The Deer Hunter is back in cinemas, on the size of screen where it belongs. Michael Cimino’s three-hour Vietnam war epic divided the world into votaries and vilifiers. The Russian roulette torture sequence – three captured Americans (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage) enduring the flicking chambers of their captors’ guns – harrowed some audiences with its immediacy, horrified others with its historical dubiety.
No one, though, can deny Cimino’s ambition of vision; nor in the long mining-town prologue the novelistic detail and density of his characterisation. We encounter the men, the women (Meryl Streep in her first starring role) and the murmuring of Middle America waking to a distant apocalypse.
Touching a native nerve, if not entire nervous system, the film won five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. It was a success for whose controversiality and (for some) misguided magnitude Cimino was never forgiven. “Hubris” became the brand on his forehead. Heaven’s Gate, which followed, is only now discovering its rightful following.
Art is long, we Cimino champions go on hopefully asserting. Life and injustice are short.