To Hell and Back: An Evening with Monte Hellman

Cult film director Monte Hellman

Cult movie director Monte Hellman, 79, was frank, brief and to the point when he introduced “Road to Nowhere,” his first movie in 21 years, which he previewed for the Film Society of Lincoln Center on Thursday, June 9. The event was called “To Hell and Back: An Evening with Monte Hellman.” The program consisted of a double feature of “Road to Nowhere,” followed by Hellman’s 1974 film, “Cockfighter,” which starred Warren Oates, followed by a reception.  Hellman told the sold out crowd at the Walter Reade Theatre, “No explanations, no apologies and, above all, no refunds.”

Hellman said that he does not like to talk about a movie before an audience sees it. I will respect Hellman’s wishes by simply saying that “Road to Nowhere” is about filmmakers working on a movie, with elements of film noir thrown in.

Truth be told, I did get a bit lost on the “Road to Nowhere.”  As I said a few weeks back, when I critiqued “The Tree of Life,” I did not receive the “Cliff’s Notes” for this one, although “Road” was definitely more coherent than the latter.

After the screening, Hellman returned for a Q & A moderated by Film Society publicist John Wildman, who was introduced as Hellman’s “Facebook buddy” (the two met on line).  Hellman proved to be a smart, eccentric and highly enjoyable interview subject, while Wildman proved to be a charismatic, amused and intelligent interviewer, clearly relishing the opportunity to interview Hellman.

Although Hellman did shed some light on “Road to Nowhere” I felt vindicated that he too was aware of the film’s “difficult to follow” nature.  Wildman diplomatically observed that the film “challenges people to pay attention and keep up.”  Hellman explained that the original script was even more convoluted than the finished film.

Hellman said, “I somehow got the idea that (on “Road to Nowhere”) I was going to see what it was like to relinquish control.  I wanted to see what would happen if all of us stopped trying to think too much and tried to see if we could put ourselves in a state where we could get in touch with our subconscious…I just wanted it to be a group subconscious effort…but somehow I started to see this thing happen and the more it happened the more I was able to let go and let it do its thing.”

On his working technique Hellman offered, “I’ve always loved happy accidents. In many ways I think I’m a skinny Hitchcock, but in many ways I’m different because he liked to visualize the whole thing before he started and after that it didn’t make any difference how it came out.  I don’t want to know what it’s going to be like.  I want to be surprised every day on the set.”

“Road to Nowhere” is playing locally at City Cinemas Village East, 181 Second Avenue.

Road to Nowhere” director Monte Hellman, 2010,

Argot Pictures, 121 minutes



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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on June 10, 2011, in Feature Articles, New. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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