges appears to climbing off a wagon in a different set of clothes, so time must have elapsed. Either that or he rehydrated himself and his tatty garments. Seems to have worked wonders.

Jim and Ella dress, for a very long time… in silence. Come on! We’re almost there! 19th century clothes take a long time to put on, that’s fair enough, but we’re so close to the end and what is this scene establishing? Post war, both still have the dexterity to dress?

The two are looking well groomed and well hydrated, I’ll give them that. Jim is looking a little thin but that’s nothing a potato and an overbearing personal trainer won’t fix.

I guess we are to assume that Jim and Ella got back together. Nothing like swoopin’ in on the bereaved. Jim, you ol’ dog…

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This dressing scene is very unsettling. James and Ella are completely silent as they put on their sunday best. That doesn’t seem right. If American sitcoms have taught me anything, it’s that when a man and a woman get ready to go out they argue. Shouldn’t Ella be asking how she looks, forcing James to give stumbling awkward answers?

They’re finished dressing and are ready to go at the same time. This is nothing like a sitcom! Men get dressed quickly and try to rush the woman along. Comedy ensues. It’s simple math! Men + woman + their inherent differences = chuckles. It is so disrespectful to Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, Friends and According to Jim, to not perpetuate mindless humour when there is an opportunity.

Ella and Jim are greeted outside by Jeff Bridges. They’re acting very strange. Ella gives Jeff an awkward kiss on the cheek. It’s quite weird. It was a bit slow, lingering and icky. Something is afoot…

What is going on? They’re all just waiting around in silence for something to happen.

OMG! Gunfire! It’s the Prefect of the Stock Growers Association and his goons! Jeff is shot and Jim returns fire, taking out the Pope of the Stock Growers Association.

Oh no… oh no, oh no… Ella is hit. Blood pours from her wounds. It’s sad; the blood is gonna be a real pain to wash out of that pretty, white dress.

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So sad. Jim weeps, cradling Ella in his arms. It was important for me to specify Ella is being cradled in arms because Jim carries a wooden cradle in his pocket. It’s a foldable one he bought from Wild West IKEA.

Wild West IKEA was great, but cowboys’ horses kept mysteriously disappearing from the horse parking lot during its heyday.

I feel sorry for Jeff Bridges. I also feel sorry for his character. No one is there to weep over his dead body. Surely Jim could sprinkle a few tear drops on Jeff? It might even bring him back to life, so long as the tears are mixed with unicorn semen.

James is quite upset and this is a very sad scene. It’s sadder than the time I went to Universal Studios and the Jaws shark wasn’t working. That was tough…

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It’s future time! Cue lasers, robots and Google Cufflinks (patent pending). A boat drifts behind a caption – “Newport, Rhode Island 1903”. I like Newport, it’s so much better than Oldport and far superior to Getting-On-A-Bit-Port.

James strolls the deck looking rather weathered and aged. Nothing like owning a boat to help forget your past. It’s a terrific way to overcome trauma. In fact, the Federal Government is introducing boat gifting as a key element of its mental heath policy. With a referral from your GP, each citizen is entitled to ten Medicare subsidised sessions with a psychologist per calendar year, plus a boat.

It’s working wonders apparently, except for people who are trying to overcome the trauma of a boating accident. Anecdotally, they seem to react less positively to the treatment.

The boat is certainly a step up from that stupid wagon Jim owned. It’s quite the status symbol. Owning a wagon back then was like owning an Audi, owning a boat was like owning Kooyong.

*For international readers, an Audi is a pretend car and Kooyong is an affluent suburb of Melbourne that once hosted the Australian Tennis Open. Nowadays, Kooyong is an independent nation and has a freeway.

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Below deck James enters his opulent bedroom. So much opulence! It’s dripping opulence. Jim is going to need an opulence rain coat, lest he be covered in wet opulence. Is anyone else turned on?

Jim is again silently pottering about. That would be my synopsis of Heaven’s Gate – Jim silently goes about his business, a bunch of stuff happens around him.

Oo-la-la, there is a strange woman in his boudoir. I hate it when that happens. So often I’ll come home to find a middle aged woman in my luxurious bedroom. “Away foul temptress!” I cry, only to realise it is not my house and I’m in fact yelling at an otterman with a snuggy draped over it.

The film is almost over. Who is this strange woman and what does she represent? The people of Kooyong? Is the local member for Kooyong asleep on Jim’s boat?!

*Kooyong is an ancient underwater city and is owned by Russia

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It should be mentioned at the end of the previous minute another spooky butler appeared and the mysterious woman asked for a cigarette. But no one is going to mention it, so no point lamenting it now.

It’s unfortunate the butler didn’t sing The Ol’ Butler Shuffle. If he had, it could have been released as a single to help recoup some of the film’s losses. Novelty songs have always used in this way. Shaddap You Face was sung in a deleted scene of The Godfather III. In the end, the producers felt it was distasteful.

Jim obliges the woman’s request and hands her a cigarette. He reaches for a lighter, opens it… goodness, they’re moving so slowly. Get on with it. It’s as though they’re both in slow motion. Did someone accidentally change the frame rate?

Come on, if you’re producing a three hour film, you can’t dwell on every single bloody moment as though the simple act of lighting a cigarette has significance that should be drawn out with slow deliberate reverence. Light the fucking thing! Light it!

Thank you. It’s lit. Nicotine can now be inhaled. I’ve never seen anyone who asks for a cigarette take their time getting it to their mouth. I’m like that with milk. If I ask for a glass, you can bet the moment you give it to me I’m going to freeze dry it, chop it up and snort it. Presuming you also lend me the liquid nitrogen.

The mystery woman, who I assume is Jim’s partner or wife, looks familiar. Perhaps we met at a social, or ball? I’d better check my old dance cards and see if any names ring a bell.

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Who is this mystery woman? A-hah! I remember. I think she’s the girlfriend we saw waltzing with James in the prologue at Harvard University. I was partially right to check my dance cards. I couldn’t check James’, he’s never allowed his dance cards to enter the public domain. I launched many FOI requests, but was unsuccessful.

Did James lose Ella, then take out his address book and look up an old girlfriend? Lame, man. Though, it was a lot harder to do in those days, he couldn’t just Facebook search her. Looking up an old girlfriend in the late 19th century involved public registries, censuses, pigeons, private investigators and letters passed on by a portly intermediary named Susan.

James look very solemn. As he gazes over his ol’ dance partner, you can see the remorse and regret. He is still haunted by the past; by Ella, by the Sovereign of the Stock Growers Association, by John Hurt and the wily cows, by vellum rain, by rollerskating cowboys, by antelope trains, by the number 86, by the family in the stationmaster’s pipe, by hover bikes, by keytars, by cockfights, by whiskey rivers, by the Bureau of Meteorology, by death lists, by George Negus, by fly racing, by patents pending, by giant bees, by burning hedges, by fluffy hats, by extras, by Kooyong, by tobacco, by $50 a day plus expenses, by Nate and his acting hat, by Iron Man, by cabin tanks, by spooky butlers and by bloody wagons!

His lip trembles. Yeah, I suppose that’s a lot of shit to get over.

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Cut to an exterior shot of the boat, which is a metaphor for slightly smaller boats. Look at that boat chimney smoke, it’s like a big, fluffy, sooty, suffocating pillow. Smoke inhalation was never so comfortable.

Fade to black and… the credits roll. What?! Are you serious? I’ve got to review three minutes of credits? You mother… Alright fine.

Font is perfect and the exact same font I would have chosen. Predictably, we start with the acting credits. It’s quite handy to read actually, we finally get to know some character names.

Kris Kristofferson played Averill? I didn’t hear anyone call him that. He was referred to as James, or Jim, or Helena during the underwater dream dance sequence. Isn’t Averill a cheap brand of ibuprofen? Or is that Advil? Either way, I prefer fast acting pain relief. It’s possible James’ last name is product placement and the film was sponsored by big pharma. Ah yes, that confirms it – Christopher Walken as Xanax and Jeff Bridges as Lipitor.

‘Moustached Mercenary’. That’s an amazing character name. Any actor would grow a moustache and kill to have that on their CV.

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The credits keep on a-rollin’. They’re moving at a good speed, I’d say. Not too fast, not too slow – they’re in something scientists like to call the ‘end credits Goldilocks zone’. Whether credits do or don’t fall into this category is adjudicated by Goldie Hawn. She takes the role very seriously, so don’t ever scroll text passed her too quickly. A waiter once waved a dinner menu speedily in front of her and she drowned him in a vat of minestrone. The thing is, the restaurant wasn’t even serving soup, she bought it in herself just in case.

There were three assistant camera men, apparently. Ken, Eric and Michael. I think that’s a good number and what a likely lot they would have been on set, hey? Kensy Ez & Mick! Oh, the hijinks and tomfoolery they would’ve gotten up too. On a serious note, practical jokes cause deaths in the workplace. Pull your juvenile heads in, Ken, Mick and Eric!

Heaven’s Gate was stunt coordinated by Buddy Van Horn. It’s nice to see some adult entertainer/anti-Western cross over.

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I’m yet to see the names of the million plus extras. I suppose there’s not enough material in the universe to make the film stock required to screen all those names.

What on Earth is ‘Atmosphere Casting’? Did this Tony Gaznick character cast smoke, haze, mist and shards of light? Or was he responsible for the nitrogen, oxygen and argon on set?

“Hey, Ms. Casting Agent Person,”
“Hi Tony, what can I do for you?”
“We’ve got a role for some air. It’ll be playing the town photographer, have you got a canister you can send over?”
“Tony, you know the air on my books won’t play 19th century photographers. They keep geting burned up in the magnesium flashes.”

Before CGI, actors were forced to play layers of gas in motion pictures. In addition to John Proctor, Daniel Day Lewis also played the exosphere in The Crucible. He’s so versatile.

Oh, the key grips were Richard Deats and Tony Cridlin. That’s good to know, I was thinking throughout the whole film that the movie is well gripped. I must send them a congratulatory e-card.

The credits move seamlessly into the thank yous. A courteous man, Michael Cimino has been generous in extending his gratitude. He thanks the USA, then the Governor of Montana, Glacier National Parks and several other forest/park departments who I presume are all part of the USA. If you lead by thanking the entire country, is there a need to get into specifics? You just say, “Thanks America,” and everyone is covered. Thank Earth just to be on the safe side if you’re frightened of missing someone, like Penny. Everyone always forgets poor ol’ Penny. If you’re asking yourself, “Who the hell is Penny?” Exactly. Case in point.

The music and the increasing sparcity of the names leads me to believe the film is at last ending. As the final credits role, it might be a good moment to reflect. Cue reflection music, something with a harp and a basset horn, but no keytars.

After four years and having finally seen all of it, what do I think of Heaven’s Gate; the tale of love amidst the Johnson County cattle wars of Wyoming during the late 1800s? My final analysis is the film is much like this review – long, pointless and centred on something completely obscure.

Written in Panavision.

Colour by the distribution of light power versus wavelength interacting with the eye.

The soundtrack for this review can be purchased through Sony Records, or stolen from John Hurt’s garage.

Thank you for reading, thank you Penny and thank you Earth.

The end.

© MMXIIVCDIIVIVQXVIVIIX

By Simon Godfrey

simongodfrey.co

twitter – @SimonGodfrey

8 Responses to “Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute”

  1. Camille March 8, 2013 at 6:16 am #

    Hi, thank you for the great job you’re doing. Saw this movie on cinema last week and I loved it. Coul you put more screenshots with Christopher Walken? His charism just amazed me.

    • Simon Godfrey May 25, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

      Hi Camille,
      I would be more than happy to post more screen shots of Christopher Walken. Alternatively, I play bocce with Chris every leap year and we’re quite close. I could easily organise for him to staple his own face to your computer screen, if that suits?

  2. fat loss 4 idiots free July 29, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    It simply isn’t an effective training method and in fact will in fact stop your progress and just waste your time. In fact, they lost 9 times more fat then the endurance group. If you look at anyone with a fat loss success story they may not have used the same workout program or diet, but they all have one thing in common.

  3. Andy Otes March 30, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    Great summary, clarified several things for me.

    Re end sequence: the photo of him and his college sweetheart was featured a couple of times earlier in the movie; I think he had it on the bedside table of the room he stayed in at his mate’s place (played by Bridges). The end was 20 years after Ella’s death, so it’s not like he rushed off to find the next woman in his life.

    James was called Averill,I think by the migrants when they were having an angry discussion about him after he left them to it.. One other time too, as I remember. Muffled/unclear dialogue, though.

    Cheers,

    Andy Otes

    It’s my favourite western, just a scratch ahead of The Wild Bunch.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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