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

4.08  ·  Rating Details ·  584 Ratings  ·  48 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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Sep 30, 2007 Robert rated it it was ok
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.
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
Frank Edwards
Aug 18, 2013 Frank Edwards rated it liked it
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
Jul 06, 2012 Adrian rated it liked it
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
Sep 07, 2010 adam rated it really liked it
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
Dec 10, 2010 Kirsti rated it it was amazing
I read lots of books about the movies . . . but this one's my favorite.
Paul Lyons
Feb 25, 2017 Paul Lyons rated it it was ok
Disappointing expose on the making of the 1980 Michael Cimino epic box office bomb HEAVEN'S GATE. Although author Stephen Bach was Senior Vice President of Production at the studio that made HEAVEN'S GATE: United Artists, and had been with the studio through the many trials and tribulations of making the movie, "Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists" serves as only a cursory account of what really happened.

What happened, per the author,
Dec 29, 2016 Philip rated it liked it
VERY inside baseball stuff here, but once you get into it, it's pretty interesting.
Dec 29, 2016 Etcgirl rated it liked it
A book that's nearly as long a slog as the film at it's centre.
Drew Raley
Jul 02, 2011 Drew Raley rated it really liked it
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, and is neither a great nor even good film, ...more
Aug 02, 2014 Steve rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, film
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
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
Jan 18, 2009 Alwa rated it really liked it
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
Jul 02, 2016 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film-crit
Thinking about this fine, self-examining memoir of being a producer on Cimino's Heaven's Gate. Cimino died today. Bach died seven years ago. What I remember from it is Bach's utter insistence that Cimino's choice to cast Isabelle Huppert in the lead role was a disaster; Huppert never had a Hollywood career, but she's an icon in France. And that Bach is wonderfully, self-dramatizingly ambivalent about Cimino's insistence to shoot Heaven's Gate on location in Yellowstone. On this issue Bach just k ...more
Apr 29, 2009 Ed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 really liked it
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
Feb 13, 2012 Jack Gattanella rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-favorites
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
Jul 19, 2010 Matt rated it really liked it
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
Matt Lohr
Jan 23, 2013 Matt Lohr rated it liked it
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
Amar Pai
Jun 30, 2012 Amar Pai rated it it was ok
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)
Feb 23, 2012 Josh rated it it was amazing
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.
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.
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.
May 26, 2008 Joe rated it it was amazing
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 it was amazing  ·  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.
Jo March
Sep 24, 2014 Jo March rated it liked it
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.
Chris Jaffe
Jul 22, 2015 Chris Jaffe rated it really liked it
Shelves: entertainment
This is a really enjoyable book, especially when it focuses on Cimino & Heaven's Gate. This has one major flaw, though - it takes nearly 100 pages for Cimino to even show up as Bach fits the story of Heaven's Gate into the overall history of United Artists. Some context is good and required, but not nearly as much as Bach gives. Still, it is an engrossing story about a complete fiasco.
Anthony Faber
Mar 06, 2014 Anthony Faber rated it it was amazing
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.
Jesse Grillo
Jul 24, 2009 Jesse Grillo rated it did not like it
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.
Larry Jordan
Sep 10, 2012 Larry Jordan rated it really liked it
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.
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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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