October 17, 2005

Cornell Cinema

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Sometimes films can acquire a second wind. Old movies have a surprising tendency to still exhibit new themes on a second viewing. This week Cornell Cinema is showcasing two films that may actually be capable of providing some new cinematic tricks. The two movies in question, one a fairly successful 3D horror flick out of the 1950s and another a 1980 Western that initially faltered upon its release but has gained credibility over the years, could not be more different. Still they are both worth checking out, even if it’s the second time around.

Heaven’s Gate (1980)

Throughout the 1980s this film was synonymous with disaster. When Michael Cimino, fresh off his incredible success with The Deer Hunter, was given a nearly blank check by United Artists his over-budget movie nearly bankrupted the studio and was the symbolic end to the artistic freedom that directors enjoyed in the 1970s. When United Artists bungled the film’s opening and distribution, it was determined DOA only to be reborn and redeemed through cable reruns.

Now Heaven’s Gate is enjoying a renewed interest in its exploration of the unfulfilled American Dream on the frontier. It is based on the events of the Johnson County War that occurred in 1892 when wealthy cattle owners attempted to eliminate immigrant settlers from infringing on their business by simply hiring a private army to kill them.

Like The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate runs a little long (149 minutes) but the audience is rewarded with Cimino’s attentive and artistic eye. The film captures the American West of rolling meadows and idyllic mountains better than any I have ever seen. Cimino uses the often obscured and dim light of that era’s oil lamps to create a highly textured and rich color to his film. This beautiful natural setting is contrasted by the dirty living conditions of the poor immigrants and the brutal violence that is inflicted upon them. Kris Kristofferson fills the role of Sheriff James Averill, a well educated man from the East who, while cynical to his situation in life, eventually must fight against the evils of his own ruling class. Christopher Walken delivers an inspiring performance as a torn bounty hunter and Sam Waterson is perfect in his role as the sadistic robber baron leading the private army. The climactic battle between the two sides alone makes this film worth seeing.

Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

This is one of the later installments of Universal’s somewhat corny but always enjoyable series of monster movies that ranged from the 1930s to the 50s. The story follows a team of archaeologists and marine biologists deep into the Amazon in search of more evidence after finding a fossilized webbed hand. They end up in, well you can guess, and soon face-to-face with The Gill-Man, an ancient missing link from the early Earth.

The Gill-Man takes one look at the sole female scientist Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) and starts thinking, “me likey.” From that point on he attempts to kill the other men on the expedition while taking Kay away so he can be her personal Bassmaster. This conflict is also paralleled by the different scientists who are dived on whether to capture and kill the monster or leave it in its natural habitat.

The film, albeit having a somewhat naïve dialogue, is actually much less corny than its 1950s peers and actually boasts some pretty advanced underwater filming. An added plus is that it was released originally in 3D. I have never seen the film in this format, but I’m willing to bet that it is actually makes a pretty remarkable experience. Fortunately Cornell Cinema will be showing it in its original and exciting 3D form. While nowhere near the spookiness of 1970s horror films, Creature From the Black Lagoon is still a great and entertaining throwback to Hollywood imagination firing on all cylinders.

Of course I won’t reveal the ending, but in following the tradition of all horror films, the ending remains somewhat open for artistic purposes (or so The Gill-Man can return in a few more sequels, take your pick).

Archived article by Mark Rice
Film Editor