You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Monte Hellman: His Life and Films

Brad Stevens' "Monte Hellman: His Life and Films," made me itch to sit down with my collection of Hellman's films, from cult classic "Two Lane Blacktop" to his two celebrated "existential westerns" "The Shooting" and "Ride in the Whirlwind," and look at each of them with a new and brighter understanding.

Brad Stevens’ “Monte Hellman: His Life and Films,” made me itch to sit down with my collection of Hellman’s films, from cult classic “Two Lane Blacktop” to his two celebrated “existential westerns” “The Shooting” and “Ride in the Whirlwind,” and look at each of them with a new and brighter understanding, given by Stevens’ exhaustive and illuminating analysis of Hellman’s movies and his life. Stevens does not just look at Hellman’s films intricately, but he also looks at Hellman’s life and the world around him at the time each of his films were made.

It’s risky proposition for a writer to include the personal in a critical look at an artist’s work, because it removes the control a writer has when working from an abstract hypothesis. When you add an artist’s life to the mix, what presents itself is a much more complex view. Stevens succeeds in bringing the same rich humanity to Hellman’s work that Hellman brings to his each and every one of his characters.

Popular on Variety

Perhaps most significant is the inclusion of chapters devoted to the “In Between Years” in which Hellman was developing projects, attaching stars, trying to get projects made, all of which is the life of an independent filmmaker. These years, seldom documented on any filmmaker, are often significant times of growth.

Stevens details how Hellman, found the financing for “Reservoir Dogs” and helped shepherd first-time filmmaker Quentin Tarantino through the production and post-production process, a project that not only raised Hellman’s profile among a new generation of filmmakers, but may yet bear additional fruits: one of Tarantino’s pet projects has been a proposed remake of Hellman’s “Whirlwind,” taken out of the Old West and updated to Capone-era Chicago.

There are also gigs done to keep the mortgage paid and even the smallest of assignments in Hellman’s career are included. For example, Stevens recounts Hellman’s work shooting a dialogue scene as second unit for Roger Corman’s “Beach Ball” while waiting for his two western scripts to be written and delivered, while also editing the psychedelic music sequences in the Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson Monkees film “Head.” These smallest details in a career serve as a window to really understanding the lifestyle and workstyle of a filmmaker.

The book also serves nicely as filmmaking primer. Stevens delves deep into Hellman’s filmmaking process whether recapping the unconventional casting of rock stars James Taylor and Dennis Wilson and model Laurie Bird in “Two Lane Blacktop,” with the guidance of casting guru Fred Roos. Roger Corman’s recollections of scouting locations with Hellman and legendary cinematographer Nestor Almendros in Georgia for “Cockfighter” also yield new insights into one of Hellman’s key films.

It would make sense that a book on the work of Monte Hellman would inspire and inform any would-be filmmaker, as Hellman worked not only as director, but also as writer, producer, editor, photographer, and actor. And in each exploration of every film by Hellman, there is illumination on what went into the making of the film in very concrete and practical terms as well as the emotional. Stevens brilliantly conveys the deeper rewards of what making the film meant to the filmmaker.

More Reviews

  • Grand Isle

    Film Review: 'Grand Isle'

    A sub-Tennessee Williams potboiler triangle between restless sexpot, impotent husband, and hunky handyman ever-so-slowly congeals into a lumpy gumbo of thriller elements in “Grand Isle.” This third directorial big-screen feature for veteran Steadicam operator Stephen S. Campanelli has plenty of potential guilty-pleasure signifiers — not least being top-billed Nicolas Cage’s sixth vehicle this year — [...]

  • I See You

    Film Review: 'I See You'

    The fact that it’s a very complicated matter even identifying the “I” and “you” in “I See You” is just a sample of the narrative tricks in this very tricksy thriller. Working from an impressive first produced screenplay by actor Devon Graye, Adam Randall’s film is an eerie suspense exercise that starts out looking like [...]

  • En Brazos de un Asesino

    Film Review: 'En Brazos de un Asesino'

    It’s problematic when a possible franchise-launcher feels like an indifferent later entry in a series, and that is the case with “En Brazos de un Asesino” aka “In the Arms of an Assassin.” This Pantelion release has the requisite basic elements for undemanding escapism, with attractive leads, erotic elements and ample bullet-riddled peril. But despite [...]

  • After Class

    Film Review: ‘After Class’

    Arguably the best thing about “After Class,” a purposely untidy and exceptionally intelligent dramedy about frayed family ties and academic contretemps, is writer-director Daniel Schechter’s refusal to ever let his protagonist off too easy. To be sure, lead player Justin Long’s graceless-under-pressure Josh Cohn comes across as more clueless than unsympathetic, less chronically selfish than [...]

  • Reprisal -- "On the Principles of

    TV Review: 'Reprisal' on Hulu

    “Reprisal,” a new Hulu drama setting out to tell a grim story of bloody revenge, aims at a clever pitch-darkness. It more often lands on a sort of congenital sourness, one that grows choking at the series’s hour-long episode lengths. It’s an unfortunate miss for series star Abigail Spencer, an appealing performer who deserves a [...]

  • Truth Be Told

    TV Review: 'Truth Be Told'

    On “Truth Be Told,” Apple TV Plus’s new drama about a true-crime reporter reinvestigating a case she may have gotten wrong, there’s a moment of confrontation in an early episode. Face to face with a man she believes may be hiding information from her, Octavia Spencer stares him down until he’s forced to ask “What [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content