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Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  407 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Heaven's Gate is probably the most discussed, least seen film in modern movie history. Its notoriety is so great that its title has become a generic term for disaster, for ego run rampant, for epic mismanagement, for wanton extravagance. It was also the film that brought down one of Hollywood’s major studios—United Artists, the company founded in 1919 by Douglas Fairbanks, ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published August 16th 1999 by Newmarket Press (first published 1985)
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Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter BiskindPictures at a Revolution by Mark  HarrisHitchcock by François TruffautThe Great Movies by Roger EbertAdventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman
Books ABOUT Movies
21st out of 384 books — 135 voters
Final Cut by Steven BachDown and Dirty Pictures by Peter BiskindEasy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter BiskindSave Me the Aisle Seat by Alex Diaz-GranadosTitanic Memories by William MacQuitty
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1st out of 9 books — 3 voters

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Community Reviews

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A largely self-serving account in which Bach tries to remove himself from blame at a time when "Heaven's Gate" was seen as the last word in movie failures. Ironically, "Heaven's Gate" stands up today as a major, underrated film whose failure says a lot more about changing tastes in the blockbuster era than it does about Cimino's ambitions.
Frank Edwards
After seeing a reissued "director's cut" version of "Heaven's Gate," the movie so expensive to produce and so poorly received by the critics in 1980 that it destroyed Michael Cimino's reputation as a director and led to the demise of United Artists, I sought out this book by one of the United Artist producers involved in the project (and who also lost his job in the aftermath). It's a fascinating story. How could Ciminio--who had just come from making "The Deer Hunter," which netted him Academy ...more
I think Bach, the author of this, overestimated the fascination non-movie executives would have for business deals that movie executives make, but it's certainly extremely well written and perceptive about movies. What really makes this book interesting is the film that it's about. I saw the full 3 hour 39 minute version of 'Heaven's Gate' on MGM recently - and so picked up the book - and there's no doubt in my mind that it's a major work, one of the most beautiful movies ever made. It throws up ...more
M. Milner
A long look at the chaotic making of Heaven's Gate and the downfall of a Hollywood studio, Stephen Bach's Final Cut is absorbing, detailed and messy. After all, the downfall of United Artists is often blamed on the singular failure of Gate, but as Bach's book shows, there was a lot more it than just that.

The book offers several points where had UA acted differently, they might still be in business. They range from everything from the unique contract they gave Gate writer and director Michael Cim
FINAL CUT deserves its reputation as a canonical work about the movie business. Author Steven Bach was an executive at United Artists in the 70's, when UA was arguably the best-run studio in Hollywood. TransAmerica Bank acquired UA in the late 1970's on the basis of that success, but unfortunately all it took was one bad gamble to bring the whole thing down. That would be director Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE project-which I've never seen and apparently is actually pretty good, but in any even ...more
Unique amongst books I have read about cinema, this executive's view of the industry - and a particularly notable episode in its history - is fascinating. Bach was clearly an extremely intelligent and thoughtful man, and the reputation I had known of this book as being self-serving regarding his role in the Heaven's Gate debacle seems rather wide of the mark. In the final analysis, he accepts his own culpability in allowing the picture to run out of control and cogently defends his view that the ...more
I read lots of books about the movies . . . but this one's my favorite.
Drew Raley
Self-serving first-person account of a slow-motion train wreck, written by a studio exec whose claim to fame was devaluing the studio to the extent that King Kong Kirk Kerkorian could snap United Artists up at fire sale prices. That the film in question is an eccentric near-masterpiece,replete with stretchy pacing, sound cues that are mixed inadequately, and performances pitched at varying extremes, is a minor miracle. HG is imminently watchable stuff, but is neither a great nor even good film, ...more
Thomas Strömquist
"Well-written and absolutely fascinating book giving an insight of how the production of a single movie (by a company large enough to consider it, if not a minor, at least only one in a series of investments) could spiral out of control, ultimately bringing about the end of the company. Described in one sentence as above, this sounds unbelievable, but the book tells the tale. The book also has merit for a movie fan as it contains a lot of information on the production of some of the most memorab ...more
Jo March
I expected this book to be a blow by blow account of the filming of Heaven's Gate but it deals more the story of the management of United Artists the company which financed the production. Though it is an interesting book I was disappointed that it didn't reveal more about the excesses of the actual production rather than the producers' attempts to control Michael Cimino the film's director.
The first one hundred pages took me a day to get through and dragged hard--Mary Pickford, D. W. Griffith, insurance, Transamerica, blah, blah, blah, get to Cimino's enormous ego and the wasted $44 million already. The good news; the next day, I read the following 350 pages in one marathon sitting, peaking at the Heaven's Gate premiere, Bach's description of which has become the yardstick against which all other Hollywood fiascoes can be measured:

"Nothing was working. No one cared...They stayed t
If I re-read any book, that puts it in the 99th percentile. I first read this book back in 1995 just before sitting through all 3 hours and 40 minutes of Heaven's Gate, which this book covers. Steven Bach was the United Artists executive in charge of the infamous 1980 production. What's amazing is that I was rooting for the studio executive and not the auteur. I know this is simply his side of the story but when you have final cut and you make Heaven's Gate, I don't care about your side of the s ...more
Sep 12, 2007 Shea rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: filmbiz shadenfreudians
This book, and "The Devil's Candy" by Julie Salamon, are almost companion pieces to each other. (The Salamon book covers the fiasco that was Brian DePalma's adaptation of "Bonfire of the Vanities".) While deconstructing 2 of the most infamous flops in modern film history both books elicit commentary from a wide variety of voices -- studio heads all the way down to the set PAs involved.

While there is plenty of blame to be spread around, the wunderkind directors involved deservedly receive their
Jack Gattanella
About the making of the "unqualified disaster" Heaven's Gate, but also a window into how filmmaking was in the 1970's... and how it actually really was pointing towards (or just in) the kind of studio blockbuster-franchise mentality we are in now; at UA they were more 'independent' minded, and of course reading about Manhattan and Raging Bull is incredible especially as Bach is fair to all sides (he even tries, though just can't, see the good in Cimino's film). But there's also Rocky 2, the Jame ...more
Anthony Faber
The story of the making of "heaven's Gate", along with a lot of stuff on the film industry of the late 70s & early 80s. Interesting and not as mean spirited as I was fearing, although Michael Cimino doesn't come off well at all.
Matt Lohr
Be warned that this book is only maybe about half about the making of HEAVEN'S GATE. It's just as much about the general ups and downs of United Artists' fortunes during Bach's stint as head of production. Some of this material is quite interesting; some of it much less so. Bach's a good writer, and that helps pretty much all the way through. But I wanted more on-set material, more location info, more (dare I say it?) gossip. For a good supplement to this, find the TV documentary inspired by thi ...more
I can't tell if I find the numerous detours -- about Bach's own career, about all the famous people he's dealt with, about the precise and overwhelming details of his "retirement" from showbiz, however related they are to the overall story -- excessive or actually interesting. And I can't tell if I'm annoyed he didn't get more dirt from the set of Heaven's Gate. That said, it's an invaluable look at conglomerate-era moviemaking, plus the rickety act of creating art through commerce. Also, look m ...more
Amar Pai
I wanted another Devil's Candy , but got some movie exec kvetching about contracts and managing "talent" instead. The very definition of inside baseball. And unlike Devil's Candy, which masterfully chronicled the unraveling of Bonfire of the Vanities, the movie this book is about-- Heaven's Gate-- is a complete cipher. I mean, whoever heard of Heaven's Gate?


Read Devil's Candy instead. (Or don't. I'm not the boss of you)
Bit of a frustrating read.

Takes a good 100+ pages describing the formation/history of United Artists before it actually gets going. And even then, there are asides about behind-the-scenes corporate deets that I didn't find too terribly interesting.

The first paragraph of the My Year of Flops article for the movie pretty much sums up my feelings toward this book as a whole.
I *love* this book. Bach didn't worry about making himself or others look good, or losing face, or causing offence, and he's an excellent writer with a great sense of pacing and narrative arc. It's an honest and compelling account of everything falling apart. The book makes clear how high the stakes are, and I found all the history of the studio absolutely fascinating too. To this day, I look at Isabelle Huppert and think 'face like a potato', which always makes me laugh.
Steven Bach's book is right up there with Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie did I tell? (both from William Goldman) in really giving you an inside view into the Hollywood process. Only in this case, its watching a structural collapse. This isn't the straw that broke the camel's back, but more a perfect storm where everything that could go wrong did and in the end did in United Artists. Always engaging, this true life story will definitely keep you going.
A kind of literary journalism/memoir that one doesn't quite see anymore. Affectless yet POV driven. Score-settling without ever seeming so. You really do understand how someone could wake up one morning and think H.G. was gonna be an amazing picutre, then wake up a year later wondering what went horribly, horribly wrong. Loads of fun even if you think Deerhunter was total bullshit. Which it is. Was. Whatever.
Mark Moran
Feb 11, 2012 Mark Moran rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mark by: Steven Bach
Shelves: fiction, non-fiction
The late Steven Bach was one of my favorite teachers in college. Naturally, this book was required reading for his History of the Producer graduate class, and 30 years later it is still one of the best books on Hollywood and the history of the rise and fall of the studio system as well as its modern incarnations.
Jesse Grillo
SO boring! It's a text book that dives into the entire history of United Artists before even beginning to discuss Heaven's Gate. Around page 120 it begins to discuss the film and even then the writing is so boring it wont be able to hold your attention. Big thumbs down.
Amy Wolf
Written by the head of UA at the time, Steven Bach spills it all about the making of ill-fated Heaven's Gate. He shows the ego of the director, Cimino, and the temerity of the studio execs, leading to a disaster beyond imagination. Great insider view of the business.
Larry Jordan
This book has a lot of correlations to project management, software or other large undertakings. The blind trust to someone's previous success in this case the director, fressh off two Oscar's, clouded the judgement of many. It is a cautionary tale and well written.
Sean Condon
A strong contender for the best "Hollywood" book ever*, and really, really well-written. Kinda made me jealous of Bach's talents, actually (because he was a studio executive, rather than a 'proper' writer).

*And I have read dozens of them.
Alex Toth
This is a great book, though a little heavy on the technical details of Hollywood schmoozing. I was sad to hear the author passed away in 2011. The movie doesn't sounds that great, but I might have to read it just because of the book.
My 1st time reading this account . Again Criterion just released Cimino's original version on blu ray... Actually an excellent film sidelined by corporate idiots thinking they no what the public wants. A scathing account.
Dan Humphrey
It's a one sided account but one that seems reasonably fair and it is compulsively readable and completely fascinating. A real window into Hollywood filmmaking in the era of conglomerate control.
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Steven Bach was senior vice-president and head of worldwide productions for United Artists studios. In Final Cut: Dreams And Disaster in the Making of Heaven's Gate (1985), Bach chronicles his involvement in the troubled production of Heaven's Gate (1980), a film widely considered to have been the decisive reason for the financial bankruptcy of United Artists.

Bach is the author of The Life and Leg
More about Steven Bach...
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