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Saturday February 24th 2024

Heaven's Gate | 1980

Heaven's Gate filming location: Two Medicine lake, Kalispell, Montana
Heaven's Gate filming location: the site of 'Sweetwater': shore of Two Medicine lake, Kalispell, Montana | Photograph: Shutterstock / Radoslaw Lecyk

As a film, Heaven’s Gate is not the disaster that legend would have it, but it lost serious money and all but finished United Artists. The whole story is recounted in Stephen Bach’s fascinating book Final Cut.

It does look gorgeous, the care and detail are astonishing but the whole film doesn’t hang together.

The prologue, set at ‘Harvard University’, was an afterthought. In order to film it, Michael Cimino insisted on yet another $3million on top of the already bloated budget, after principal photography had already finished.

It gets worse.

When Harvard refused permission for filming, Cimino decided on Oxford University in the UK as a stand-in, and the production decamped to England.

The opening sunrise shot features Tom Tower, the Gothic-style belltower of Christ Church College, designed in 1682 by Sir Christopher Wren.

This actually works, since Harvard’s Dunster House Tower is actually a copy of the building.

The band marches to the graduation ceremony under Hertford Bridge (popularly known as the Bridge of Sighs) crossing New College Lane to connect the two Hertford College buildings.

Heaven's Gate filming location: Sheldonian Theatre, Broad Street, Oxford
Heaven's Gate filming location: Reverend Doctor gives the graduation address at 'Harvard': Sheldonian Theatre, Broad Street, Oxford | Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo / Sergey Pristyazhnyuk

It’s heading to the Sheldonian Theatre, Broad Street, where the Reverend Doctor (Joseph Cotten) gives the address. The Theatre was also designed by Wren, in the late 1660s, and is normally used for University ceremonies, lectures and concerts. There are guided and self-guided tours for the public.

The alfresco dance uses the spacious Victorian Quad of Mansfield College, Mansfield Road.

Heaven's Gate filming location: Mansfield College, Mansfield Road, Oxford
Heaven's Gate filming location: the open-air dance at 'Harvard': Mansfield College, Mansfield Road, Oxford | Photograph: Shutterstock / NM Bear

The major location for the movie, though, was east of the city of Kalispell, in Flathead County, central Montana. The town of ‘Sweetwater’ was a huge set built over the parking lot on the east shore of Two Medicine Lake, about 100 miles east of Kalispell on US Route 2. The two mountains in the background across the lake are Sinopah Mountain and, in the distance, Painted Teepee.

Kalispell has become the gateway to Glacier National Park, and the battle scene was shot 75 miles north of Kalispell, in the northwest corner of the Park, southwest of Kintla Lake, at North Fork.

North Fork is described as an area of “reduced visitation”, home of rare wildlife reached only by private vehicle on unpaved roads. Predictably, the production ran into problems with alleged disruption of the fragile ecosystem.

Heaven's Gate filming location: Sixth Street, Wallace, Idaho
Heaven's Gate filming location: the streets of 'Casper, Wyoming': Sixth Street, Wallace, Idaho | Photograph: Google Maps

The big, bustling centre of ‘Casper, Wyoming’ is the old mining town of Wallace, on I-90 in Idaho.

The site, at the junction of 6th Street and Pine Street, is just about recognizable but there have been big changes. The railroad has gone and the elevated section of I-90 now cuts through the area. This necessitated moving the historic old Northern Pacific Railroad Depot 200 feet. Thankfully this was preserved and now houses the Railroad Museum.