Saturday, July 02, 2016

Some Reads for Today

Obituary: Nobel prize winner and celebrated Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, 87, has died:

Elie Wiesel, the Auschwitz survivor who became an eloquent witness for the six million Jews slaughtered in World War II and who, more than anyone, seared the memory of the Holocaust on the world’s conscience, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 87.

Menachem Rosensaft, a longtime friend and the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Survivors, confirmed the death in a phone call.

Mr. Wiesel was the author of several dozen books and was a charismatic lecturer and humanities professor. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But he was defined not so much by the work he did as by the gaping void he filled. In the aftermath of the Germans’ systematic massacre of Jews, no voice had emerged to drive home the enormity of what had happened and how it had changed mankind’s conception of itself and of God. For almost two decades, both the traumatized survivors and American Jews, guilt-ridden that they had not done more to rescue their brethren, seemed frozen in silence.

Another obituary of somebody of note: Director Michael Cimino, 77, who scaled the greatest heights by winning the Oscar for his war film The Deer Hunter, and plunged into the depths of career ruin with the infamous flop Heaven's Gate, has died.

The whole sordid story of the failure of Heaven's Gate and destruction of United Artists was told in one of the great Hollywood books, Final Cut, by the late Steven Bach.

Based on its success, United Artists signed him for “Heaven’s Gate,” a Western based on the Johnson County Wars. Since its founding in 1919, UA had a long tradition of giving creative freedom to filmmakers, from Charlie Chaplin to Billy Wilder to Woody Allen. In 1978, a new United Artists team was in place, after top execs like Arthur Krim battled with parent company Transamerica and defected to form Orion Pictures.

The new team at UA were eager for a big hit and Cimino seemed just the ticket. So they contractually gave him control over the production. The French New Wave in the early 1960s had anointed directors as auteurs, and the 1970s, after “Easy Rider,” saw many successful films from maverick filmmakers. So, the UA execs figured, what could possibly go wrong?

“Heaven’s Gate” started filming in April 1979 and wrapped 11 months later, in March 1980. In his book “Final Cut,” Steven Bach, who was a UA exec at the time, said the film was greenlit for $7.5 million but eventually budgeted at $11.5 million. It ended up costing $35.1 million, with another $9 million for marketing, leading to a $44 million writedown for UA. After the film, Cimino directed only four more features, ending with the 1996 “Sunchaser.” He always avoided questions about “Heaven’s Gate,” except to label Bach’s book “a work of fiction.”

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