Their Best Shot

Hamilton by John Trumbull, painted 2 years after the Duel

Alexander Hamilton

Elie Wiesel

Michael Cimino

This 4th of July, we recall Alexander Hamilton, the multi-talented and widely reviled (vide Burr) political figure of the early days of the American Republic, who did as much as anyone to build the various struts of the enormous edifice now creaking and groaning under the weight of history, with Mrs Clinton or Mr Trump poised to kick away the last brace.  What this founding father and first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury would have made of the modern opera now being staged in his name, one can only wonder.

Al died in a duel, but Death visits us all eventually.  Elie Wiesel passed on July 2, having evaded the hooded fellow with the scythe for 72 years.  He was sent to Auschwitz in 1944.  Liberated just under a year later, he was not in good health:


“What took you?” Elie and comrades in Auschwitz after liberation (Elie on second row, on his back, looking over to us)

But he rebounded and determined to make count every second of the decades given to him.  And he succeeded brilliantly:


Life’s good: Elie in 1987, photographed by Erling Mandelmann









Michael Cimino (1939 – July 2, 2016) remains an enigma.  He may, or may not, share a birthday with this correspondent, but like all good movie folk, he was never that reliable about dates, facts, contractual commitments, or other people’s feelings.  His 20-year filmography is mostly ho-hum: what made him stand out were his ghastly handling of professional relationships (evidently, he didn’t see film-making as a team effort; he saw himself as the entire production) and aristocratic disregard for film budgets.  These charming traits helped him create the legendary, seemingly never-ending implosion otherwise known as Heaven’s Gate; the hyper-hyped Year of the Dragon, and the brain-dead entries The Sicilian and Desperate Hours.

What also stand out are a few choice examples of great work in very good films: his co-writing credit on Silent Runningand his direction of The Deer Hunter.  That latter work shows characteristic signs of cliché, where the humans are reduced to caricatures in a landscape, but the landscape is so magnificent that it seems to enhance the humanity of Cimino’s puppets.  These films are his legacy, recorded moments when his aim was true.




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