Michael Cimino Poster

Quotes (45)

  • [11/11/96 interview in "People" magazine on how the failure of Heaven's Gate (1980) affected his life] It was really a great trauma, as everyone knows. Since then, I've been unable to make any movie that I've wanted to make. I've been making the best of what is available.
  • [July 2002, on The Deer Hunter (1978) post-9/11] They've been running The Deer Hunter (1978) like crazy on Bravo. And here is the whole goddamned Congress singing "God Bless America" on the steps of the US Capitol. I said, "Holy shit, this is the ending of the movie". Do you get now, 20 years later, why that was in the movie?
  • I don't make movies intellectually, I don't make movies to make a point, I make movies to tell stories about people.
  • Films are home movies of your past.
  • If you don't get it right, what's the point?
  • [on Heaven's Gate (1980)] It took me a long time before I was able to say, "I'm proud of that movie." And I am proud of it. I could not have made it any better than I made it. No excuses, and no regrets. [July 2002]
  • Nobody lives without making mistakes. I never second-guess myself. You can't look back. I don't believe in defeat. Everybody has bumps, but as Count Basie said, "It's not how you handle the hills, it's how you handle the valleys."
  • I think some people think that I'm totally nuts. Some think I'm a druggie. They say I had $50,000 in my budget for Heaven's Gate (1980) allocated to cocaine. They say I'm an alcoholic. I'm not, despite rumors to the contrary. All the things people think I am, I'm not. That's why I never answer them in the press, because they're ridiculous. And some of them are pretty wild. They've said everything about me that they could: racist, Marxist, rightist, homophobic, sex-change--I don't know what else they could come up with.
  • [July2002, on the fundamental importance of the director in filmmaking] Vilmos [cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond] and all those guys have built themselves up to be bigger than directors. It's bullshit. Does anyone remember who shot Stanley Kubrick's movies? Do you remember who shot David Lean's movies? No one remembers who shot Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) or Barry Lyndon (1975).
  • [July 2002, before deciding to restore Heaven's Gate (1980)] I'm not revisiting the past, like Francis Ford Coppola, re-cutting Apocalypse Now (1979) 29 times. Why do you think Francis is re-cutting "Apocalypse"? He's dried up. I'm going forward; he's going backward.
  • If you look at Buddhists, sometimes they appear like they are getting younger. It's not supernatural--they're just evolving as better human beings. If you're evolving, it's going to show on your face. The premier example of the polar extreme, of someone devolving, is Marlon Brando, who is getting nuttier every day. Enlightenment shows on the face. Depravity shows on the face.
  • [on book publishing] When a guy is perceived as macho, female editors aren't going to like it--because they all want to be men.
  • [July 2002, on Oliver Stone] Oliver thinks he's the greatest thing since chopped liver. He's a great guy, a great writer; we have a great working relationship and I love him. But he's a better writer than director. He's incredibly, insanely jealous about the fact that I published a novel. He's always wanted to be the next [Ernest Hemingway]; he didn't want to be a director.
  • [2002, on Steven Bach] This man has given me endless grief for his work of fiction, and it should be classified as fiction. He's made money off my blood, my work, for 20 years.
  • This is a lonely country and people die of loneliness as surely as they die of cancer. But I also know that in every friendship there's the potential for destructiveness as well as nourishment.
  • [responding to a journalist's question about Heaven's Gate (1980) in 1990] I take full responsibility, and all other questions are answered by the film itself.
  • [2001] Hollywood has always been crazy. It's controlled anarchy. But how can you loathe something that has given you so much? I wouldn't have had the life I've had without movies.
  • [1979, accepting his Best Director Academy Award for The Deer Hunter (1978)] In a moment like this, it's difficult to leaven pride with humility, but I am proud to be here, proud of our work, proud to be part of this tradition. I'm proud of my dear, very special associates, Joann Carelli, Barry Spikings, [Christopher Walken, [Christopher Walken], John Savage, Meryl Streep, the late John Cazale and, most especially, I embrace Robert De Niro, for his dedication and for his great dignity of heart. Thank you very much.
  • [2005] You know, I never studied cinema. I never knew how to make a film, and I still don't know [ . . . ] I'm quite astonished that I made what I made [laughter]. Because, as you must know, my background is architecture, painting, that's where I come from. I'm much more intrigued by a good building than by a good movie. I'm much more interested in a big bridge or a great new novel or a great painting. When I'm asked about my influences, instead of rolling out 20 filmmakers, I say [American architect] Frank Lloyd Wright, Degas [French artist Edgar Degas]... Mahler [Austrian composer Gustav Mahler] . . . "Who?" But you have to remember I didn't come from the film world, I didn't study film. I once tried to read a book on film editing--after I'd begun doing it!--and I couldn't finish it, even though it was written by someone who knew a lot about it, I think it was Karel Reisz ["The Technique of Film Editing", first publ.1953]. And I found it so confusing I had to stop reading it [laughs]. My world never was film to the exclusion of everything else. At all. I didn't even go to California to make movies--I went because I had family in the South Coast, Newport, La Jolla, Laguna, and as a kid I loved the California lifestyle: surfing, horse riding, riding a bike in the desert. Everything was done outdoors, fast cars, fast bikes, great horses. I loved that and that's why I went there. There was no other idea, I didn't even know much about movies so I certainly didn't go there with that in mind.
  • [2005, on Terrence Malick] I think he's a remarkable talent, but Terry is actually a poet. He should be writing poetry instead of making movies. They're different things. Just like I'm no filmmaker, but an architect and a painter. We're both doing things we're not supposed to.
  • [in 2005] Change is very important--to continue to change, to continue to grow up. I think once you stop you die, and that's one of the most important things to take into account when people react to your work, whether you write books, make movies or paint paintings. Whatever you do, if you're celebrated you have to be very careful about who's celebrating you, and when you're condemned you have to very careful about who condemns you. Because you should never let yourself become too impressed with yourself when you're complimented, and you should never let hate get into your heart when you're condemned, because when you let hate inside your heart dies.
  • [2005] We all know we'll never be able to reach perfection, but it's essential we keep trying. We must keep trying. That's where the essence of life lies. It's a matter of keeping the heart alive and vibrant, of remaining open and thankful to the life around us. I always remember a great quote by Louis Pasteur, the French scientist who said ,"Luck favors the prepared spirit". For me, that sums it all up.
  • [2005] I think it's very important, whether in architecture or in filmmaking . . . For instance, in architecture, when you look at a building, you're not looking at an abstract creation of concrete and steel, but at the realization of a man's spirit. If you're looking at a mediocre building it's because whoever designed it had a mediocre mind. If it's a superior building, you're looking at a superior mind. The building itself is completely expressive of who you are, just like a movie or a novel or something you make. You're always seeing in it how someone thinks, we're looking at the shape of his inner me, of his mind, his heart, his soul.
  • [in 2005, on dance and choreography] I studied a little bit of acting in New York, because I thought that, if I was going to direct actors, I should know something about acting, and I also studied a little bit of dance, and it was all good fun. But I can't write without placing my characters in space, I need to see in three dimensions inside my head, to have a three-dimensional space [ . . . ] I love choreography. I'd love to have been born George Balanchine, that would have been wonderful [ . . . ] I love dances. And while actors are always on the phone or in their trailers, with dancers you just say "on your marks" and they're all ready to go. Out of all the people who work in interpretive arts, they're the hardest workers and the worst paid --I have immense respect for dancers and choreographers. I love them. As John Ford said, the three most interesting subjects for a camera are a running horse, a large mountain and a dancing couple. And if you think of the wonderful scenes in The Searchers (1956), or of Akira Kurosawa's running horses, or of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' magnificent dances . . . is there anything better you can shoot?
  • [2005, on transcendence in art] . . . there comes a moment--not just in the movies, I mentioned cinema because it involves a large group of people, but it can also happen in a dance company. There are so many elements you have to combine perfectly to achieve a great moment of cinema--150 people in a soundstage, wires, cameras, technicians, actors, written scenes, dialogues, time, light . . . when you think of all of it, when 200 people come together in a perfect moment and everyone realizes something extraordinary is happening, everybody floats a few inches above the ground. It's a phenomenal feeling and I think it's one of the things that gets people to want to make movies.
  • [2005] I learned to edit by doing it. Somebody said, "here, take a roll of film, put it in the machine", and you work with it that way.
  • [in 2005, on science-fiction] I don't find it interesting. I think the world is far too interesting for us to try and make up a new one. For me, the dimensions of human art are measureless. Like Coleridge [English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge] says, "Caverns measureless to man, spaces measureless to man." There's so much of interest in real life and most people who write science fiction are running away from life to create a fictional world. I'd rather have real life.
  • [in 2005] You know, I don't think anyone can teach you to become a director. We can attend film schools, but I don't believe anyone can teach us to be writers, or to become a great athlete or a great football player or a great dancer. I think that, when we're born, the gods bestow upon us certain gifts. Not everyone can run as fast as anyone else, not everyone can be as tall, not everyone can kick a football into the distance, not everyone can run like David Beckham or dance like [Russian prima ballerina] Anna Pavlova. The thing is, each one of us must try to recognize our gift, whatever it is, and then, if you're lucky, find teachers, people who can help us shape the gift we're born with. Because we're not born with anything than can be given to us--nobody can give us talent, just like nobody can take it away from us. We just have it. If we're writers, we don't learn to write - we're writers. But we're lucky to find, throughout our schooling, one or two people who are important, influential, inspiring [ . . . ] Yes, people who teach us to use our gift, to shape it, to help direct it. That is very hard. Because, as human beings, we like to think we're all the same and we can all do the same, that given the opportunity I could be David Beckham. But the fact is, I can't be David Beckham. I'm not David Beckham and I don't have his gift. But I can do things he can't--I don't have the eyes or the reactions of Michael Schumacher, I can't do what he does, what he does is miraculous [ . . . ] But the point is to recognize what was given to us, to try to understand it, to accept it, as limited as it may be - to accept its greatness or smallness and then try to perfect the gift you have. It takes courage, because you may not have been given much, the gods don't give everything to everyone. It's a lottery, you never know.
  • [2005] Take any John Ford film, whether it's The Quiet Man (1952) or The Searchers (1956) or They Were Expendable (1945), a film I'm actually seeing tonight because I've never seen it on a big screen. Ford had such a simplicity of technique . . . No complicated camera moves, nothing exotic; all he cares about are the people and you don't even notice the camera. We just go along with the people--it's like The Quiet Man (1952), we are enveloped by those people, we like them immediately and forget everything else. And he does it with such an economy of means, something I admire a lot. It's like Degas' [Edgar Degas] wonderful ballet sculptures: a very simple yet very eloquent touch.
  • [in 2005] It's the accumulation of little details that makes us believe.
  • I admire economy in cinema as I admire it in art, in painting. I don't like unnecessary rococo, unless it's beautiful, as it is in the work of the great architect Louis Sullivan, or [American artist and designer] Lewis Tiffany, or a true artist. But decorativism by itself is bad. It's just wallpaper. But other than a single lapse of judgment in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) where I went for a cross-fade--something I didn't even know what it was at the time--every single cut in all my films since The Deer Hunter (1978) is a straight cut. Even the period transitions are made with cuts. Everything is cut. No tricks. That comes from my art past--no tricks [ . . . ] To make a 25-year leap in a cut is good, and it's great to be able to do it. The audience doesn't realize it, they just accept it and think it's part of the art of making movies, being able to transport the audience in time and space with such speed. That economy of means comes from my education in art and design, not from the movies, but I recognize it as I see it, and in La belle et la bête (1946), looking at it as an architect and designer and artist, I recognize that economy, just as I can recognize in Wassily Kandinsky the purity, the movement, the color, the shape, the simplicity against, for example, Pollock [Jackson Pollock], who is very tortured. Though I like Pollock--I studied under one of his brothers, but I'm not a great fan, I even find his brother Charles to be a better artist than Jackson.
  • [in 2005, on Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)] It's a fun film, I love the characters in the story, and I'm surprised I made it that way.
  • [in 2005] I'm always fascinated with what everyone else thinks of my films. It's fascinating to hear different takes--it's as exciting as creating, to hear what others think, particularly when they seem to think the exact opposite. It's like the Bible, different people read completely different things into it.
  • [in 2015] I believe that the best movies come from reality, they don't come from watching other movies. Too many people who make movies today before they start to make a movie they look at other movies to try and find scenes that they like. They're an accumulation of other things that have been done.
  • [in 2005, on why it takes time to tell a story with characters we care about] Most people don't understand that's part of the reason for The Deer Hunter (1978) to run three hours. One of the reasons why people accept violence in American cinema, in films such as Halloween (1978), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and all that shit, is because the characters are false. And as long as the characters are false, cartoons, being chopped up in little pieces, it's OK, it's acceptable. But if you take time to show how normal those people are, to see their wedding, to get to know them, then watching that violence becomes a punch in your stomach. You get to know them in such a way that the slightest thing that will happen to them devastates us, but that won't happen if the characters are mere ideas.
  • [in 2015, on the importance of patience in filmmaking] The mountain is waiting to see if you have the courage to wait. Time is money. If you have the courage to wait until the mountain says. "'OK, I will reveal my true beauty to you", always say, "Thank you mountain, you give me the sight of your beauty".
  • [in 2015] I never started out to make a film about the Vietnam War, I had no interest in the politics of war. I made a film about the effects of trauma and tragedy on a family . . . What has changed? Nothing . . . I'm sick of old men destroying people for their ideas . . . Any great movie about war is automatically anti-war if it tells the truth about war, you see the madness.
  • [in 2015] I'm a frustrated would-be architect, who stumbled into the would-be business of making movies.
  • [in 2015] Frank Lloyd Wright was an exceptional human being, not only a great architect, but he was a man of courage and flamboyance; he designed all his own clothes, and loved to wear a cape and ride a horse to work . . . he built the Guggenheim Museum in New York when he was 90.
  • [[n 2015, on watching the restored Heaven's Gate (1980)] I'm blown away. I've watched it several times now, happily watched it, and I'd watch it again, especially on a big screen, especially the new version because I don't know what happened. Something happened with the color. I don't know whether it was due to the cinematographer messing around in the lab or whatever, but there was a red veil over everything, probably trying to make it dusty or something. But when I looked at the footage for the first time at Sony as I shot it, I was blown away. I said, "My God . . . ". I remember calling Joann [Joann Carelli] in New York, who produced it, and I said, "Joann, I'm just looking at this footage, it's like looking at 3D, you can see forever."[ . . . ] It was like I was seeing the footage for the first time. And what you see now in the restoration, is the footage as it was meant to be, as it was shot. It's gleaming. The landscapes are just . . . they just pop. It's very, very exciting. And the thing that's the most exciting to me is, it was shot over a very long period of time under very difficult circumstances. It wasn't shot on the Disney ranch or some place in Burbank. I mean, it was shot where it was really shot--in the mountains. I didn't want to go to Monument Valley, that belongs to John Ford. I would never do that. I would never go where somebody else was. I had to find my own place, which I did. And it was difficult. Every part of it was difficult. Traveling was difficult. But the thing that blew me away was the energy of the people and the energy of the actors and the ability of the actors, all of the actors, to maintain the passion of the character through such a long period of production. It astonished me.
  • [in 2015] I can do a movie basically with two lenses, the 10-to-one [zoom lens] and the 30mm lens. And with the 30mm you can do the biggest landscapes and the most incredible close-ups in the world.
  • [in 2015] Your favorite film is always the film you haven't made yet.
  • [in 2013] You can have this incredibly gorgeous frame, magically lit, and you get the actors there, and just as you're ready to roll, a little cloud comes in front of the sun and the shot turns to shit. So you've got a choice: Do you shoot it looking utterly mediocre, or do you wait? And the mountain knows you're looking at your watch. And the mountain says, "I'm going to test this joker". Because the mountain doesn't automatically give you its beauty; it sees if you're equal to it. If you prove that you are, it will allow you to see it.
  • [in 2013] It's one of the things that movies do offer you, despite all of their hardships--they offer you moments of transcendence. We all want to experience that in our lives, a moment when we're two feet off the ground, and making movies gives you that opportunity. It comes and it goes so fast that it's unreal, but it does happen. What other reason is there? Michelangelo spent a couple of years on his back with paint dropping into his eyes while some crazy pope was off fighting wars. What else was he doing it for?
  • [July 2002] Originally I had a notion that all my work put together would be a kind of tapestry of American life.