''HEAVEN'S GATE,'' Michael Cimino's gigantic new western and his first film since the Oscar-winning ''The Deer Hunter,'' is apparently based on a historical incident that occured in Johnson County, Wyo. in 1890: with the tacit approval of the state government, the county's wealthy cattle barons banded together in a systematic attempt to murder more than 100 German, Bulgarian, Russian and Ukrainian settlers who were encroaching on their lands. If one can say nothing else on behalf of ''Heaven's Gate'' (and I certainly can't), it's probably the first western to celebrate the role played by central and eastern Europeans in the settlement of the American West.
Apart from being set in Wyoming and the fact that many of the characters have the names of key figures in the Johnson County War, the plot and the characters themselves have almost no relation to the actual historical people and events. While there were certainly small numbers of settlers arriving in northern Wyoming, there were not hordes of poor European immigrants streaming en masse, let alone killing rich men's cattle out of hunger.
With that conflict established, the movie slowly, slowly, slowly builds to the actual historical event known as the Johnson County War between mercenary killers and immigrants. And it must be said that this showdown actually feels more timely now — in this era of Occupy Wall Street and fierce battles over immigration — than it did at the very beginning of the Reagan era, when the film's gutbucket Marxism ran against the prevailing cultural mood.
Speaking of World War T, for recent photographs of Cimino and accompanying rumors, see here.