This weekend, Monte Hellman‘s “Road To Nowhere” opens. Somehow, no one has acknowledged that this is an event; Hellman, the vaunted director of “Two Lane Blacktop” and “The Shooting,” hasn’t made a movie since 1989. Things are a bit different this time around, as Hellman is working with much more unconventional material, with “Road To Nowhere” focusing on a murder-mystery happening in a movie-within-a-movie, with actors playing multiple roles within two separate storylines that keep dovetailing into each other. If you ask Hellman, who still believes, “No explanations, no apologies, and above all, no refunds,” this elaborate structure was more of an experiment of the subconscious, an attempt at trial-and-error than a purposeful artistic decision.
“In many ways, I think I’m a skinny Hitchcock,” Hellman told the audience at a Q&A at Lincoln Center. “He liked to visualize the whole experience before he started, and after that it made no difference to him. But I don’t wanna know what it comes out like, I wanna be surprised every day on the set.” Most of “Road To Nowhere” has this semi-improvisational feel, as if Hellman and company purposely chucked the safety net. Though, to hear it from Hellman, that’s always been the case with his films.
“Every time I start a movie I don’t remember anything that I did before, I don’t remember the process and I’m terrified because I don’t think I know what to do,” says Hellman. “And then I get on the set and it’s like riding a bicycle, it all comes back. This time… I somehow got the idea to see what it was like to relinquish control. What would happen if all of us stopped trying to think too much and tried to see if we could… get in touch with our subconscious. I presented this to the other creative people involved. I wanted it to be a group subconscious effort. Some people scoffed at it, some people said ‘We’ll see.’ But it happened. Somehow I started to see this thing magically happen, and the more it happened, the more I was able to let go.”
Hellman also revealed that, for a time, the playful, elliptical “Road To Nowhere” was going to be borderline autobiographical, focusing on the relationship between a director named Monte and a screenwriter with the same identity as writer Steve Gaydos (the director was eventually called Mitchell Haven, so at least the initials remained). “A lot of people contributed in the writing stage. As we were refining the script, the characters were called Steve and Monte. But then people started telling me things about me that I had no idea about, idiosyncrasies and mannerisms.” The jocular filmmaker also gave us a peek into an alternate reality where he‘s a much smaller, but no doubt more prolific worker. “I used to think I was a pretty good editor,” claims Hellman, who, after editing all his films, allowed the job to fall to first-timer Celine Amelson, “and that I would be hired to fix movies that were in trouble.”
“Road To Nowhere” is currently playing at the Village East.