Hollywood legend Michael Cimino spoke with emotion at the Venice film festival on Thursday as he unveiled a new director's cut of his "Heaven's Gate" -- one of the biggest flops of all time.

Cimino's 1980 film was panned when it came out after his Oscar-winning "The Deer Hunter" and it helped bring down Hollywood giant United Artists.

But many now blame harsh editing and the digitally remastered version of the epic Western shown for the first time on Thursday was overseen by Cimino.

"My first reaction was: 'I don't want to revisit Heaven's Gate'. I've had enough rejection for 33 years," Cimino said before the screening in which he joined viewers saying he had not seen it in a cinema since it first came out.

"Being infamous is not fun. It becomes a weird occupation in and of itself," said Cimino, who has lived as a virtual recluse in Hollywood for many years.

"Because of the digital technology that did not exist at the time, I was able to make editorial changes, colour changes.... Seeing it through the digital equipment, it was like a new movie," the spiky-haired Cimino said.

The new version of the film, which stars Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, John Hurt and Jeff Bridges, is 216 minutes long compared to the 149-minute edition that was originally released in cinemas.

It focuses on the conflict between poor European immigrants and cattle barons in rural Wyoming in the 19th century and features sweeping tableaux landscape shots of the American West shown in all its beauty and violence.

"This is an absolute masterpiece. This is a film that has basically disappeared and been forgotten. The full version was massacred by its producers," said Venice film festival director Alberto Barbera.

He said it was "one of the greatest injustices of cinematic history."