American director Monte Hellman has died at the age of 91. He leaves about fifteen feature films, some of which have become cult, from “Two-way Macadam” to “The Hurricane of vengeance” via “The Shooting”.
Like many filmmakers of his generation, Monte Hellman started alongside veteran Roger Corman. First hired as an editor, he participated among others in The Terror, yet signed by the only Corman, then in 1959 directed a very low-budget horror film, Beast From Haunted Cave.
It was on the set of the first that he met Jack Nicholson. A decisive meeting since in 1964, they shoot together, in quick succession, an adventure film and a war film, respectively entitled Flight to Fury and Back Door To Hell, which are almost ignored by critics.
Two westerns to rediscover
The luck turns thanks to their two following films, two innovative westerns which will establish the fame of Hellman: Hurricane of the vengeance (1965), written and performed by Nicholson, and The Shooting (1967), in which he is satisfied to play. .
At a time when the genre has fallen into disuse, the duo renews it by daring to purify it, dreamlike even harsh and frontal violence. He thus announces the arrival of movie brats (“bad boys”) from Hollywood like Arthur Penn or Robert Altman. In addition, he launches actors now confirmed as Harry Dean Stanton or Warren Oates.
A fetish actor
After a five-year hiatus in which he assisted Corman on low-budget productions, Monte Hellman returned to directing with his most famous film, Two-Way Macadam (1971), road movie contemplative and enigmatic which unfortunately will not meet the public, despite the concert of praise from part of the criticism.
The film offers an important role to Warren oates, who then becomes Hellman’s favorite actor since he will find him for the adventure films Cockfighter (1974) and China 9 Liberty 37 (1978).
The lack of public enthusiasm for his films nevertheless led Hellman to accept minor commissions, such as Shatter (1974), an action film shot in Hong-Kong, or even Baretta, an insignificant detective TV movie broadcast in 1975, but also to finish the films of others: thus he completes The Greatest, documentary on Muhammad Ali started by Tom Gries, and Avalanche Express, of the veteran Mark Robson, both died in the course of filming.
After a decade without filming, he directed a bizarre and erotic action film, Iguana (1988), and a Z-series horror film, Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989), two new commercial failures which help to build the legend of the director as a “cursed poet” of cinema.
But if he does not find his audience, Monte Hellman has managed to become cult for a whole generation of filmmakers who love “B series” and cinema “underground“, starting with Quentin Tarantino, whose filmmaker will co-produce the first film, Reservoir Dogs in 1992.
At the request of Vincent Gallo, he should also have directed Buffalo’66 if the producers had not been afraid of his reputation.
“Underground” to the end
Confronted during the next twenty years with an ever greater difficulty in making his films, Monte Hellman contented himself with directing rare short films and occasionally appearing in his own role in the cast of a few films of admirers such as the Finnish Mika Kaurismäki (I Love LA, 1999).
However, the filmmaker made his comeback to the cinema at the Venice Film Festival in 2010 where he presented the thriller Road To Nowhere, which depicts a murder case during the shooting of a film. He also meets some of his greatest defenders, Quentin Tarantino, President of the Jury and Vincent Gallo which receives the interpretation prize for Essential Killing by Jerzy Skolimowski.
Hellman receives an Honorary Award (the only one of his career), and Road to Nowhere will be his last feature film.
AlloCiné had met the filmmaker in Venice, in 2010: