One Shot: The making of Michael Cimino film ‘The Deer Hunter’
In a career that began to bloom in the early 1960s, Robert De Niro is still able to muster up remarkable performances some 50 years on. In fact, the last 12 months for De Niro have been as prolific as some of the most creative years of his life so far. Take his appearance alongside Joaquin Phoenix in Joker when he is silhouetting as a laughable chat show host or pirouetting as Saturday Night Live’s Robert Mueller, upstaging an actual chat show host. Then there’s The Irishman, seated in his memories, detailing the stories of Frank Sheeran’s varying wars and now he’s opened up his personal archives, contributing to an excellent book describing the ultimate war movie.
In what is another reflection of De Niro’s past, we take a look at Jay Glennie’s book One Shot: The Making of Of The Deer Hunter, a definitive word on a film frequently misunderstood in recent years. British producer Michael Deeley took director Michael Cimino to task in his Blade Runners, Deer Hunters, and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies, painting an egoist uninterested in kowtowing to the hands that funded him. Tellingly, Deeley lamented that his Oscar shared with Cimino a name for recipient. Cimino is no longer present to give his perspective, yet Christopher Walken, the tenacious actor who won the supporting actor Oscar for his feverish performance, remembers the man a great friend in the book. Eulogising Cimino’s life, Heaven’s Gate star Jeff Bridges pens an affecting tribute to the New York-born creator over the book’s final pages.
The book also serves as a shrouded tribute to John Cazale, the five-film character actor whose record contained nothing but Academy Award-nominated Best Pictures. Battling cancer while filming, Cazale maintained a determination and impressive work ethic throughout. Cimino recalled a tuxedo-clad persona fixed on mindfulness in the Washington Mountains, though second assistant director Mike Grillo, unaware of his terminal condition, expresses some regret for the way he martialed Cavale on set.
In one of his more revealing interviews, De Niro admits how awful it was to work with Cavale at that time, though professional to the last, he never broached the subject. There was laughter on set too, as one of the book’s more touching photos finds Cazale, Walken and De Niro in a collective chuckle. The film proved a probing, philosophical masterpiece that matched The Godfather, The Conversation and Dog Day Afternoon for gravitas; sadly, Cazale died before The Deer Hunter‘s release.
The film proved a cavernous one to shoot. Editor Peter Zinner recalls the daunting task numerically, recalling he “had close to 600,000 feet of film printed for The Deer Hunter; about one hundred hours. That was more even than The Godfather.” Typically, Zinner and Cimino had their disagreements over the film’s content. Cimino, fighting for the heart of his film, disagreed with the shadows and spaces others wanted to be discarded, feeling they brought life to the film. Through words similarly echoed by Deeley, Zinner felt that Cimino was willing to walk over bodies to get what he wanted.
The ‘making of’ is a tale as compelling, rich, human and oratorical as the parable it presents. Much as it had been on Cleopatra, Jaws and Star Wars and would be on Blade Runner, Brazil and Licence To Kill, the troubled shoot adds character, detail and context to the story, one De Niro remembers fondly. An extraordinary excavation of exceptional work.