The superlatives “genius” and “masterpiece” are often applied overzealously—so we won’t use them here. Yet these qualities suffuse film director and artist Marco Brambilla’s video installation, Heaven’s Gate, 2021, a dazzling achievement that redefines visual splendor. Presented on a vertical, rectangular screen in a dark room, the imagery comprises a mind-blowing quantity of movie scenes, sets, and characters that have been digitally cropped and recontextualized into contiguous animated dreamscapes. Multilayered moments from some of cinema’s most iconic productions—Metropolis (1927), Rocky (1976), Jurassic Park (1993), King Kong (specifically, the 1976 and 2005 remakes)—repeat continually, producing an epic celluloid tapestry. The astounding compositional detail, symmetry, and a thunderous orchestral soundtrack compound the work’s grandiose, hypnotic effect.
We witness an odyssey of grassy Edens, undersea realms, and volcanic hells while famous faces, props, and stages are spliced into familiar yet surreal environments, such as a dancing Christopher Walken playing Frank White in King of New York (1990); the villainous ascent of Charlize Theron as witch-queen Ravenna from Snow White and the Hunstman (2012); and Chris Tucker, in a celestial vista of clouds and fireworks, as the maniacal radio host Ruby Rhod in The Fifth Element (1997). Edits upon edits of unending depth—full of parades, heroes, monsters, and smiling troupes in blazing color—distill the film industry’s seductive excesses.
But Brambilla’s glittering facade also reveals the soulless lies, stereotypes, and impossible perfections that Hollywood peddles. Suddenly, the vignettes seem off-kilter, as though we’re watching the undead facsimiles of myriad stars and starlets, detached from their audience. The headliners are performing only for themselves, their dramatic gestures and mouthed words merely empty Stepford-style proselytizing of unreachable ideals. Perhaps when it comes to skewering the cynical propaganda and deceit of Tinseltown’s greasy fantasy machine, there can be no deadlier assassin than one of its own.