In the spring of 1979, Michael Cimino was king of Hollywood. His incendiary Vietnam War saga The Deer Hunter had sold bushels of tickets and generated barrels of ink en route to its Best Picture Oscar. The 35-year-old director was saluted as the next Coppola, a bravura storyteller who made ambitious yet intimate epics and attracted huge audiences. The combo of art and box office was (and is) the movie biz's Holy Grail, and every studio in town courted Cimino.
United Artists won the derby and backed his next feature, a brutal tale of the 1880s Johnson County wars between immigrant settlers and the powerful interests who wanted the Wyoming grazing lands all to themselves. The director, flourishing his newly engraved statuette for Best Director, was granted a mammoth checkbook and artistic control. Striving for perfection -- or paralyzed by the prospect of having to top The Deer Hunter -- Cimino immediately fell behind schedule. The budget mounted, yet the studio kept giving the director more rope. Opening on a bier of Tinseltown rumors and horrible buzz, Heaven's Gate ran nearly four hours and bombed so thoroughly that it forced UA into bankruptcy.
Back now in a restored print that showcases Vilmos Zsigmond's opulent, auburn cinematography, the film stands as a bloated but worthwhile evisceration of capitalism. It's also a monument to Cimino's ego. And how often do you get to see Christopher Walken in a western? Heaven's Gate begins Monday at 7 p.m. and continues through Wednesday at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro (near Market), S.F. Admission is $5.50-8.50; call 621-6120 or visit www.castrotheatresf.com.
-- Michael FoxFiercely Indie
The Bay Area may not be the hotbed of professional magazine publishing that New York is, but our "little" mags sure stand out in the crowd. Kitchen Sinkwon the Utne Independent Press Award for Best New Title a while back; Bitchcontinues to be unapologetically smart and mean; and Other Magazinekeeps asking the important questions ("Do people claim you're a member of a group you don't feel part of?") that get it raves from Seattle to Durham. Tonight's "Indie Mag All-Stars Party" features readings of prose and poetry from these publications and more at 8 at the Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is free; call 647-2888 or visit www.makeoutroom.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Riding Japan's pop wave
How does a tiny island nation pack so much cool within its borders? From film to electronics to fashion to food, Japan exports goodies that make their American counterparts look like dumpy country cousins. Get a window on what's new at "Japan's Pop Culture Revolution," a panel discussion featuring pundits intimately familiar with Eastern ephemera. Chief among them are Eric Nakamura, publisher and co-editor of the achingly hip Giant Robot magazine and possessor of all kinds of fascinating information on obscure celebrities, toys, and foodstuffs (the man even has a favorite instant ramen); Patrick Macias, author of the book TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion; and anime expert Gilles Poitras, who all weigh in on 2004's breakthrough gimcracks. Alvin Lu of S.F. manga publisher Viz moderates at 6 p.m. at the World Affairs Council Building, 312 Sutter (at Grant), Suite 200, S.F. Admission is free-$15; call 986-4383 or visit www.usajapan.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Drawing on politics
Did you know that Eminem is a radical progressive? We only found out about the controversial musician's leftward leanings while watching the animated video for his song "Mosh." Apparently, we're a little behind on our Em lore: The anti-war, pro-voting video came out well before the November elections, and was -- surprise, surprise -- controversial. Its art and direction don't leave much room for disagreement, though: The piece is beautifully rendered, using real-life imagery fading into drawn work to good effect. At "Animators Speak Out," "Mosh" director Ian Inaba joins several other independent filmmakers for a program of shorts addressing themes of politics and love. We anticipate that many of the works will contain elements of controversy, though perhaps without the benefit of a soundtrack like "Mosh." The screening begins at 8 p.m. at Artists' Television Access, 992 Valencia (at 21st Street), S.F. Admission is $5-10; call 824-3890 or visit www.atasite.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Art From Outside
Can something bulky and square be endearing? Though they're made of garbage, the Date Farmers' old-can robots call out to be held. The crux of the collective's magic is making people want to own and proudly display works that were once trash; it's a trick a lot of artists would like to play. The Farmers' current exhibition is in conjunction with everyone's favorite (even the New Yorker's: He was in Talk of the Town) wanted-man graffiti artist, Neck Face. It's no surprise that his indoor stuff is awesome, too. The unnamed show is up through Feb. 5 at the Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market (at Sixth Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 255-5971 or visit www.luggagestoregallery.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser