Monte Hellman

 

CULT HERO: Somewhere out there, director Monte Hellman is trying to get a movie made. Chances are, like most of the projects this seventy-something visionary has been developing in the past 20 years, it won't happen. For discerning cinéastes, however, the prospect of another picture from one of American film's true originals is tantalising.

Back in the 1950s, Hellman earned his film-making chops - like so many other directors of note - working for B-movie demi-god Roger Corman on such fine works as The Beast From Haunted Cave, Last Woman on Earth, Creature From the Haunted Sea and seminal biker classic, The Wild Ride. It was during the making of the latter that the budding film-maker struck up a working relationship with fellow Corman alumni Jack Nicholson, a partnership that led to Hellman's artistic breakthrough: a pair of micro-budgeted existential westerns, Ride the Whirlwind and The Shooting, both produced by Corman and starring Nicholson. Intended as no-brainers for the bottom end of drive-in double features, Hellman's resolutely idiosyncratic style - think Antonioni meets Peckinpah - marked him as one to watch. The French, naturally enough, embraced him as a genius.

Hollywood (then seeking the next Easy Rider) came a-calling, and in 1971 Hellman crafted his masterpiece, a cool slice of road movie heaven entitled Two Lane Blacktop. Starring James Taylor, Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson and Hellman regular Warren Oates, Two Lane Blacktop is a rough-hewn fable about cars, speed and the death of the American dream, and is one of the unlikeliest projects ever financed by a major Hollywood studio. The film's unforgettable conclusion saw the movie itself simply burn up in the projector, mid-scene. With it went Hellman's chances of a big-time movie career.

Barely released, Two Lane Blacktop died a swift death at the box office - well, except in France. In the 1970s, our hero completed a handful of other idiosyncratic works - among them a stunning adaptation of Charles Williford's novel, Cockfighter - before returning to his roots as a second-unit director.

Since then, in between overseeing the action sequences on the likes of Robocop, there has been the occasional return to full duties - not that dismal schlock horror entry Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 (Hellman's last directorial credit to date) could be considered a major work. In recent years, the man was tipped to shoot Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs script, before QT decided to take the gig himself, while a falling out with the volatile Vincent Gallo saw him lose the chance to direct Gallo's arthouse hit, Buffalo 66.

Today, while the majority of his remarkable oeuvre remains out of circulation, Monte Hellman soldiers on. Any takers?