Michael Cimino’s masterpiece will return to Arte tonight.
If the history books are precise enough on the date of birth of the New Hollywood (1967: release of the Winner and of Bonnie and Clyde) and that of his burial (somewhere between The Gate of Paradise And Heart stroke), we rarely ask ourselves what the peak would be. The moment of the climax, of the apogee.
There are the monster successes of Godfather and of The Exorcist, a sign that a new generation had taken power and understood everything about the new tastes of the public. There is Jaws, the great historical landmark of the period, which split the decade in two and propelled US cinema into a new era. But if only one film, just one, had to be selected to symbolize the triumph of seventies mutations, it would no doubt be necessary to choose Journey to the End of Hell.
Because it’s the brilliant fresco of a megalomaniac demiurge, yes. One of the greatest films of the period, too. A harrowing masterpiece, indeed… But also because, of all the American classics of the time, it is the one that most openly links to Hollywood’s past, bridging the golden age and the modern era. Recalling that the New Hollywood was not so much a tabula rasa hatched by amnesiac hippies, only a desire to restore the lost grandeur of American cinema.
Vilmos Zsigmond: “I want films to be more beautiful than reality”
While many New Hollywood hits have an eye for retro (The Godfather and its vintage aroma, Chinatown and its Chandlerian meanders, American Graffiti and its nostalgia for “happy days”, The last session and his cinephile genuflections…), it is Journey to the End of Hell which best organizes the dialectic between yesterday and today, seizing the heritage of John Ford to better plunge its eyes into the foundations of America (of American cinema) and observe its corruption.
Ford stuffed his westerns with dance scenes, which signified the joy of the epic, the collective energy of conquest, the celebration of a new identity. We dance and we sing a lot also in Journey to the End of Hell : First of all Can’t take my eyes off you around a billiard table, then during the long wedding scene which occupies the entire first part of the film, and finally in the last sequence, when the protagonists sing God Bless Americathroat constricted by regrets and eyes clouded by broken promises of youth.
Michael Cimino did not want to make a clean sweep of the past, no, but to acclimatize Fordian aesthetics and morals to the reality of post-Vietnam America. He could then only note the bankruptcy of illusions. The suicide of a nation. On the night of the 1979 Oscars, Journey to the End of Hell raided and won five trophies. John Ford, who died a few years earlier, was not there for the passing of the baton, but Cimino received the hug from John Wayne, who came to present him with the Oscar for best film. Let Old and New Hollywood go hand in hand.
The story of Journey to the End of Hell, worn by Robert de Niro, John Cazale, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken…:
1968. Mike, Steven, Nick, Stan and Axel work in the steel mill in the town of Clairton, Pennsylvania, and form a close-knit gang. In Clairton, love stories are going well: Steven marries Angela, although she is pregnant with another, and Nick flirts with Linda who seems to trouble Mike. But this tranquility is overtaken by the Vietnam War when Mike, Steven and Nick are mobilized to go into battle…
Christopher Walken: “Honestly, I sucked in a lot of movies”