Although in the last quarter-century its legend has been replaced by more recent famous box office flame-outs like Gigli and Waterworld, Heaven's Gate remains the Citizen Kane of disasters, the pinnacle of ill-advised Hollywood ego and excess. After all, it's the only single movie to bring down a major studio. It all seemed like a good idea at the time. In 1978, director Michael Cimino was at the top of the Hollywood director's league, fresh off the five Academy Award bonanza afforded his second film, The Deer Hunter. As chronicled in Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, directors in the late '70s were the apex of Hollywood creativity and Cimino was being hailed as the next Coppola. (He would turn out to be the next Terrence Malick, but that's a different story.) For his part, Cimino wanted to follow up The Deer Hunter with his greatest accomplishment, a detailed account of the settling of the West, original called Johnson County Wars, eventually re-titled Heaven's Gate. For what would be one of the biggest productions in Hollywood history — Cimino would think nothing of recreating entire towns, down to the ceiling joists and lantern oil — he turned to the Hollywood studio best known for its treatment of artists: United Artists. Founded in the 1920s by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith, United Artists was, at the time, home to Scorsese's Raging Bull, Woody Allen's Manhattan and other famed director-driven works. Through a series of new talking-head interviews, Final Cut: The Making of Heaven's Gate and the Unmaking of a Studio recreates the decision-making process that led to Heaven's Gate's undoing. To start, Cimino was given not only final cut (he had absolute approval over the final product) but an unprecedented amount of leash with which to realise his vision — and off he went, largely unsupervised. When in two weeks he was already 12 days behind schedule, no one came to Wyoming, where he was filming, to wonder why. After all, United Artists wasn't a dailies-watching, phone call-making, set-visiting bunch of executives; they trusted the artist. Cimino, for his part, wasn't an out-of-control egotist eating grapes and demanding back massages from the tiny feet of little boys — while The Deer Hunter had been a large film, it came in under control and Cimino had no reputation, at that point, for wasting time or the studio's money. But on the back of The Deer Hunter's success, Cimino was completely convinced of his own genius and thus was willing to do what he felt was necessary to make the greatest film of his career. But in terms of the film's fate, this game was lost in the first quarter. Newly appointed and inexperienced studio executives, keen to make their reputation on the back of an Oscar-winning film, caved to Cimino's demands early and often, especially over casting French actress Isabelle Huppert in a lead role. Having acquiesced too early and too often, the studio was caught between firing Cimino (who wrote the screenplay and whose singular vision was driving the film), cancelling the runaway production and simply eating the loss, or letting him finish, paying the bill and hoping that, like Coppola's Apocalypse Now, a masterpiece would be the result. There was no masterpiece though. The final bill for Heaven's Gate was more than $40 million (in 1980 it was the most expensive film ever made) and came in at a yawn-worthy near-four-hour running time. (One critic famously described the final result as "being taken on a four-hour walking tour of your own living room.") Cimino insisted on taking the film out of circulation and re-editing it for another release, but at that point the damage was done. United Artists was swallowed by MGM, destroying its independence, and while Cimino would go on to make several more films (all on time and under budget), he became increasingly withdrawn and has not made a film since 1996's forgettable Woody Harrelson vehicle The Sunchaser. As a document of disaster, Final Cut is no Hearts of Darkness — absent Cimino's participation and similarly extensive on-set footage, it becomes a talking-head film of its various participants recounting their own experiences. Participating actors (Kris Kristofferson, Jeff Bridges) and United Artists executives all recount how and why Heaven's Gate went off the rails. It's an interesting story that may have been largely forgotten, other than as a reference for disaster; it's not a groundbreaking documentary. And given the fact that Hollywood continues to make ill-advised choices in the name of commerce over art, it's not the last time this story will be told. (Viewfinder)