Monte Hellman, 50 years later…

There are a few names on the Roger Corman list of alumni that seem a bit too obvious to write about, as their success is evident through the fact that their names have become household items; Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and James Cameron to name a few.  These are filmmakers whose works have gained them personal artistic notoriety and have also influenced, and will continue to influence, both cineastes and general movie-goers alike.  And yet, at the same time, there are a few Corman alumni whose works have had a major impact on modern filmmakers and film history but have had to wait some time to gain the attention necessary to put them in the public spotlight.  And by ‘some time’ we mean 50 years…

Monte Hellman began working for Roger Corman in the late 1950’s.  After graduating from Stanford University—also Roger’s alma mater—he studied film at UCLA and soon thereafter joined classmates Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Hill as an employee of Roger.  Monte directed his first feature, Beast from Haunted Cave, for Roger in 1959.

Monte directed four more pictures for Roger, including The Terror (co-directed with Roger Corman, Jack Hill, and Francis Ford Coppola), Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting (both featuring Jack Nicholson), and Cockfighter.  Monte earned his big break in 1971, directing Two-Lane Blacktop for Universal Pictures, but the film was ill-received by studio executive Lew Wasserman and was ultimately discarded and given little publicity with a limited release.  Monte never made another studio-funded picture, but he continued to independently produce films for the next 30 years.

Today, Monte is a professor and teaches courses in directing at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).  Since his time with Roger, Monte has made an indelible mark on cinema as his films have reached a cult status in their own right, amassing a large base of dedicated fans.   Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting have become favorites of the acid western genre, and Two-Lane Blacktop was recently restored and released on DVD by the Criterion Collection (where you should also see Monte’s 10 Favorite Criterion Titles).

Monte’s following is due in large part to his keenness in creating independently produced projects.  His do-it-yourself methods (as learned during his years as a protégé to Roger) have been an inspiration to aspiring filmmakers.  Of Monte’s greatest fans is famed director Quentin Tarantino, whose first film Reservoir Dogs was executive produced by Monte in 1991.  This past summer at the 67th Venice Film Festival, Quentin—who was head of the Jury—attended the premiere of Monte’s latest film, Road to Nowhere, and presented Monte with a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award.

This past weekend, to continue with his overdue and well-deserved accolades, the Palm Springs International Film Festival held ‘A Tribute to Monty Hellman.’  On Saturday, January 15th, Monte, Roger Corman, Scott Cooper (director of Crazy Heart), and Steve Gaydos (Exec. Editor of Variety) sat together in a panel to discuss Monte’s body of work and his humble cinematic beginnings with Roger.  And after the discussion ended, and before a screening of Road to Nowhere, an act of poetry was had as Monte was presented the Maverick Award.  And the presenter?  Well, the only person qualified to give such an award to Monte, as their name and reputation as a maverick are notorious and synonymous with independent production; none other than Roger Corman.

For his commitment to being an independent in the truest sense, for his persistence in originality and vision, and for his exceptional influence on filmmakers-to-be, Roger Corman and New Horizons congratulate Monte Hellman on all of his success.  We hope that you will seek out and appreciate Monte’s work as much as we do.

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