Final Cut

Hired in 1978 to head the East Coast and European productions of United Artists (UA) following the shake-up of top management in the company, Steven Bach quickly found himself embroiled in one of the film industry’s most spectacular failures. UA wanted to make artistically and financially successful films. Operating on a hands-off system which allowed its artists unusual independence, the company had a reputation of respecting and nurturing its film-makers.

When Michael Cimino, a young director with tremendous promise, signed with UA, the company anticipated an auspicious relationship. This hope was strongly reinforced with Cimino’s 1978 film, THE DEER HUNTER, won almost universal acclaim and many top awards, including Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director.

After negotiation, the director and the company agreed that Cimino would make a large-budget Western based on the Johnson County Cattle Wars. Because Cimino had a reputation for perfectionism, little effort was made to temper his early extravagances. By the time Bach and his West Coast counterpart, David Field, realized that Cimino’s excesses were becoming outrageous and that he was falling far behind schedule, UA had invested so much money and prestige into the project that it was impossible to pull out. What followed was a battle of wills that matched management against the artist, with each side convinced of the rightness and integrity of its position.

FINAL CUT is an honest and fascinating inside account of the controversy. Bach is forthright concerning his own mistakes and is often sympathetic to Cimino’s own views. Although the book concentrates on HEAVEN’S GATE, which cost about $36 million to make and earned only $2 million in rentals, it serves as a telling indictment of the film business as a whole.