Michael Cimino Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Michael Cimino 1943?–

American director and screenwriter.

Cimino is best known for The Deer Hunter, his analysis of the Vietnam War and its effects on the men who fought in it. This film is more a character study than an action war film, with many of the scenes taking place as either a prelude or an aftermath to war.

Cimino received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University in 1963. He directed documentaries and television commercials in New York following graduation, moving to Hollywood in 1971. His first film credit, as cowriter of Silent Running, was followed by an assignment rewriting the screenplay for Magnum Force. In 1974 he wrote and directed Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

The actual facts of Cimino's background are cloudy. In an interview with Leticia Kent for The New York Times, Cimino claimed he was thirty-five years old and that he had been assigned to a Special Forces Medical Unit in Texas. After his Army discharge, Cimino stated he learned moviemaking with a documentary filmmaker. However, Tom Buckley of Harper's Magazine, upon researching Cimino's background, found several discrepancies. He is closer to forty years old than to thirty-five and did not, according to sources Buckley found, spend two years in the armed forces. Nor was he ever, as he claimed, a Green Beret. These differences in allegation would appear irrelevant were it not for the fact that they are closely mirrored in The Deer Hunter.

While the artistic merit of The Deer Hunter is generally recognized, many critics have condemned its view of Vietnam, finding it manipulative and accusing it of portraying an adolescent perception of the war. Others, however, applaud its celebration of the "new patriotism" and its view of Vietnam as a historical tragedy rather than a political event. The Deer Hunter has received as much publicity for its controversial topic as for its aesthetic worth, and most objections about the film stem from ideological conflict rather than a negative assessment of cinematic skill.

If it is true that the sinner has a desire to be caught and punished, [Thunderbolt and Lightfoot] suggests that Hollywood is unable to handle its new-found freedom and is determined to sin so grossly that even its best friends will deliver the industry over to the ire of censors…. [This] sex-saturated film … degrades everyone and everything it touches, including the genre of the caper film, which serves as the vehicle for this voyeuristic appeal to youthful preoccupation with sex, cars and violence. This is not hard-core sex … or serious sex …, but adolescent sex that touches, smirks and runs. (pp. 570-71)

"Current Cinema: 'Thunderbolt and Lightfoot'," in The Christian Century (copyright 1974 Christian Century Foundation; reprinted by permission from the May 22, 1974 issue of The Christian Century), Vol. XCI, No. 20, May 22, 1974, pp. 570-71.